Of the many things France is famous for, none have been exported so successfully as its wine. Both a hallmark of great quality and a cheap evening staple, France is the first place most people associate with this great drink and a mecca for wine-lovers everywhere. For those intrepid souls who want to start their own wine business, France is the only place to be.
Unsurprisingly, starting your own winery in France is not without its challenges. As well as the many intricacies of running a vineyard and nurturing the perfect grapes, you’ll also have to deal with the quirks of French bureaucracy. With a few simple tips however - and some help from the professionals - you can vault these hurdles and realise your dream of owning a French vineyard.
Do your research
Buying a vineyard in France may be a lifelong dream but you can’t make it on passion alone. Growing grapes and producing wine takes an immense amount of expertise, or short of that, an even bigger amount of research. While you can plug some of these gaps by hiring and talking to the right people, it’s important that you recognise the size of the challenge you face and don’t go into buying your French vineyard with any illusions as to how tough it will be.
The health of your vineyard will depend on a number of factors including prevailing weather conditions, the proper maintenance of your equipment, the prevention of viruses and pests and whether the variety of grapes you’ve chosen is suited to the area and the existing rootstock. You will also need to think about the logistical issues such as the size of the vineyard and how much help you will need to take care of it.
Remember that starting a wine business in France doesn’t just mean grappling with the growing of the grapes. You could essentially be taking on three jobs: making the wine, running a business, and getting used to a new country. That’s not to mention the process of decorating your new home - an undertaking in itself! Each of these requires equal dedication, and multitasking on this level isn’t suited to everyone. Be sure that this is what you truly want before you jump in headfirst.
Choose your region
The area in which you start your vineyard is perhaps the most important decision you can make when starting a wine business in France. This is not only going to be the place you’ll be living and working but will also define the variety of wine you will be producing and the market value it is likely to have. This is all thanks to the French system of appellations -- a system of protections and quality assurance that’s been adopted all over the world.
Since 2012, French wine has used the following classifications:
- Vin de France
Commonly known as table wine, this is the lowest level of classification. Vin de France wines do not carry a specific appellation or region, and can only be labelled as coming from France. However, they are now allowed to list the grape variety and vintage, a move designed to make them more competitive with cheaper foreign wines.
- Indication géographique protégée (IGP)
The intermediate level of classification, IGP wines are restricted by certain factors, including location and the variety of grapes, and must be submitted for testing and tasting. IGP classification is less sought after than AOP but is also less strict in its criteria.
- Appellation d'origine protégée (AOP)
The highest level of classification, AOP was designed to replace the previous AOC classification. This classification is a strict geographical indicator applied to numerous French goods, including cheeses, butters and other products. AOP wines must be produced in specific areas within regions - known as appellations - and taste-tested by a local appraiser for quality. Labelling rules are also extremely strict, including specific font sizes and measurements.
French Wine Appellations
The appellation of a French wine refers to the specific boundaries in which it was made. Regions (e.g. Burgundy) are separated into a number of appellations, some of which are less than one hectare in size. These appellations often require the use of a specific variety of grapes, which are both suited to and characteristic of the region.
The cost of a vineyard will vary based on the availability of land in these appellations, and how sought after wines from these areas tend to be. This can range from around €15,000 to more than €2 million per hectare (p/ha), with the most expensive appellations tending to be in Champagne and the Pauillac region of Bordeaux.
Of course, there’s no requirement for your French wine to come from one of these exclusive areas. If you’re happy to produce IGP or Vin de France wine, your vineyard can be almost anywhere. New EU rules applied in France allow for licenses to be granted to vineyards across the country, meaning that you could technically grow vines in the heart of Paris - if the local authorities agree that that’s a good idea.
Prepare your documents
Incorporating a business in France isn’t as difficult as some people may think, but it does require some forethought and preparation. The first thing you should do when starting any business in France is to produce a comprehensive business plan. This will not only define your objectives and financials - important to securing a French bank account - but will also give you something to refer back to over the course of your journey.
Setting up a French bank account is the next step. This will require you to go over your business plan in detail with the bank, and will usually involve the depositing of at least €4000 in capital. As this process often requires French language proficiency and translated documents, we will be on-hand to make these introductions as part of our formation package.
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You will also have to define your by-laws and settle on a company structure. For a wine business, the most common company structure is SARL, similar to a limited company in the UK. (For more information on structures of French companies, click here on our useful guide What's the difference between a SARL, SAS, SA, EURL & Micro-Entreprise?)
Your by-laws are legal documents outlining this structure, the industry you intend to operate in, and a brief outline of your plans for the future. Again, these need to be provided in French, and submitted to a lawyer or company formation agent for notarisation. (All the details with everything you need to know about starting a business in France can be found with our free downloadable guide at the end of this article.)
If you’ve done all of your due diligence, prepared your paperwork and settled on a shiny new home, you’re ready to start your wine business in France. Of course, reading this post isn’t the end of your journey - there’s plenty of legwork left to do! You’ll need to communicate everything to the authorities in France to get your business started, and settle into your new life.
This is where Euro Start Entreprises can help. Our network of contacts will help you to start your wine business in France with the minimum of hassle and filing the requisite paperwork. We can help with everything from opening a business bank account in France, finding English-speaking French accountants that can help with specialist tax advice, finding a registered address in France for your business and we can also help you with VAT services and online payment processing. We're a one-stop shop for everything you need to start a business in France. So feel free to reach out to us by calling us on 0033 (0) 1 53 57 49 10 or email us via our contact page. We look forward to helping you get your new wine business off the ground!
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