“We are a young wine estate in the Terrasses du Larzac, in Languedoc. There is a cellar for us, but we need your help!” This is how vignerons Joël and Krystel Peyre-Brot presented their financing needs on the Fundovino.com website. By late July 2016, they had managed to fully fund the 15,000 euros they were hoping for. About 100 donors each provided between 15 and 750 euros. In exchange for their contribution, they will receive anything from a thank you on Facebook and a corkscrew bearing the logo of the Clos Rouge to three cases of wine and an invitation to wine tastings offered at the estate, including a dinner with the vignerons.
The idea behind crowdfunding is to call on the generosity of individuals, rather than knocking on a banker’s door. The system emerged in the mid-2000s in the United States, as a source of financing for artistic projects like producing a music album or a short film. Thanks to the growth of social media, these gestures of solidarity have developed considerably. In a way, however, this is not completely a modern concept: In 1880, for example, a large-scale campaign for donations was used to help finish the construction of the Statue of Liberty in New York!
In the world of wine, these fundraising efforts are growing in numbers, but its scope remains limited, as Ludovic Aventin, founder of Terra Hominis, a company specializing in wine-related crowdfunding, explains: “While crowdsourcing has become very important in several sectors, over the last few years, it remains marginal in the world of wine, where only a few online platforms offer modest co-financing projects for material or acquiring vines.”
Different Types of Funding
There are various crowdfunding options. Fundovino, for instance, relies on “donation crowdfunding”—you contribute 15 euros, you get a thank you and a corkscrew. A very recent arrival, WineFunding.com, born in May 2016, presents itself as an “equity crowdfunding” platform. Investors get to finance vignerons’ projects directly online, which allows them to become shareholders in the company.
In the case of Terra Hominis, the principle is defined as “individual participative financing,” meaning that it’s tailored to each person. The difference might seem slight, but it creates a different approach with “added human value,” as the founder puts it. From the beginning, potential investors (who are referred to as partners) are told that “acquiring shares of a Terra Hominis vineyard shouldn’t be considered as a financial investment, but rather as a way of getting closer to the earth and the people who work there.”
Terra Hominis’ partners must subscribe to values of pleasure, conviviality, and a shared passion for wine. They must also want to help young vignerons get started—or established ones develop their business. The principle is simple: You become part owner of the real estate, which is then rented to a vigneron. As Ludovic Aventin explains: “The property owned by the partners is rented to a young vigneron who wouldn’t have been able to afford buying the vines—and therefore prevented from expressing his talent. This is how we allow young vignerons to get started, while allowing wine aficionados to own some vines and get some bottles.”
Sharing in a Dream
Owning shares through Terra Hominis is about making a dream come true—owning your own vines. Who hasn’t dreamed of saying, “I have a small vineyard, and this is my wine I’m pouring for you”? Here, you can be involved in the life of the vineyard, without having to take care of all the aspects of managing it. “Our partners are informed about the life of the vineyard, they come take part in the harvest, in blending, and they can have their own mini-bottlings, just for them,” explains Aventin.
Since it was founded in 2011, Terra Hominis has acquired 47 hectares (over 140 acres) under vine in the Aude and Hérault departments of Languedoc, and helped seven vignerons get started or consolidate their business. The first project that got support is Mas Angel, in the Faugères appellation. There is a 100 percent sports project, Domaine Montgros, also in Faugères, where all the partners are from the world of rugby. The most recent is Les Vignes Blanches, managed by a young Italian vigneron, Sybil Baldassarre, who trained in enology and always knew she wanted to make wine her life work.
That story, in particular, is enough to make any budding vigneron’s eyes light up. Ludovic Aventin and Sybil spotted the vines of a retiring wine grower who sold his grapes to the local co-op: three and a half hectares (nine acres) at over 400 meters (1,300 feet) altitude, partly in the Faugères appellation and with a view on the Mediterranean.
“When I saw these vines, I got goosebumps,” she explains. “I asked that it become a project of my own. Terra Hominis created a company with 161 shares at 1,300 euros each, which were bought by 80 shareholders. I take care of the vines and, in exchange, I provide wine bottles as rent.” Without Terra Hominis, Sybil would have been unable to get the necessary funding to create her own winery. The project also saved some vines from probable uprooting.
Crowdfunding wine projects in France remains a bit of a sideshow. But whatever the approach or the type of investment, it creates a new kind of solidarity and helps keep vineyards in production. In Languedoc, two-thirds of the wine growers are over 55 years old. Supporting young vignerons or those who work on a small scale can certainly play a useful role—one that you can share in, literally.
Photo credit: FreeImages.com/Samuel Alves Rosa.