At the Côtes de Bordeaux estate of Château Réaut, some of the vineyard’s 400-plus owners have turned out to help with the first grape harvest. Individually, they may have bought just a tiny percentage of the estate's 26 hectares, but that's enough to satisfy their dreams of drinking wine from grapes grown on their own land.
The 427 members of the Château Réaut groupement fonciers agricole (GFA), a shareholding collective, own 46 percent of the estate, which gives each of the shareholders 165 vines. In return for an investment of 1,500 euros ($1,950) per share, they will receive 36 bottles of wine a year.
“At 13 euros [$17] a bottle, the investment has repaid itself in a bit over three years. After that it’s all profit,” says Philippe Mereau, one of a consortium of 12 who bought the Château Réaut estate in 2011 and created the GFA.
The story began in 2003 when the Champagne house Louis Roederer "decided to create an exceptional Bordeaux,” explains Yannick Evenou, the firm’s Bordeaux property manager and instigator of the project.
Roederer bought Château Réaut [formerly Château Réaut la Gravière] for the exceptional quality of its land and vineyard, and invested massively in new vine stock. But only six years later the company changed its strategy and put the estate back on the market.
Would-be participants of a GFA were immediately enthusiastic. “In less than two months we had almost 1,000 candidates,” reports Evenou. The 427 selected came from France and from 15 other countries around the world.
“The owners are the key to success. They share their interest with friends and colleagues, and become ambassadors for Château Réaut,” Evenou says.
“When I saw how healthy the completely replanted vineyard was I almost fell over in admiration,” remembers Mereau, who is now participating in his ninth GFA. “It’s really something to get 36 bottles every year, labeled with your name and ‘owner of Château Réaut.'”
Mereau launched his first GFA in 1995 with 35 participants on a Mercurey estate of one hectare bought in a court-ordered sale. He says these “passion GFAs” began in Burgundy with the winemaker Michel Juillot.
Mereau explains that, unlike GFAs developed by bankers for clients looking to reduce taxable income, those driven by “passion” are characterized by a sense of “trust and a conviviality” which unites the members. He adds that he has around 500 more individuals keen to buy shares in vineyards.
Hubert Saubot, a Bordeaux banker who was among the owners helping with Château Réaut’s first harvest, was attracted by a “quality operation” among friends sharing their skills.
Although the number of viticultural GFAs in France is not known, Saubot believes it can only grow, because of the prestige attached to France’s vineyards, particularly abroad. “With a GFA you can buy a share of a dream at an affordable price,” he said, adding that these collective purchases are also in keeping “with the mood of the times.”
In the Roussillon wine region, Sébastien Fillon, owner of Clos du Serres, has been able to buy the vineyard he coveted without incurring a huge mortgage, thanks to a GFA of 90 shareholders on two-thirds of the property.
Investors are “proud to have a piece of land in their name and to help someone set himself up in business,” says Fillon. The local chambre d’agriculture has closely followed the scheme’s progress after providing advice on setting it up.
And if investors can't afford to take a full share in a vineyard, mesvignes.com, launched in 2006, offers clients the chance to become a vine owner for a year. Participants "adopt" their vines and join in workshops at harvest time or during the winemaking process.
"We allocate a small parcel of vines to you that you will follow over the course of the vintage year, and that will create a bond with your domaine," says the company. The reward is one or two dozen bottles labeled with the recipient’s name.