In 2005 Sean, my partner, and I gave up our city lives to pursue of our dream to create fine organic wines on a dilapidated farmhouse and vineyard in South West France. Like some of the best laid plans ours was off reality by a couple of zeros (note to self – for a more realistic plan in the future decrease revenue by a third and increase costs by a third).
Our dream would be over before it started if we didn’t diversify fast. We added wine tourism in the form of accommodation – initially half our house and now two luxury renovated gites that won us the Best of Wine Tourism Gold Trophy in the greater Bordeaux region in 2017. We also added a wine school and educative wine tours. Diversification and selling direct were key to making our farm a success.
You may have heard the joke ‘you can make a small fortune with a vineyard – if you start with a large one’. We didn’t start with the latter and we are still looking for the former but we have had a lot of fun along the way. Here are a few pros and cons if you are feeling tempted to leap into a vineyard adventure.
Pros of owning a vineyard
– you will never run out of wine (for a Saturday night with friends its ideal – no more ‘Oh *!§*!’ that was the last bottle’)
– you won’t need a gym or any other form of exercise – doing a circuit of shoot removal around our vineyard includes about 25000 squats and a 20km hike
– if you arrived with a partner and you stay together your relationship is rock solid
– if you farm organically you will have a relatively healthy life (see my top ten for celebrating organic at http://chateaufeely.com/ten-reasons-celebrate-supporting-organic-farming/ )
– there is little space for boredom, every spare moment will be filled
Cons of owning a vineyard
– you will regularly experience a sore back, stiff arms/ legs/ whatnots
– you may lose hair from tearing it out at bureaucratic idiosyncrasies (vineyard planting rights, voluntary obligatory payments…)
– as for leisure time, remember, this is a ‘lifestyle’ business, it is your life in work and play. I’m not sure how to explain the style part – if you could see me after a day in the vineyard it is the last word that would spring to mind.
Regardless of the cons and the hard work involved, there is a special sense of wonder of working in with nature and enjoying your own produce. Sipping our first vintage, the 2006, a couple of days ago, I reflected that there really is something magical about creating a product that still tastes delicious more than a decade later and that can tell you about its place, its terroir and the year it was born.
If you are looking for entertainment, to learn a little about organic or thinking of moving to France and / or buying a vineyard, consider reading Grape Expectations, Saving our Skins and Glass Half Full first. If you are a tenacious being with a vineyard obsession you will boldly go ahead – at least you will be eyes wide open.
Caro Feely, a wine teacher and organic farmer, and partner Sean, offer organic wine, wine school, walking tours and accommodation at www.chateauFeely.com in south-west France (15 minutes west of Bergerac and a little over an hour east of Bordeaux). Her latest book Glass Half Full hits the shelves 13 April 2017 – www.amazon.co.uk