The Germans Are Coming

The Teutons know a thing or two about fine wine.

The Teutons know a thing or two about fine wine.

“Ooh, I had the Riesling the other day at Il Giardino. It’s fabulous,” says a statuesque blond woman, to no one in particular. I’m standing at the back of a crowded room at Bacchus Restaurant & Lounge in Vancouver’s tony Wedgewood Hotel. The occasion is the launch of the Vineyard Collection – $100-million worth of winery properties, ranging from just under 3½ hectares to almost seven hectares, being put up for sale across the Okanagan. Prices start at $2.1 million. As part of the launch, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, marketer of the properties, is sampling various wines produced by Holman Lang, one of 10 wineries parcelling off its land. The Riesling is the Lang Farm Reserve Riesling 2007, which won Best White at the 2009 All Canadian Wine Championships.

Keith Holman, proprietor of Holman Lang, gets up to speak. “You know, the Europeans were the first people, as far as international buyers, who saw the Okanagan through non-native eyes,” says Holman, a third-generation Okanagan farmer. He singles out Germans as being first to realize the area’s potential. When Guenther Lang emigrated from the motherland in 1980 and purchased a vineyard on the Naramata Bench, he effectively launched the cottage wine industry in B.C. Holman bought Lang’s vineyard in 2007 and has since expanded to 20 holdings and “a couple hundred” acres of grapes.
But producing wine isn’t cheap, hence the real estate play to finance further expansion. “I’ve got enough properties on the Bench,” Lang says when we talk later. “I can maximize my dollars for sale on those properties and buy property cheaper somewhere else.”

Enter Sotheby’s Christa Frosch. The daughter of German-born developer Karl Frosch, she lived and worked in Frankfurt for five years (the Frosch family also has a winery in Germany). “We have sommeliers who work out of our head offices in New York and London, and all they do is sell private collections of wine,” she explains. “I had this idea: why not do the same thing with vineyards?” Top of her list of potential buyers? Germans. “They understand land. And they want a safe investment. They’re not into high risk.” Frosch says she’s planning a tour this fall – in conjunction with one of her developer contacts in Frankfurt – that will bring prospective buyers over to the Okanagan.

As for the threat of a deteriorating real estate market, both Frosch and Holman are dismissive. “In terms of vineyard lands, there’s very little of it available,” says Holman. “If you had 200 or 300 miles of it, you might be in trouble. But when you’ve got a micro area like this, with great views and great grapes, the sky is the limit.”