We spent our first half a year here in France trying to understand how things worked, let alone in French. We both needed to learn and improve our French, but at the same time we also needed to figure out how we go about finding an available vineyard to buy or rent.
We had come to France after all to make our own wine. The ideal scenario would be to own our own vineyard, but as we live in Burgundy, near Chablis, we figured owning could turn out to be beyond our pockets. There is also something called ‘fermage‘ here. Essentially, this is when a vineyard owner rents their vineyard to a wine maker (generally long term) who then manages the vineyard and makes wine out of it. This we had more hope for. However, finding a vineyard in either of these scenarios had been proving to be almost impossible. We asked, we emailed, we researched and were directed.
We came across SAFER, a governmental body in France who manage the sales and more of agricultural land, including vineyards. They actually advertise vineyards that are for sale, though only giving you the barest of information – location and size of vineyard. We were still blind, but now blind with ambition.
It appeared you could express your interest though a single page application that basically gave your name and that ‘yes, we are interested in this vineyard’. So, figuring we had nothing to lose, we applied for a number of vineyards that interested us in the area. We heard back on one that we had not been successful (surprise, surprise), and then… nothing. For months, nothing.
In amongst this, we were still looking for the elusive ‘fermage’. We finally found our way to another office, a sort of sub-SAFER or variation (our French wasn’t up to explaining how they differed) ~ the Chamber of Agriculture. Here we had a meeting, in French, and put our names down, we think, to be considered for renting a vineyard. We did understand at least from the meeting that most rentals come about between people who knew one another and our chances were slim, but every attempt had to be made. And then… nothing.
Then suddenly late in September, everything happened. We had a letter from SAFER asking us to come to a public meeting in 2 weeks time regarding some vineyards we had applied for. That was it, not what the meeting was about, or what we could expect, or even any more details about the vineyards we had applied for. So, of course, we couldn’t resist and duly went to the meeting.
The meeting was held in nearby Chichee (near Chablis) in their local hall, and set up in true formal French fashion. Tables were put at one of the room at which resided a Committee of Five, and chairs were put in front on which sat ourselves and 3 other interested parties – we determined as proceedings got under way and we were all introduced.
We’re we nervous? Heck yes. Were we still in the dark, with no idea what was going on or why? Absolutely. As different vineyards were projected on a screen, those around us rifled though paperwork we very conspicuously did not have. Details were given on each property and questions were asked by the others and answered. And we simply sat, trying to understand what was being said, let alone what this was all about.
We recognised the properties shown as those we had put in applications for, so at least we knew we were in the right place. We also realised that the head of the Committee seemed to be rooting for us in some way. After all the details were gone through, we were told decisions would to be forthcoming. Decisions?!?!?!? What decisions!?!?! Then, we were all dismissed.
In the parking lot it was obvious the others knew each other. We were definitely the odd ones out and wondering just what we were doing here. We felt both disheartened yet intrigued at the same time. We were very obviously in over our heads, with little comprehension of the way of the land, but at the same time had been granted a glimpse into a world we knew we wanted to be part of.
When we got home it was to discover a message had been left for us to phone SAFER. We were asked to come in for a meeting. We duly went into their offices, dictionary at the ready, to find out what was in store for us. And, oh my. It was a vineyard. Sort of.