You’ve probably heard that two more local wine producers – Sherwood House Vineyards and Lieb Family Cellars – have put property up for sale. Dr. Charles and Barbara Smithen, current owners of Sherwood House, are asking $4.1 million for their 36-acre Mattituck property, while Mark and Kathy Lieb are asking $7.75 million for their vineyard house and 47.5 acres of property in Cutchogue.
Houses and property go on the market every day. So what’s the big deal?
Well, some onlookers are worried that these newest properties, joining Ackerly Pond Vineyards, Castello di Borghese, Galluccio Family Winery, Schneider Vineyards and other, lesser properties on the market, mean that people are giving up on the region and getting out while they can.
I won’t claim to be an expert on real estate and I don’t have any inside information per se, but that worry seems unfounded from where I sit. I certainly don’t see any of these owners selling their assets at a cut rate just to “get out.”
In fact, I know that in the case of Sherwood House and Castello di Borghese, it’s a simple matter of moving into a new stage in their lives. When I asked Ms. Smithen about the news, she responded by saying simply, “We want to do more traveling and (as) you know, we bought a house in Antibes (France).Ten years is a long run and we’ve fulfilled our dream twenty times over. But we still are continuing business as usual. I want to hand it over to someone who has as much passion as we have. We have met the most incredible people in this industry.”
That doesn’t sound like someone who is worried about the viability of the region’s wine industry, does it?
Similarly, Ann Marie Borghese commented, “Marco and I are following our initial plan, which was to be here until the children graduated high school, and now we are structuring our next phase. The vineyard is for sale and with the time it takes to conclude this type of transaction we are starting the sequence.” Neither of their children plan to take over the family business, and they are ready to move on.
The Lieb property for sale is merely the house and the surrounding property (which is covered in vines). Lieb Family Cellars’ management has been mum about the whole thing, but it doesn’t sound like the wine-making operation, Long Island’s only premium crush facilty, is for sale or in any danger of closing, just a house that doesn’t get used much. Maybe they’ll even re-invest the money from the home sale in the wine.
Detractors are also pointing to what Leucadia National Corporation – which bought Broadfields Wine Cellars and Charles John Vineyard and ripped all the vines out last year – is doing. Or, more accurately, not doing. The vines the group had planned on re-planting those fields with have been made available to other growers. It’s not clear what their plans are for the future. But, while odd, I don’t think anyone should read too much into it. The confusion is compounded some by the fact that Leucadia isn’t talking to the press, or anyone else for that matter.
It seems as if human nature is to be negative and worry – always seeing the worst possible outcome. But I see these changes as a good thing and an opportunity. Take lemons and make lemonade they say, right?
These vineyards really are an opportunity for an influx of new passion, talent and, of course, money. It’s important in any maturing wine region for new investors to join the fray. So, let’s be patient and see these changes for what they are – the normal progression of any industry as it grows and establishes itself.
If I had a few million dollars, I wouldn’t hesitate to invest in the industry myself.