Do you have the bottle? Buying a wine property offers a new way of life
British wines win awards, beating blends from France, Italy and Spain. And, as the industry thrives and quality improves, our dreams of spending days strolling among the vines in our own vineyards become a reality.
In 2005, Damian and Fiona Walsh planted vines on their small two-acre property near Saffron Walden in Essex.
Their harvest yielded enough grapes, four years later, to make 1,750 bottles of fine wine. They are not alone ; the area planted with vines in the UK has increased by 175 percent over the past ten years.
First Choice: Willow House – a 17th-century Grade II listed house in Fressingfield, Suffolk, with six bedrooms and a vineyard – is on sale for Â£ 1.25million
âMany foreign buyers and investors are developing commercial wineries in the south-east of England, while amateur wineries have wonderful retirement plans,â says Ed Dixon, manager of rural asset management at Knight Frank.
Damian and Fiona started to get passionate about winemaking when they vacationed in the Chianti belt of Tuscany at the start of their marriage. I
It was years later that they decided to try their hand at viticulture themselves.
Fiona enrolled in a course at Plumpton College, East Sussex, they hired a consultant to do soil checks, then planted the grapes that grew in their first vintage of rosÃ©, red and white wines.
âIt’s so satisfying,â says Damian, âlike creating a work of art that lives and growsâ.
The Walshees take the grapes to an organic vineyard near Colchester to be crushed into wine and juice. It’s purely a hobby, not a business venture, so they don’t harvest their grapes every year.
However, the thousands of bottles they deposit make them popular hosts.
It’s so satisfying – like creating a work of art that lives and grows
Damian Walsh, owner of the vineyard
âOur 2007 Pinot Noir vintage was the best,â says Damian, who now sells The Russetts, with his six-bedroom house, for Â£ 1.395 million via Cheffins.
âMixed with prosecco and put a raspberry on it to make the party go off in style. “
However, the cultivation of the vine is far from simple.
âIt’s essential that you get expert advice,â says Jo Cowderoy, editor-in-chief of Vineyard magazine. âYou have to do a business plan and understand everything about costs and inventory holding, which is pretty complicated. “
Site choice is vital – those with good drainage, south-facing slopes and no more than 330 feet above sea level are most suitable.
Unreliable UK weather can cause problems. Grapes need sun from April and May, and a late frost can spell disaster.
Generally, the best weather conditions are east of a line drawn between Salisbury and the Isle of Wight. Still, that doesn’t mean growing grapes is impossible in other parts of Britain.
âThe mild microclimate and rich soil of West Wales are also good for growing vines,â says Carol Peett, of West Wales Property Finders. “Several small vineyards such as Jabajak and Velfrey have already flourished and I am sure more will follow.”
Penarth House, Newtown, Mid Wales, grows the classic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. Created in 1999, their grapes for sparkling wine were nominated for a bronze medal by wine experts Decanter in 2019.
The vineyard produces an average of four tonnes of grapes per year, but in a good year the yield reaches 12 tonnes.
The main house, a large grade II listed Jacobean stack dating from 1685, with six bedrooms and a large library, spans eight acres. It is on sale at Balfours for Â£ 1.25million.
Opening a vineyard is expensive
Creating a vineyard is extremely expensive. The down payment is steep; it takes about three or four years before the grapes can be picked and two more before they make drinking wine.
It makes sense to diversify. Many wineries have on-site shops and cafes, and almost all of them organize guided vineyard tours.
Tasting time: Many wineries have on-site shops and cafe
Woodchester Valley in Stroud offers wine tours and tastings from Â£ 18 per person, while the small, family-run Parva Farm vineyard in Tintern, in the Wye Valley offers a self-guided tour for just Â£ 2.50 per person . tasting.
Willow House, meanwhile, is a 17th-century Grade II listed house in Fressingfield, Suffolk, with six bedrooms, a vineyard and an annex. It is on sale for Â£ 1.25million.
The chances of finding a vineyard for sale for under Â£ 1million in Britain are slim. This is not the case in France, where Jo Cowderoy sells his seven-bedroom Maison de MaÃ®tre and eight-acre vineyard in Puicheric, an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean.
The house is for sale for Â£ 270,000, while the vineyards are expected to fetch around Â£ 200,000 at auction.
Although no wine has been produced here recently, the vineyard’s Chateau La Bouscade sold worldwide until 2010.
Investing in a vineyard is a risky business, so why plant grapes instead of, say, vegetables?
âIt’s a festive thing,â Cowderoy says. “It’s so good to raise a glass and know the blood and tears that went into its creation.”