Lease-a-Vineyard, Reap What You Sow

WE ALL FANTASIZE ABOUT IT: Owning our own neatly terraced hillside of vineyard. Nothing too fancy. Only a few dozen acres. Enough to put out a few dozen cases (or so) of wine, complete with our name on the label.

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Yet so few of us can manage the time-not to mention the geographic proximity-let alone the know-how it takes to own, sow, manage and market wine. It’s the oldest beverage concocted on the planet, yet there are still plenty of people who will fail at putting a drinkable glass of vino on the dinner table.

Fear not, there is hope. A new (relatively) line of experiential travel is combining the art of winemaking with the allure of travel and the economy of timesharing. That’s right-you can lease a row of vines from a reputable vineyard to call your very own. You can visit your vines. Talk to your grapes. Play them music, if you think it will help. And after some aid from onsite master vintners, hold a bottle of wine that was made from your very grapes.

Programs exist in nearly all the wine-producing regions. However, it seems to make the most sense for those dabbling in winemaking to choose a place they either have proximity to, or are planning on visiting more than once for a getaway.

One of the leading companies is WineShare, based in Great Britain. This outfit has five vineyards from which participants can choose from. Three are in France (Chateau de Pizay in the Beaujolais region, Domaine du Grand Mayne in Cotes de Duras, and Chateau Constantin-Chevalier in Provence), one in Tuscany (Chianti’s Castello Vicchiomaggio) and one in Britain (Wickham Vineyard).

After choosing your “row,” you’re encouraged to visit the vines anytime you like, tour the vineyards, participate in tastings as well as food and educational events at the wineries. Come harvest, you are welcome to come pick, learn about the crush process, and even observe barreling.

If you’re thinking these are cookie-cutter operations, think again; Castello Vicchiomaggio, for example, boasts a three-time IWSC Italian “Winemaker of the Year,” John Matta, as the grape maestro who watches over and blends your varietal(s). If you choose this vineyard, you are open to discuss techniques and the like with Matta from fruiting to bottle. The level of involvement is entirely up to you. (www.wineshare.co.uk)

A second outfit is 3D Wines, entirely based out of France. With more than 30 vineyards in seven of the productive wine regions-including Bordeaux, Alsace, Burgundy and the Rhone-the allure here is palpable.

Here, the “leasing” of each row of vines gives participants the option of purchasing four cases (48 bottles) of wine. Perks include duty-free rates (for those who pick up their wines in person).

Yet the biggest bonus of working through 3D is their savvy travel club that can arrange for unforgettable journeys through the various winemaking regions. This January, for example, the pinnacle event of the year revolves around the winemakers of Givry who celebrate and honor Saint Vincent, the patron saint of winemaking. After a brief service in a historic church, processions and tastings, a lavish afternoon banquet is thrown followed by a stay at the elegant Gotellerie du Val d’Or in Mercurey. The next day will feature sampling of the legendary cuisine at Mercurey, followed by visits to 3D vineyards Domaine Jacob and Domaine Ragot. (www.3dwines.com)