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The pros and cons of owning a vineyard in France

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.

Caro Feely is a wine teacher, organic farmer and author.

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