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Wealthy wine fanatics are opting to buy U.S. vineyards rather than the traditional French and Italian wineries, as the appetite for luxury "lifestyle" properties like ski chalets, private islands and wineries increases.
Vineyards in the Rhone Valley in France and Chaianti in Italy remained popular purchases, but it was Sonoma County in Northern California that saw the greatest price gains, according to international estate agent Knight Frank.
"Vineyards are increasingly seen by the world's wealthy as a means of broadening their property portfolio, while providing an opportunity to learn and explore a new industry or passion," said Knight Frank in a report published on Monday in Singapore.
Sonoma Wine Country is part of San Francisco's Bay Area, and is a short drive from the city's Golden Gate Bridge. It is home to around 400 wineries with grape varieties include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The cost of a boutique vineyard in the area—defined as an estate with a detached family residence and between 2 and 15 hectares of vines—rose by 17.9 percent in Sonoma County in the year to June 2014. This topped gains of 12 percent recorded in Chianti, and 11.1 percent in Sonoma County's better-known neighbor, Napa Valley.
Sonoma County properties offered by Sotheby's luxury real estate agency include a 22-acre estate going for $8,995,000 in Lovall Valley. The property comes with a five-bed family home, a swimming pool, spa, guest house and 1,000-square-foot hillside "wine cave." For $5.5 million , Sotheby's International Realty also has a 110-acre estate that has been off the market for over 50 years.
Berghof Realty, which specializes in country homes in California's wine district, offers estates in Sonoma County without residences for prices ranging from $1.25 million to $9.5 million.
"Lifestyle vineyards are acquired by a mix of buyers," said Knight Frank. "Some are purchased as an early retirement project by wealthy individuals in their late forties or early fifties, keen to embrace a 'hands-on' approach and with the capital to fund it.
"Others are purchased as holiday homes which are visited three or more times each year, with a manager employed to oversee the day-to-day running of the estate, including both production and sales."
According to Knight Frank, buyers in Sonoma County typically look for a ranch-style property with a swimming pool. Those interested in Italy also usually want a swimming pool, while investors looking to buy in Napa Valley like a modernized farmhouse with additional land for either horses or additional vines.
Across the world, the price of buying a lifestyle vineyard rose by an average of 4.5 percent year-to-June, down from 6.8 percent in the preceding period. Knight Frank attributed the slowdown to slowing growth in top-performing regions, which topped 25 percent in the previous year.
The wealthiest one percent across the world continue to invest in land and property as a means of sheltering capital from the volatility of the financial markets. Luxury homes in global cities like New York and London remain at the top of the list, but vineyards, ski homes and private islands are increasingly on the radar, according to Knight Frank, as investors see the advantage of a lifestyle acquisition that also provides an investment return.
However, other "investments of passion" performed better than vineyards in the 12 months to June. Classic cars returned 25 percent, while collectible coins and art made 10 percent and 5 percent respectively.