In the past few years, there has been a marked increase in the number of wine-loving overseas investors seeking to buy vineyards in France. This is particularly true of mainland investors, and has been coupled with Hong Kong's transformation into the region's wine hub following the abolition of duties in 2008. Although not for everyone, there are many reasons why an investor might look to buy a vineyard, ranging from a desire to consolidate related business interests (such as wine distribution or retailing, or catering) to a thirst for a novel investment to the simple love of fine French wine. Who can buy a French vineyard? There are generally no restrictions on investing on the basis of citizenship or jurisdiction of incorporation of the investor, and the short answer is that anyone can buy a vineyard. This is subject to obtaining certain government approvals that apply to all such purchases and making certain administrative filings. Generally, the starting price for a French vineyard is likely to be about €1 million (HK$10.3 million), but this will depend greatly on factors such as plot size, quality, reputation and whether the acquisition is just of real estate or of an entire business. An important issue that needs to be decided early on is whether the underlying real estate of the vineyard will be acquired (and whether any other assets or businesses will be acquired) or, alternatively, whether the shares of the company owning the real estate will be acquired. This decision will affect what consents and notifications are required and the amount and types of tax payable (different taxes will apply to the sale of real estate, the shares of a company and the sale of assets). Depending on the transaction structure, a number of consents, notifications and approvals may be required. An indicative list is as follows: Approval of the Ministry of Agriculture: The prior approval of the Ministry of Agriculture is required for a non-French individual or company to own an agricultural business in France. A company falls into this category if either: (i) more than 50 per cent of its shareholders are non-French nationals; or (ii) more than 50 per cent of its share capital is held, directly or indirectly, by non-French nationals. The ministry also determines the type of activities the applicant is permitted to conduct once an operating licence has been granted. Operating licence from the local Ministry of the Interior (Prefecture): A vineyard is required to hold an operating licence prior to engaging in agricultural activities. If a corporate entity holding an operating licence is acquired and retains the necessary qualified personnel to operate the vineyard, the licence will transfer along with ownership of the shares and it will not be necessary to apply for a new licence. However, if the investment takes the form of an asset acquisition, this will constitute a change in operator and a new operating licence will usually be required. Safer (Societes d'amenagement foncier et d'etablissement rural) notification and pre-emption rights: Safers are public organisations with pre-emption rights to buy most real estate currently or potentially used for agriculture and related agricultural buildings or moveable assets. As such, the relevant Safer has jurisdiction over agricultural real estate, including vineyards, and must be officially notified of a relevant sale so that it can decide whether to exercise its pre-emption rights. Although this is not strictly a "consent", if the Safer decides to exercise its rights, it will buy the land in place of the would-be buyer, thereby frustrating the purchase. The relevant Safer will not have any pre-emption rights in a share sale since there is no direct transfer of the agricultural land. Certain other declarations and consents may be needed, depending on the identity of the buyer entity and the value of the transaction. A potential investor should make it a priority to instruct a legal adviser at an early stage of the process, making sure that their legal adviser can provide language support and cultural experience in both France and their home jurisdiction.