Real-estate developers used to build houses around golf courses; now they’re creating communities near vineyards. F&W’s Lettie Teague wonders if she should move in.
If it takes a village to raise a child (and turn Hillary Clinton into a best-selling author), what does it take to create a community? Shared values or shared property lines? To some real-estate developers, it’s as simple as a shared interest in wine. At least that seems to be the impetus behind the new communities created for people who like to drink wine—and want to live near other wine drinkers, too.
Although I’ve been looking for a new house for a while, this is one criteria I’ve yet to apply. I’ve factored in taxes, sewer lines and square footage, but never the contents of my neighbor’s cellar. And I’d never met anyone else who thought about such things until I visited Trilogy Central Coast in Nipomo, California.
Trilogy CC, located about an hour north of Santa Barbara, is one of nearly a dozen wine communities that have appeared over the past several years. Whether a development with one central vineyard, a cluster of houses with individual vineyards or simply a place where homeowners can take part in lots of wine-focused events, these communities are so new that Trilogy CC was one of the few that I found where people had actually moved in. Other developments currently in the works include Algodon Wine Estates in Mendoza, Argentina; Montaluce Winery & Estates in Dahlonega, Georgia; the Rise in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada; and the very posh Vineyard Estates in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Given the state of today’s real-estate market, this kind of luxury living may seem like a tough sell (and at prices that start at the half-million mark, none of these houses are exactly cheap), but almost all of the developers I spoke with told me that they weren’t worried. Patricia Kluge, owner of Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard in Charlottesville and the visionary behind Vineyard Estates, told me, “If it takes 18 months longer than we expected to sell out, that doesn’t matter.” In the past year, Kluge has sold three of the 24 potential home sites.
Kluge wants to create a place that will, as she says, “preserve the Virginia countryside and ensure the future of Virginia wine”—and, in the meantime, provide a proper setting for two dozen architecturally significant (the celebrated David Easton supplied the designs) and amenity-rich mansions costing between $7 and $23 million. Each of the Vineyard Estates houses will have its own vineyard, whose size will vary according to varietal. For example, Kluge says, “I have a perfect home site with a gorgeous view and a 10-acre vineyard that’s perfect for sparkling wine.” The price of perfection? Around $20 million.
Trilogy CC doesn’t offer its residents personal vineyards, but it does provide just about everything else related to wine. That includes blending seminars for residents who want to create the first Trilogy bottling, as well as classes in wine appreciation by professors from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and tastings and dinners by winemakers such as Leslie Mead of Talley Vineyards, presented at the development’s own wine bar and restaurant.
Trilogy currently has eight “active lifestyle” communities, all on the West Coast. The Central Coast location, begun in 2005, is the newest, as well as the most wine-centric. According to Terry Hanna, Trilogy’s Area President for southern California, each of the eight communities has the same purpose: “Every Trilogy community is built for active people seeking a life-affirming life.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I figured that was just because I’ve lived in New York for so long; New York is a lot of things, after all, but life-affirming rarely makes the top of the list.
Terry was one of several Trilogy executives I met with during my two-day tour; I’d decided to fly out to California for a closer look at the development and to meet with some of its residents. I was curious to see what kind of people would choose their home based on their wine consumption, not to mention that of their neighbors.
Trilogy Central Coast is surrounded by farms and other housing developments, most of which seem to be centered around golf—though perhaps the nearby Teddy Bear Hill community is centered around something else? There are currently some 250 houses sprawled over 950 acres, and once the property is “built out” (in developer parlance), there will be more than 1,000 homes.
Terry and I met up at the Trilogy Monarch Club, a soaring wood and glass structure that’s home to a fitness club, spa and pool as well as a wine bar and restaurant, Adelina’s Bistro, that opened this past spring. There’s also a shop with a small but nicely chosen selection of wines, mostly local but with a few imports as well (Girardin Burgundies, a smattering of Champagne). Nearby was the requisite golf course, plus tennis and bocce courts too.
“You got here at the right time,” Terry said to me as we peered into the fitness room, where several Trilogy residents (clearly active, and most likely self-affirmed) were working out. “The new wine library is opening in a few days,” he said eagerly as he steered me toward a small, freestanding building next to the bistro. “It’s the only one of its kind on the Central Coast.”
I pictured a cavernous, wood-paneled room with backlit bottles of Lafite and Latour, rounded out by magnums of Raveneau and DRC. Or at least a substantial amount of Central Coast Pinot Noir. But the library turned out to be a small, corporate-looking dining room with a table that seated 18, surrounded by “wine lockers” where club members could, for a reasonable fee, store up to 12 bottles at a time.
Members who store their wines in these lockers will be allowed to hold private parties in the library catered by the chef of Adelina’s Bistro, Pandee Pearson (a local celebrity whom Trilogy spirited away from her restaurant in nearby Morro Bay). They will also be able to bring their own wines to the restaurant without paying the $15 corkage charge.
But the lockers were so small, I observed. What if the residents owned more than 12 bottles of wine? Terry nodded. “We’re trying to flex them up,” he replied, employing a verb that I’d never heard used quite that way, but would hear often over the next two days. While we were examining the floor plans of the model houses (Trilogy resi- dents can choose from 13 different types), Terry noted that each model could be “flexed up.” “If you like the kitchen but want the island to be bigger, we can flex that up,” he offered. The word elevation was also liberally applied as a synonym for “type.” For example, there were four different elevations, which meant that each house could have one of the following looks: a Tuscan villa, a California ranch, a casita or a New England cottage.
I wanted to ask Terry how he would be able to flex up the wine-storage space, but he was already en route to the art studio, a few feet away from the library. “This is a Jackson Pollock kind of place,” Terry said, opening the door. I looked for splashes of paint on the floor and discarded bottles of whiskey (Pollock was nearly as famous a drunk as he was a painter). “We might have some wine tastings here, too,” he added.
Wine-blending classes are currently held at Domaine Alfred winery, one of Trilogy’s partner wineries, located about 15 miles away in the Edna Valley. (There will be others in years to come.) Although Domaine Alfred is particularly famous for its Pinot Noirs, especially those from the Chamisal vineyard, a group of Trilogy residents will be creating a special house blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot for Trilogy. The wine will be distributed in other Trilogy communities later this year. “Once word gets out about what’s going on down here, we’re going to see people from other Trilogy communities enrolling in our blending classes,” Terry predicted excitedly. In other words, the classes would be flexed up as well.
Then it was time for my model-home tour. Although I’d examined the elaborate brochures that had arrived several weeks earlier in a box that fittingly resembled Monopoly, I was looking forward to seeing the actual houses, which range in price from mid-$500,000 to just over $1 million. The first model we visited was the Lopez (two bedrooms, two baths, $651,000), which had been painted a loud shade of mauve. When I commented on the unusual color, Terry nodded enthusiastically. “Every house has its memory point. It’s designed to maximize your recall. Your memory point of this house will be that it’s mauve.” I wasn’t so sure that this was a good thing, but I kept my thoughts to myself, and we moved on to the next model home.
We toured each of the houses in quick succession (there were eight altogether), and they soon became tangled together in my mind. I couldn’t figure out their individual memory points—they all looked alike. Every house had huge windows, huge beds and even larger kitchens, which looked liked they’d been flexed up as far as they could go. Clearly, people who moved to Trilogy liked to throw dinner parties for 20 or more.
According to Terry, there was an option on nearly everything I saw, from the square footage to the style of the bathrooms to the tiles and flooring and, of course, the location and view. The Romauldo model, for example, has an interior courtyard and a “premium” view of the golf course that could add tens of thousands of dollars to its price. Terry quizzed me: Could I guess the memory point of the last house we saw? I recalled that it had red walls and some very nice tile in the bathroom. “You should remember it as the house with the fake wall hiding the safe,” he replied.
I wondered how Trilogy residents remembered enough to choose a house model, let alone its multiple options. (Were they not only life-affirming but also possessed of remarkable powers of recall?) But one house, the Avila, had a memory point I didn’t forget: the 735-bottle wine cellar ($18,000 extra, depending on size). I also liked the Cabrillo model ($908,000), one of the few two-story models on view. “Not many people in California choose to flex up to a two-story,” Terry said. “That’s very East Coast.”
It takes about five months to build a Trilogy house; every resident is assigned a field manager and a designer. How long does it take a resident to customize a house? I asked Shelly Wagner, who works out of Trilogy’s on-site design studio. “About 10 to 12 hours,” she said. How was that possible? After all, there were, according to Terry, some 3,500 options for every house. “Some residents take a little longer,” Shelly conceded. “Some take as much as 24 hours.”
I couldn’t choose bathroom tile in 24 hours, let alone every last detail—though I did try customizing a house, spending an additional $40,000 straightaway on nonstandard wood flooring. In fact, I became so engrossed in the task that I nearly missed my meeting with the small group of residents who had gathered in the wine library to talk about wine and Trilogy.
“I remember someone once asked the wine critic Robert Parker to make 12 bold predictions,” Trilogy homeowner Jim Murray said to me. “One of his predictions was that the Central Coast would become one of the great wine-producing regions in America.” (Parker did, in fact, make this forecast—in an article for Food & Wine.) The 100 wineries within an hour’s drive of Trilogy CC, Jim said, were one of the main reasons he and his wife, Liz, decided to move from San Jose. Another factor, he added, was the golf-course view. He and Liz actually stood in line overnight to get their first choice on a home site. “We got a call from a sales guy who said, ‘We’re releasing some lots on the fourth green. First come, first served,’ ” he recalled.
Jim, like the other residents I met, had definite favorites among the local winemakers, including Ken Volk of Santa Barbara county’s Kenneth Volk Vineyards (“Personally, I’d like him to make the Trilogy wine,” Jim said) and Chuck Ortman of Riverbench: “He makes a great Burgundian-style Chardonnay.” Had I tried their wines? I hadn’t. “Well, you should,” Jim said.
Gary Cunningham was also a big Riverbench fan. “Great Pinot Noirs,” he declared, although he also liked EOS Petite Sirah from Paso Robles, up the coast. He and his wife, Judy (who loves Turley Zins), were in line in front of the Murrays on the morning the Trilogy CC sites went on sale, and the two couples became friends. The Cunninghams had attended nearby Cal Poly several decades earlier and decided to move back to be near their alma mater. Wine played a big role in their lives, Gary added, even though he didn’t have as big a wine collection as Jim. (Gary keeps his several dozen bottles in a closet. “You’d be surprised at how cool it is,” he said.)
The Cunninghams, the Murrays and the other couples I met all spend lots of time touring wineries, and there were ones they liked and ones they didn’t. In the former category were Paul Lato Wines in Santa Maria, Talley Vineyards in the Arroyo Grande Valley and L’Aventure in Paso Robles. I was impressed by their knowledge and strongly held opinions. Clearly, they were impassioned about wine.
Most of the residents I talked with were members of the Trilogy supper club, which has some 60 members (about 10 percent of the community’s current population). Suppers take place at least once a month for groups of eight to 10, with people taking turns hosting the event, making the meal and choosing the wines. The real-estate tour is part of the fun: “I like to see how other people have decorated my house,” Trilogy resident Linda Adams said to me. Although, she added, “Once, I went looking for the bathroom in a neighbor’s house that’s the same model as mine, and I couldn’t find it. She had put it on the other side of the house.” But the main draw is the chance to make new friends and try new wines.
The wine is a very important part of the entertainment. (Some people told me that when Jim comes to their house for dinner they get nervous about choosing the wine, because “he knows so much.”) Everyone has to participate, or as Liz Murray put it, “You have to drink wine to live here.” In fact, she added, when she and her husband were first touring the community, her guide pointed out various houses by saying, “Those people like to drink wine...And those people over there like to drink wine...And those people do, too.”
I considered my neighbors back in New York, whose wine preferences (as well as so much else about their lives) were unknown to me. I had no idea if they even liked wine, let alone preferred Zinfandel to Pinot Noir, as Liz knew that Judy did, and I felt an odd sense of loss.
So now that I have returned from Trilogy and am continuing my search for a new home, I’ve added to my list of desirable attributes neighbors who like to have large dinner parties—and who especially like to share good bottles of wine.