Well, really. Who among us doesn’t love a glass of wine or buy a little wine shop at home – but they kept going. “I liked wine more and more, my wife too, but at the same time I worked more and more”, says Daniel Donath. “In order not to go crazy with work, we decided to buy a cellar as therapy.”
We talk about it over a glass of red, which mixes the Gamay and Merlot grape varieties. We are sitting in the center of Prague in his company, at the same time it is really a wine from the house vineyard, from the Domaine de Bonaguil cellar. The Donaths didn’t bother and bought nine hectares of land in the French region of Soturac in the southwest of the country.
This is a story that should be read by anyone with similar intentions: the truth is not just in the wine but also in the numbers. “They always say that when you buy a vineyard, you have to put in so much to make it work. What’s the part I didn’t know,” says Donath, smiling today – but it wasn’t so easy the first years.
For starters, the story goes back to the 1990s, when he moved to the United States as a student. He stayed in America, worked for Deloitte in Washington and, after the Czech Republic joined the European Union, which allowed Eastern Europeans to work on their home continent, settled in London, where he mainly dealt and still deals with mergers.
“The boss had wine clubs every Friday,” he recalls. Barbora’s wife was working in Brussels at the time, they met her economic lecturer in Prague and they stayed together. Several countries, a common passion. Of course, wine.
Love also flared up when they arrived at Domaine de Bonaguil five years ago. “It’s a vineyard in the middle of the forest, the orchids grow there. Really beautiful place. We fell in love with it straight away,” he recalls, but the negotiations took place more than twice: “For the first time they wanted a lot of money I started doing business and the price was unrealistic They came down with it we bought it and I found out I was unrealistic again That it was a huge mess.”
Why? They became owners in July, the first harvest took place in September and at the end there were two barrels of wine. Yes, two.
The rules of the field are relatively implacable. “I spoke to a good friend, the manager of an investment bank in London. He has a vineyard in Tuscany and he said to me: Look, I’m burning money there, “Donath is honest. “Not far from our cellar is the director of Cartier. He puts a lot of money into it. It really burns them. It’s not my case. For one thing, I don’t have them, and I don’t think things should be done that way either.”
The Domaine de Bonaguil region has a normal character in France, it is not really an exceptional terroir. At the same time, it is not bound by the rules of Bordeaux, Champagne and other iconic wines. So you can play. Like when Donath proudly pours unusually blended bubbles between Gamay and Chardonnay.
How much does such a business cost? Hundreds of thousands? “If you want to do this, nothing more,” he looks at the glass of sparkling juice. “The thermoregulation equipment that controls the entire fermentation will cost, for example, one hundred thousand euros. One amphora for 750 liters is five thousand euros. The annual cost is several hundred thousand euros. It really depends on the way you want to do it.”
Therefore, a lifelong economist and at the same time an elderly wine lover combined two things in his plan. Rejoice, but not rework. To be at zero, a Czech winemaker in France must sell more than 25,000 bottles a year, of which he still lacks about 5,000.
“We are far away,” he said. “I liked the cellar that is right next to the castle, where seventy thousand people come every year, about sixty thousand of them in the summer. We have rented a shop there, where we sell at retail prices. Wholesale , it’s a thirty to fifty percent discount,” he explains. “Another big difference is the export. However, a distributor in Lyon told me: Your wine is insanely expensive here. There is a lot of competition in France. »
Incredibly expensive, which means an approximate range of ten to twenty euros per bottle. At the same time, the Donaths produce strictly organic and sulphate-free wines. And they invest.
They hired the former technical director of the famous company Pape Clément as a wine consultant. They have purchased a wine shop in Saint Emilion, through which Daniel has the opportunity to observe first hand how much and in what quality the competition is trading.
And also – this is the reason we met – they run the Lot of Wine bar in Týn, right in the heart of old Prague. This time not only wine but also covid is to blame. As gastronomy received interventions, projects and places long inaccessible became available. In France and in Prague.
“In Saint Emilion, the French inherit wine merchants from generation to generation, I am perhaps the only foreigner there. Same goes for this place. If someone had told me three years ago… It happened by accident, so we started,” says Donath, with Peter and Svetlana Červenko, who previously ran the Oliva company in Prague, in charge. of the operation.
The costs have already been discussed, but it is fair to add that the euphoria decreases with the account balance for a long time. “I was here at first,” Donath points his finger up, then drops his hand sharply – a pithy description of his initial enthusiasm and subsequent dealing with all the problems and challenges. “I’m in the middle now. I need another track, but I already know it makes sense. Give it away.”
In his experience, many people will sell their vineyards after the first three to four years, and as an owner since 2017, he should be beyond doubt.
It helped, for example, that when the covid barricades came down, they went to France with their families. “We went there for a year. According to the rules, you couldn’t go more than a kilometer from the house, but when you’re on nine hectares, it’s better,” he smiles. “It just came to our knowledge at that time. I saw how it works in the basement, what to do and when. As a result, I start making many decisions myself. ”
As the owner, the strategy always rests mainly on him. He transferred the approach of being around people who understand things better than he does. The rest is to be learned. To show. Maybe indefinitely.
“How to cover the fermentation of wine so that it does not turn into vinegar. When to start harvesting, prune the leaves or not. They give shade, but at the same time they have moisture in them”, he gives quick examples. “The neighbor has been in the vineyard for twenty-five years, it’s so hard to learn something like that in a year or two. You will not command nature. I will know when I am in my twentieth harvest.”
However, the whole process – wine production and long-term learning – is part of the mentioned therapy. Including the times when you have clay or juice soaked in your fingers.
“It’s even the basis of a therapy,” he smiles, his physical work purifying. “We’ve been through extremes before like the sun burned out for a year and they’re in their 40s, last year it was still depressing, it was still raining and mushrooms were growing after the cellar. But at the same time, that’s the most interesting thing. We also did a pool and had a glass of rosé, chilled out, was with the kids and brought friends – I have a lot more now!”
Who would be surprised, because visitors only draw a holiday idyll, do not see the worst of wine days. At the same time, they do not work alone. They don’t know the whole long process from the first steps to the corking of the bottles. And also, among other things, they did not invest in land.
“There’s a lot of land in France, so its price is about inflationary, maybe a bit above that. But again, I think when I see what’s happening in Ukraine right now, it’s a very good investment,” says Donath.
“Winemaking is a hobby for us and if you have a hobby you have to pay something for it. And once my kids don’t want to do it? I’ll deduct the cost of joy – and the money I put into it will more or less pay me back.”
Until then, there is still plenty of time. The sun will shine and heavy rain will fall. Better and worse harvests will come. However, he believes that the introduction of the crisis was the most difficult test. “The first goal is to sell 25,000 bottles a year and then increase production to around 40,000,” says Donath. “And then make wine better and better.”