When Matt Fleming purchased 120 acres in Temecula’s wine country five years ago, the land was a dying grapefruit orchard that he envisioned would someday become a community of million-dollar homes. But the real estate market had already dropped from its peak and drowned new-home builders in a tidal wave of foreclosures and short sales.
Some may say Fleming is a patient man; others may see him as an entrepreneur with good business sense. Either way, he has harvested the fruit of his investment in the form of a working organic orchard with more than three-dozen homeowners living on it. They live in the midst of "the Groves" with a contract that states the trees on their land will offset their homeowners' association fees.
“When you buy into this property you are also buying into living in a working organic grove,” Fleming said.
Each of the 37 home sites that make up the Groves are situated on two-acre parcels within a gated community, with views of the San Jacinto Mountains and minutes away from Temecula’s wineries.
“Part of my business plan was to just sit back and wait,” Fleming said. He paved the dirt roads Pauba and Anza into a two-mile stretch of pavement, which took several years. Then came the sprawling houses ranging from 5000 square feet to almost 5300 square feet, which are priced from the low- to mid-million-dollar range: chef-worthy kitchens, courtyards with fireplaces, six-car garages, ten-foot ceilings, and wine cellars are pretty standard — the houses are also plumbed for solar.
Some of the lots have more grapefruit trees than others, but the lots' large size allows space for homeowners to do what they want with the remainder of their land. The trees, however, cannot be touched.
“I went through the process of getting the trees organic,” Fleming said. “Now we’re in our third year of being able to sell the fruit organically, and [they] are creating a profit.”
The fruit from the trees is sold to local Trader Joe’s and Vons stores, he said. The profit is then deposited in the homeowners’ association account and put into a “slush fund” that offsets the fees. Since only the second phase of homeowners is currently living at the Groves, Fleming projects that at least 75 percent of homeowners’ fees will be paid for by the fruit production, but possibly could rise to 100 percent of the monthly dues.
“The fruit is picked and boxed and cleaned by a company out of Rainbow called Rainbow Valley Orchards,” Fleming said. Rainbow Valley Orchards oversees the entire organic cultivation and harvest of the 2420 trees. Last year, the Groves produced and sold 1180 bins of fruit, Fleming said.
“The rules are that you cannot pick the fruit, and you’re not allowed to interact with the grove other than walk through the grove,” he said. “The HOA is going to water those trees, maintain those trees and prune those trees so the homeowner is in essence getting a free set of landscaping, as well. This is a licensed organic operating farm."
Grapevines also trail through the sides and backyards of many of the homes, but the grapes are incorporated into a different selling policy that is maintained by homeowners.