Last week, Napa Valley was hit by a magnitude 6.0 earthquakethat rocked the region and caused considerable damage to vineyardsin the Valley, disrupting supplies and, ultimately, prices of thered and white stuff. This news coincided with a vacation thatmy wife and I took to Sicily. While touring the island, we visiteda vineyard owned by an Italian Count who has invested a boatload ina state-of-the-art facility that turns out first-class vino.

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The news in Napa and my visit to the Sicilian operation remindedme that there are parallels to the real estate business. Common wisdom is that 80% of real estate companies employ 15 orfewer employees, and are niche players in their markets. At theother end of the spectrum are the more institutional players whoown large portfolios and access the public and large privateinstitutional markets.

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Likewise, vineyards are generally small local operations, but isthere also an institutional side to the business beyond thelifestyle-type investment by a wealthy Count in Venice?

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In the quest for alternative investments, the business of wineis a fringe player that's getting more attention. Institutionalinvestors such as CalPERS,TIAA-CREF, Prudential andJohn Hancock have places capital in the vineyardspace. Individual investors can partake through private-equityopportunities, or through the public markets via real estateinvestment trusts.

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I expect that we'll see some more action in the public marketsfocused on vineyard investments over the next couple of years asinvestors seek higher and diversified returns. Check it out, andwhile you are at it, uncork a nice vino rosso.

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