The vineyard currently is in its 2nd full year of operation, and following this little excerpt the stories will be more attuned to setting up the vineyard and getting the real process going. But to complete the story......
As I mentioned Mike Lyttle was a key player when it came to finding the "ideal site". He knew what we were looking for, and he also knew vineyard land requirements, which were not necessarily the same. You see, one can read all they can and talk to as many people as time allows, but the fact is that theory and actuality seldom cross paths. Sure, we wanted a south facing slope. Sure, we needed a water source for both irrigation and to make a microclimate. We wanted soil that drained well and was somewhat fertile, and a group of neighbors that would be both helpful and open-minded to what we wanted to do. And of course we wanted to fit in, a couple of Yankees coming down into Southern territory. All this is well and good, but the fact of the matter is that half of those starting a vineyard inherited their land while the other half just had to grab the best piece of land available and make the best of it.
I have seen PBS specials showing grapes growing basically out of a stone covered land with pebbles as big as golf balls, and I have read how there are vineyards in every state of the union. So, even though theory is great, it comes down to finding the best piece of land possible, combined with the right cost, and all with the right timing.
Diane and I had a target for first crush, and knowing this we backed into our start date, and then further into our "time to start looking" kick-off. In this venture there is nothing available that would lead to a quick reward, unless of course money is no object and someone could purchase a running vineyard / winery. There are many out there. It was money we didn't have though (more on that later) and besides, I already defined what makes me happy and the major item is by making something from nothing, which raw land to vineyard to winery certainly meets that bill.
Mike ended up taking a map and making a circle on it. Periodically he would jump in his car and drive this loop, looking for Real Estate signs along the way that might show land for sale. He did this for several weeks, maybe a couple of months, when he finally came across a decent sized piece of land that was undeveloped, over on the Surry side. It was 85 acres with a couple of small out buildings. Perfect land, 5 to 10 minutes from the ferry with good road access.
Typical of how things seemed to go when searching for land 600 miles away from home, Mike sent us pictures and as much legal info. that he could dig up. He highly recommended the land, and from northern standards (that's all we had to go by) it seemed reasonably priced. One catch though, they didn't want any title search or surveying of the land to confirm what they were selling ! Huh ! As good as it sounded they were unwilling to allow the time needed to do a full due diligence. The deal was like that of 2 buddies shaking hands and taking each others word for it. Hardly how we handled real estate in New England. Unfortuantely we had to let it go. Too much to risk on a wing and a prayer. I did see the land at a later date though and it was pretty. Some local developer bought it and apparently is trying to solicit potential buyers for smaller parcels.
It wasn't long afterwards that Mike found another property, also in Surry. Camera phone pictures, as well as internet photos started coming in rapid fire. He had driven around the property with had one major driveway, a ranch style home with a service barn, right on State Route 10, all situated on 32 acres plus or minus. Everything down there is "plus or minus". He dug up what existed of a plot plan and more with his fair share of difficult conversations with the seller's realtor, and once again strongly suggested we put a bid on it if we wanted it.
Real estate, especially that with value or location, doesn't come up often in Surry or in that neck of the woods. We were told that generally a family has to have some financial difficulty to spin off a piece of land and not leave it to other family members, though that wasn't the particular case here. We are talking about land and homes that have been in the family for generations and generations. If it is a nice piece of land, locals will grab it before the sign is put in the ground out by the road. Good real estate is on the market for only days, if it ever gets that far. It was a pace I wasn't used to in New England (who says the south moves at a slower pace ?). We were going on pure faith, site unseen except for Mike's pictures and input. We put an opening bid on the property with what we felt were normal conditions and contingencies, and this is when the fireworks began.
I have purchased alot of real estate in my days. Personal residences as well as commercial property for my business. After a while you begin to see the pattern. All the legalities, the surveys, the financial approvals. There is a way of doing things, and it pretty much has to follow a certain order to be done correctly and efficiently. But the realtor (or is it Virginia'a way of doing things ?) would have none of it.
I suggested getting a survey to be taken, at my expense. The map we were given had borders that were defined by colored rocks, fallen trees, sites in the distance, you name it. With the survey I suggested that if it came out more than the plus or minus, I'd pay a prorated increase, and that if it came out under I would pay less. They would have nothing to do with it......the price was set, not negotiable for even the most valid reasons. Where have I heard that before ? And then to make it contingent based on financing, even with a time constraint, they didn't care. This was the price, they expected a buyer to have a trunk of cash, and that was that. The realtor even tried to tell me that the acreage was probably more because of the rolling hill in the back providing more square footage of workable land. Trust me , it gets worse but I'll stop here. We had to rush and get financial approvals on land that wasn't even a signed deal (who does this kind of thing ?).
In any event, we finally made an offer. Diane and I hadn't seen or walked the property at all. And they approved. Two weeks later we made it down to Surry to see what we got ourself into, including driving up the driveway and turning around and driving away. Once the seller's realtor found out we did this she called Mike and yelled at him for our "trespassing" ! You figure. And then when we needed one more day to get the banks and signatures to sign off on the closing, she refused saying the seller was going to Florida the next day and couldn't move the closing (sorry, we were told by neighbors that he never left for Florida). We used Federal Express to shuffle all the paperwork, and for the first time I didn't get to go to my own closing due to this strict unilateral deadline.
I had a strange combination of feelings. Frustration at how complicated the purchase and closing had become. Grateful that Mike made some really good calls on the real estate, and the extra effort he put in dealing with the seller's realtor. Bewildered at how this level of legal transaction can be treated so casually. Miffed at how we were basically introduced to southern hospitality with such a negative attitude. And wonder....wondering what we got ourselves into purchasing land, a house unseen with the next 40 years of our future being started on a once again on a wing and a prayer.
But the fun, I mean work, had just begun.......