Share in a vineyard is a sparkling offer: Ian Hunter looks at companies that rent out wine-growing land in France

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What's better than a case of wine for Christmas? How about a share in a vineyard?

You can buy one for as little as pounds 49 a year. A company called 3D Wines, based in Lincolnshire has leased 125 rows of vines in Burgundy and the Loire Valley. It is renting these out to individual 'partners'.

Each row, which costs pounds 49 a year, produces 48 bottles of Appellation Controlee wine every year. But partners must pay for it to be bottled.

Bottles of the white Sancerre can be bought for Fr34.00 ( pounds 3.90) each, while the red or white Givry is on offer for Fr31.50 a bottle.

Those prepared to invest in a row of vines for five years get a 20 per cent discount on the rental. They can also swap their wine with a partner in another vineyard.

The company already has four fully subscribed vineyards, three in the Loire Valley in the Appellations of Samur-Champigny, St Nicholas-de-Burgueil and Coteaux du Layon Rochefort, and another in the Appellation of Maranges in Burgundy.

Once the Appellation Controlee wine is ready - May for the Sancerre and June for the Givry - partners have the option of buying as little or as much of their quota as they wish. They can either collect the wine, store it rent free for up to 18 months or have it delivered, currently at a cost of pounds 21.50 per case, to the British mainland.

Those who choose to collect their consignments and import them personally can bring in up to 10 cases per person duty free.

Wineshare Ltd, based at Dorking, Surrey, which has been recruiting members since 1986, presents a similiar deal to 3D Wines. It offers a minimum of 50 vines producing 10 cases of wine at a rent of pounds 50 a year plus VAT. The wine can be bought at the production cost. The rent is fixed for 10 years.

Wineshare has two vineyards, one east of Bordeaux and the other in the heart of Provence. Vines can also be transferred to friends at a cost of pounds 15 plus VAT.

The company's 1992 vintage, Domaine du Grand Mayne, can be collected from France at pounds 1.95 a bottle or be delivered to the UK for pounds 3.39. The more expensive Constantin Chevalier is available in France at pounds 3.16 a bottle or in the UK at pounds 4.48. Both wines are also Appellation Controlee. A depot has been set up in Boulogne to make collection easier.

Wineshare offers its subscribers the extra novelty of personalised labels which must be ordered before the end of January each year. The bottling takes place in April. This service is offered free on 10 or more cases of wine of the same colour.

A Wineshare spokesman says: 'Other subscribers, particularly companies, like to design their own label and we ship their wine with a small back label describing the contents. In that way our subscribers can give vent to their creative flair without worrying about EC labelling regulations.'

Both Wineshare and 3D Wines offer members a chance to visit the vineyards and to receive a newsletter describing the progress of the current vintage. However, fickle weather conditions are capable of ruining even the best-laid plans.

Kate MacAulay, a spokeswoman for the off-licence chain Oddbins, says: 'The issue is one of quality. If you commit yourself financially to one vineyard and feel obliged to take wine from there every year there is no guarantee that the wine will be of a consistent quality because of the peril of bad weather.'

Wineshare Ltd, 0306 742164; 3D Wines, 0205 820745.

(Photograph omitted)

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