From Terroir to Table: Meyer Family Vineyards wine from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia to Mayfair, London in one leap.

We arrive at the Wild Honey restaurant in Mayfair on Monday around 12.15 p.m. with no reservation.   It’s a spur of the moment decision to come here for lunch.   This restaurant has been on our list for some time and suddenly the opportunity presents itself.

And here we are.   We open the door, walk through the semi-circular red curtained area between the outer door and the restaurant, which protects the clientele from winter drafts, and step inside.

One look within the comfortable, well appointed restaurant with paneled walls resounding with lively lunchtime chat and I know we made the right decision to come here.

Immediately, we are ushered to a round table from which we can people watch in comfort. A favourite pastime. Through the window overlooking the street, we can see the elegance of the Corinthian columns of St. George’s Church, Hanover Square opposite. This church, built between 1721 – 1725 was a favourite of the composer and musician, Georg Friedrich Händel, (1685 – 1759)  where he was a frequent worshipper in the 18th century. The church is now home to the Annual Händel Festival.

To digress for a minute, I am struck by the coincidence of being close to “Händel”s church” as the waiter described it and the other morning hearing one of his four Coronation Anthems,  ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’ which Händel was commissioned to write for the coronation of George II of England and Queen Caroline in 1727.  The anthem was  performed the other day in the context of Accession Day, February 6, which this year celebrates the Queen’s 63rd year on the throne.

Back to our lunch at Wild Honey restaurant and the choice of wine.

The wine waiter approaches and asks us what we would like to drink.   We look at the wine list and order two glasses of Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay (which was offered by the glass when we visited. It is now available by the bottle).

South Okanagan Meyer Family Chardonnay in London

Okanagan Falls,  Meyer Family Chardonnay comes to London at Wild Honey restaurant, Mayfair

“ Oh! You will enjoy this Canadian wine”, he says.

“Yes”, I respond, “we’re from Vancouver. We know the wine and like it and have visited the vineyard.   We’ve come today as we know you offer Meyer Family wine.“

This revelation is met with great interest.

The Chardonnay does not disappoint and we enjoy this with our selection from the working lunch menu: Amuse-bouche of mushroom purée on a small pastry round; Radicchio salad with orange slices and pomegranate seeds; grilled monk fish with small roasted beetroots and parsnips, followed by Wild Honey ice cream  (home made) with crunchy honeycomb and pistachio pieces, coffee and petits fours. As a wine pairing choice, the Chardonnay is successful.  We take our time to savour the different courses, flavours and combinations of this working lunch menu, which are served with great attention to detail and courtesy.

Wild Honey ice cream

Wild Honey ice cream with honeycomb crunch and pistachio

While enjoying this lunchtime experience, we take a mental leap back to our visit to the Meyer Family Vineyard in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia.

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC

It’s September and our second visit to the Meyer Family Vineyards where we meet JAK Meyer, Co-Proprietor.   JAK tells us their focus is on traditional French burgundy style wine with small case lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls,

Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada

We taste five wines: the 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay, 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay, the 2012 Tribute Series Chardonnay, the 2012 Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2012 McLean Creek Pinot Noir.     I enjoy them all in different ways.       My notes from the visit indicate that I am impressed by the 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay with its smooth citrus with a touch of melon flavours; a very accessible wine.   This Double Gold and Best in Class winner at the Great Northwestern Invitational Wine Competition and Silver Medal winner, National Wine Awards of Canada wine is what we are enjoying at Wild Honey.

Chris Carson, the Winemaker/Viticulturist at Meyer Family Vineyards writes interesting and informative notes on each wine, its vintage, as well as descriptions of the terroir and winemaking process. He also suggests wine pairing ideas and we are on track with the Chardonnay and monkfish.   The notes are worth reviewing.   I appreciate this attention to detail, which seems to represent the Meyer Family approach to winemaking.

We chat with JAK Meyer about the lack of Canadian wines in the UK and he mentions that Meyer Family Vineyards wine is represented in London and their wines are starting to appear in different London restaurants.       This is how we first hear about Wild Honey, the restaurant that opened in 2007 and was awarded a Michelin star in its first year of operation.

As we finish our coffee and think about heading out into the February afternoon, I reflect on how we are experiencing time and space.   It feels like the present, past and perhaps future converge as we enjoy this wine from British Columbia in this historic area of London in the shadow of Hãndel and his music.   Following a wine from terroir to table certainly opens the door to new experiences.

References:

Meyer Family Vineyards   http://www.mfvwines,com

Wild Honey Restaurant, 12 St. George Street, Mayfair, London: http://www.wildhoneyrestaurant.co.uk

Georg Friedrich Handel and the Coronation Anthems including ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’.    Search for Handel Coronation Anthems for several You Tube video recordings.

The Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past (with a toast to Charles Dickens)

Christmas Cake is one of those classic symbols of the Christmas Season for me.   So when I eat my last piece of celebratory cake each year, I know the Christmas holidays are truly over for another 12 months.

Warre's 2000 Port

Warre’s 2000 Port

A week ago, we enjoy one of the best Christmas cakes I have tasted for some time: moist with home made marzipan and icing that is gentle on our teeth. And, to really put icing on the cake, we are sitting outside in a sunny sheltered spot in Cyprus sipping a Symington Warre’s 2000 Port.   This is a perfect pairing: the rich, moist fruitcake and the almonds in the marzipan complementing the rich, dark fruit complexity of the Port.

December in Cyprus

December in Cyprus

 

If my Mother was still alive, she would savour every taste, sip and sunshine moment of this experience; enjoying nothing better than a late morning coffee with either a brandy or something similar while watching the world go by.     In her nineties, these were pleasures that endured.

The role of British families in the Port trade has a long history.  Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port Company established in Portugal.   The Symington family has been established in Portugal for over 350 years and 13 generations.   Andrew Symington became a partner in Warre’s in 1905 and the Symington Family is the owner and manager of Warre’s today.     The Warre history is worth reading on their website noted below.

Working backwards to New Year’s Eve, we enjoy another first tasting: a 2007 Klein Constantia.   This is a natural sweet late harvest wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. The dark amber, marmalade and honeyed wine with a medicinal edge and, as our wine connoisseur friend said, an acidic spine, is served with either Summer Pudding – that most delicious of English puddings – or profiteroles with chocolate sauce.   We linger over each sip and mouthful to take in the full experience of wine and pudding flavours together.

The Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, was revived in 1986. With a pre-phylloxera pedigree, it was famous in earlier centuries.   Charles Dickens wrote glowingly about the wine referring to: “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia”.

The Klein Constantia land was originally part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 – about the same time the Warre’s were establishing their Port business in Portugal – by Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape.

It is an unexpected pleasure to taste this unusual wine that is reminiscent of but completely different to the late harvest wines we are familiar with in France: Sauternes; Monbazillac and Saussignac from the Bergerac Wine Region and the Muscat de Frontignan wine we have enjoyed on visits to Sète in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

Other “wine ghosts” from this past season are two wines from Cyprus. The Tsangarides Xinisteri white which is one of my all time favourite white wines because of its adaptability; great on its own or with a variety of foods, and the Tsangarides Mataro red wine which decants well and opens up to a smooth and velvety yet light and fresh wine.   Xinisteri is a local Cyprus grape.  Mataro is grown locally and elsewhere in the world where it is known also as Mourvèdre.

Tsangarides Wines

Tsangarides Mataro (Red) and Xinisteri (white) wines

The final “wine ghost” is another favourite I have written about before: Roche LaCour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose sparkling wine from Languedoc -Roussillon.     A pale, delicate, refreshing sparkling wine.      We enjoy this in a once -a -year Christmas cocktail.

Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé

Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé

The idea of a Christmas cocktail is a time honoured one.   In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge tells his clerk, Bob Cratchit that they would talk about his future and how Scrooge would help his family “…over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop…”.   Scrooge’s ‘smoking bishop’ was in fact a sweet alcoholic punch.

We enjoy our version of such a drink with an assortment of canapés, including a cheese soufflé, which I make into individual servings.   Using an online recipe from Epicurious, I recommend it as the best cheese soufflé recipe I have made so far and it holds up well to being made in small portions.

Canapes with sparkling wine cocktails

Mini Cheese Soufflés and other canapés with Roche Lacour sparkling wine cocktails

Baking tin for individual soufflés

Baking tin for individual soufflés

When Charles Dickens died in 1870, he left a considerable cellar, evidence of his enjoyment of drinking in moderation, like many Victorians.

The question is:  Would Charles Dickens have enjoyed our Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past?   I think the answer has to be: Yes.

References:

http://www.warre.com

http://www.kleinconstantia.com

http://www.epicurious.com     Classic Cheese Soufflé

http://www.tsangarideswinery.com

http://www.punchdrink.com  – Smoking Bishop recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London Lights, Rembrandt and wine

 

Walking through central London, we look  towards Piccadilly as we cross the Haymarket, and there they are: the magical Christmas Lights suspended across the road. White bright, shaped liked antlers, and proclaiming this particular area of London: St James’s.   As we gaze up the street, a double-decker bus turns onto the road and transforms the view into an iconic vision of nighttime pre-Christmas London. Out comes my camera in a flash…and click.

Christmas Lights, St. James's, London

Christmas Lights, St. James’s, London, December 2014

A friend says this photo brings back nostalgic childhood memories when his Mother would take him as a young boy to London to see the lights and look in all the shop windows. Photographs have that power of recall.

Powerful images are what our afternoon and early evening are all about.     The Rembrandt exhibition of Late Works at the National Gallery catches our attention and we spend one and a half hours towards the end of the December afternoon viewing the works of art.

In an age of instant, mobile phone camera generated images, we catch our breath looking at the detail, size and scope of Rembrandt’s masterpieces, trying to comprehend the extent of his talent and skill in capturing texture, light and emotion in paint and wondrous colours.

Rembrandt, The Late Works

The poster for the exhibition shows a portion of his painting “The Jewish Bride”, painted about 1665 just a few years before his death.     Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669.   This exhibition covers the period of his life from 1650 – 1669.

We slowly make our way around the exhibition, headphones clamped over our ears, listening to the commentary about key works of art among the 91 on display.    The paintings of faces, including the self-portraits, their complexions and eyes and the paintings of richly textured fabrics resonate with me.   “An Old Woman Reading”, oil on canvas painted in 1655, particularly catches my eye.

To spend time lost in the contemplation of art in this way is a great joy and escape from the rest of the world.

We decide that when we come to the end of the exhibition we will head straight to the National Gallery Dining Room for a glass of wine with something to eat and take the time to decompress from this experience.

The food menu is comprehensive and contemporary with selections such as quiche, soups, salads, grilled sandwiches and many other options.   We decide to have their plate of Artisan Cheeses, selecting Berkswell (sheep) and Tickelmore (goat) cheeses with apple chutney and crackers.   These are good.

We examine the wine list, which is varied and all reasonably priced. There are no English wines on offer but English beers and ciders are featured.

The flagship menu offering for the exhibition is called the Rembrandt Special featuring a grilled sandwich and a glass of their red or white house wine, priced at 10 GBPounds.

I decide to try the white house wine, a Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2012, which I find overly acidic for my palate. My husband chooses a Pinot Grigio, Alisios from Brazil, 2013 and that is more to our liking: refreshing and with mineral flavours.   This Brazilian Pinot Grigio, which is sometimes blended with Riesling, is a new experience for us. We like it and feel resuscitated after our wine and cheese interlude.

The National Gallery, London, Rembrandt -The Late Works

We step out of the National Gallery and to our surprise find winter darkness has already descended.    We entered a different world for a time.   Coming across those white bright Christmas lights as we cross the street intensifies our experience of London magic.

 

References:   The National Gallery     www.nationalgallery.org.uk/rembrandt

 

 

 

 

 

English and Welsh Wines: Post Script

Royal Academy of Arts, London,

We returned recently to the Royal Academy of Art in London to attend the Anselm Kiefer exhibition and, as suggested in my last post, to follow it up with a tasting of the new RA English wine selection of Davenport Limney Estate sparkling wine.

A quick refresher about this English wine is that it is produced from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois grapes. Davenport Vineyard is an organic winery in East Sussex and the 2014 winner of the United Kingdom Vintners Association (UKVA) Vintners Trophy for their sparkling wine.

Limney Davenport Sparking Wine

We enjoy a glass of Will Davenport’s Limney Estate sparkling wine with a light lunch of green bean salad in the newly opened Grand Cafe at the Royal Academy..  Perhaps not a conventional wine and food pairing yet it worked well and we enjoyed both.   This light gold coloured English sparkling wine has substance;  is dry, smooth, and rich in flavour with just the right amount of bubbles.  As I drink this wine, with its apple aromas on the nose,  it opens up to the classic baked biscuity taste.  Enjoying all these characteristics, I  immediately have that joie de vivre feeling.

A successful and light-hearted conclusion to our visit to the grand scale and diverse exhibition of works by this contemporary painter, sculptor and prolific artist.

Anselm Kiefer Exhibition at RA References:   Royal Academy of Arts, London  www.royalacademy.org.uk

Davenport Winery   http://www.davenportvineyards.co.uk

United Kingdom Vintners Association    www.ukva.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English and Welsh Wines: A First Glance

I am idly glancing at the Cyprus Mail newspaper one day earlier this year and come across an article about English sparkling wines. In a moment of quiet reflection, I realize that I am mainly writing about French, Canadian and Cyprus wines but not paying attention to what is happening with wines in my homeland!  With United Kingdom wines now on my radar, I decide to look for an opportunity to try English and maybe Welsh wines on our next trip to the UK.

Such an opportunity presents itself this spring.   A visit to a favourite place in London, The Royal Academy of Arts, established in 1768 and housed at Burlington House in Piccadilly, followed by lunch with a long time friend at their new restaurant, The Keeper’s House, provides the perfect occasion.

An example of exhibitions at the RA - Royal Academy of Arts, London

An example of exhibitions at the RA – Royal Academy of Arts, London

We each have a glass of Chapel Down white wine, a clear, shining white with good acidity and full of apple flavours as befits a wine from the great English apple growing area of South East England.   This Pinot Blanc 2010 was a refreshing complement to our fish lunch.

Subsequent exploration of Chapel Down winery reveals that it is one of the top English wineries.   It won several trophies in the annual wine industry 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition.   This competition is organized by the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA), and apparently is the only competition in the world judged entirely by Masters of Wine.

Chapel Down Winery - an English winery

Chapel Down Winery – an English winery

The United Kingdom Vineyard Association (UKVA) website is a mine of information. In reviewing it, I learn an important definition when considering wines from the United Kingdom.

“English or Welsh Wine is made from fresh grapes grown in England or Wales and produced in UK wineries.   All of the UKVA members grow grapes to produce this type of wine.

British Wine, however, is not the same thing at all.   It is the product of imported grapes or grape concentrate that is made into wine in Britain.   “British” wines are not wines as defined by the EU which specifies that wine can only be the product of fermented freshly crushed grapes.”   (UKVA website)

An important distinction to avoid making an unintentional wine faux pas when either buying or ordering UK wine.

But I digress.

Back to The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy.   A conversation with an employee reveals an interesting twist to their menu preparation and wine and food selection.   They not only design their menus to reflect the changing seasons but also in some small way to reflect the essence of Royal Academy exhibitions.    Like most major art galleries, the Royal Academy restaurants take great pride in presenting good value food and wine selections.

The new seasonal menu is being developed and fine-tuned.  Along with the seasonal change in food selections, comes a change in wine offerings which helps showcase different wineries.

The new wine selection includes two wines from Davenport Winery in East Sussex. The Davenport Horsmonden 2013, is a dry white made from a blend of 5 grape varieties.   The wine notes indicate that there are nuances of lemon and nettles;  I can’t wait to taste this!

The selection also includes the Davenport Limney Estate sparking wine produced from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois.   Davenport is an organic winery and another prizewinner in the 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition with their sparking wine the first organic sparking wine to win a trophy.

Davenport Vineyards - an English winery

Davenport Vineyards – an English winery

The next major Royal Academy exhibition runs from September 27 to December 14, 2014 and features the works of contemporary German artist, Anselm Kiefer who is an Honorary Royal Academician.  Some say his art is rooted in his beginnings: the end of the Second World War and the start of the new era in which we are still living.

Regarded as a colossus of contemporary art, and “one of the most imaginative, original and serious artists alive” (RA Website/The Guardian), this exhibition of the work of Anselm Kiefer has all the hallmarks of an intriguing visit.  A post-visit glass of quintessentially English wine will surely encourage a stimulating discussion.

So having had a brief introduction to English wines what about trying some Welsh wine I ask myself?

Our visit to the UK includes a brief visit to Wales and in particular to the wind swept beaches of the Gower Peninsular in South Wales.

What better place to taste some Welsh wine!   We do this at Fairyhill hotel and restaurant located in Reynoldston, Gower.   A review in Moneyweek Magazine/The Guardian recently noted: “for foodies and wine lovers, delightfully informal Fairyhill is a Welsh institution”.

 

Fairyhill is famous for their deep-fried cockle canapés which are served in a small dish in the same way as one would serve peanuts.    These are a favourite of mine not only because they are delicious but also because they remind me of my childhood visits to Wales.    We enjoy the cockles as we decide on a wine to drink with dinner.   To pursue the idea of sampling Welsh wines, we order a bottle of Rosé from Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth, a more recent winery whose grapes were first planted in 2006.   A light (11% ALC/VOL) wine with strawberry overtones, this Rosé could be a summer sipping wine.

Ancre Hill Vineyard - Monmouth, Wales

Ancre Hill Vineyard – Monmouth, Wales

Fine Wines Direct UK, who represent Ancre Hill Vineyard, describes the winery as follows:

“The Ancre Hill Estate, which is situated in Monmouth has a unique micro/meso climate, on average it gets a quarter of the rainfall of Cardiff and plenty of sunshine hours to ripen the grapes. With huge plans to farm Bio-dynamically and with plans to build a state of the art winery, this award winning Welsh vineyard continue to grow from strength to strength, with the first vintage of the Pinot Noir now available on allocation.”

As we finish our visit to the UK,  I realize my window on English and Welsh wines has been opened by a couple of inches only.  There is clearly much more to learn and appreciate to get the full view of this industry.

History indicates that vineyards were first established in Britain during the 300 years of Roman occupation.    Organizations such as the Royal Academy of Arts,  Fairyhill and others are providing wine lovers with the opportunity to taste contemporary English and Welsh wines. They are increasingly getting the recognition they deserve.

References:

Royal Academy of Arts  and the Keeper’s House  Restaurant

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Chapel Down Winery   http://www.chapeldown.com

Davenport Winery     http://www.davenportvineyards.co.uk

Fairyhill, Reynoldston, Swansea

http://www.fairyhill.net

Ancre Hill Vineyard    www.ancrehillestates.co.uk

United Kingdom Vineyard Association  www.ukva.org.uk

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès …..promoting cultural heritage and economic opportunity

July is the month of summer celebrations in many places it seems.   Notices drop into email inboxes about wine promotions, new books – including Saving our Skins,  the latest book by Caro Feely who I mentioned in my last posting, – firework exhibitions, theatre productions, jazz concerts. It’s all there on offer wherever you are over the summer months.  Organizers work double time to attract and welcome tourists and local residents to their events.

It’s no different in the village of Sigoulès in the Dordogne in South West France where volunteer members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès prepare for their annual major event over the July 19 /20 weekend. The wine fair and tastings are on Saturday July 19th, the parade of all the visiting Confréries and the annual general assembly or Chapitre on Sunday, July 20th and the series of guided walks and concerts take place in the area during July and August.   Adding to the excitement in the area this summer is that the Tour de France Stage 20 passes through the Dordogne and Bergerac the following weekend.

Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d'Or event

Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d’Or event

The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products.   The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès particularly focuses on the wines of the area.

The origin of these confréries dates back to the Middle Ages to the 12th and 13th centuries when occupational groupings were more likely called companies/corporations or guilds. Possibly the most famous of these early organizations was the “La Jurade de Saint Emilion”, created in 1199 and responsible for controlling many aspects of the wine industry in Saint Emilion (Bordeaux).

Similar organizations of apprentices and masters existed until the time of the French Revolution when they were declared illegal in 1791 in the spirit of the free movement of labour.

In the 20th Century, there has been a resurgence of local organizations or confréries which, by reinstating traditional pageantry, costume and ritual are celebrating the gastronomic heritage in the many different regions of France.     Their existence has increased since the 1960’s with the development of tourism.    The Confrérie Saint Emilionnaise took the name of “Jurade” in honour of the earlier organization when it was recreated in 1948.

Confréries are generally linked to a tourism bureau, the local mayor’s office, local festival and/or agricultural initiatives as part of a broader promotional imperative. Not only are the confréries linked locally, they are also aligned regionally and nationally.

For example, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès partners locally with the wine fair organization and local wine-maker communities: Foire aux Vins de Sigoulès and the Communauté de Communes des Coteaux de Sigoulès; regionally it is a member of the Chancelleries des Confréries d’Aquitaine, plus the Union des Confréries du Périgord and nationally is a member of the Conseil Français des Confréries.

The Confrérie organizations

The Confrérie organizations

Sometimes, confréries twin with other confréries.   By way of illustration, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is twinned with the Confrérie du Pâté de Périgueux.   I wrote about the pâté competition I attended last November in an earlier posting. Many different types of food and gastronomy are represented in the world of confréries: strawberries, cherries, pink garlic, fish, grilled food, mushrooms and so on.

The gastronomic heritage of France is so highly valued that it has been recognized by UNESCO as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition.     The Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) identification is promoted by UNESCO as a counterpart to the World Heritage designation which focuses mainly on tangible aspects of culture.

The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines the intangible cultural heritage or living heritage as:

“The practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith, that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage…”

A subtext of confrérie activities includes promoting economic opportunity in the areas through links to tourism.    At the international level, some members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès recently facilitated and conducted a series of events with local wines for Cuisine et Chateau, a Canadian organization from Calgary, Alberta which brings groups of visitors to the area each year for a week of culinary and wine experiences.

Marnie Fudge, co-proprietor of Cuisine et Chateau mentioned to me that their experience was “fabulous” and they valued the professionalism and expertise of the Confrérie members they dealt with during their visit.       As Canada works towards finalizing the details of its trade agreement with the European Union, it feels like we are making a small contribution to that effort!

A comment about the word confrérie whose literal translation is brotherhood.   In a 21st century context, I translate this to mean a group of men and women who associate with each other in a congenial way for a common purpose.   A confrère in French means colleague which underscores this broader interpretation. Collegiality and congeniality in support of cultural heritage are core confrérie values.

This all sounds quite serious, whereas the confréries and their events are also about the joyful celebration of culture with food, wine, music, pageantry and fellowship.

The colourful parade of confréries

The colourful parade of confréries

This joyful celebration will be the cornerstone of the events in Sigoulès over the July 19 and 20th weekend and all the other events organized by the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès and community partners in July and August.

The confrérie events, whether this one in Sigoulès or similar events elsewhere in France are a wonderful way to learn more about the culture and history of France, local gastronomic products and, importantly, meet local people.   I have attended several wonderful confrérie events where I’ve met delightful people.

The band accompanies the parade

The band accompanies the parade

Last year, I was delighted to be invited to join the Confrerie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès in the role of Ambassadrice, one of two from Canada at present.    The Ambassador initiative includes Confrérie members in other regions of France as well as other countries including Australia and Canada.

My blog is about how wine opens the door to history, culture,food,science…   For me, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of those doors.

Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac

Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac

 

References:

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage   www.unesco.org/culture/ich

http://www.pays-de-bergerac.com/english/assos/confrerie-du-raisin-d-or

http://www.confreries-france.com

http://www.federation-grand-est.fr/histoiredesconfr/

http://www.cuisineetchateau.com/culinary-tours/

Tour de France Bergerac 2014   http://www.letour.com

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Haut Garrigue/Terroir Feely – …..creating a biodynamic virtuous circle

 

I arrive at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue to talk to the co-proprietor, Caro Feely about their winemaking and wine tourism business.     On my way here, walking down the country lane towards their farm past the Saussignac Cemetery, dignified yet colourful with the many pots of commemorative flowers, I reflect upon the niche that Caro and Sean have carved for themselves in the highly competitive wine making business.

Terroir Feely

Terroir Feely

Sean and Caro have been in Saussignac, a small village in the Bergerac wine region in the Dordogne since 2005.   That was the year they changed their life and moved from corporate lives in Ireland to become wine makers in the Dordogne. Their initiation to their new life is a compelling read in Caro’s book: Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France.      It’s a page turning book and the reason for my sense of awe when I meet this low-key yet dynamic couple.

Autumn view from Terroir Feely


Autumn view from Terroir Feely

Always intrigued by the process through which people create major life changes, I read Caro’s book with this sense of enquiry in mind.     Caro and Sean embarked upon a new lifestyle of considerable uncertainty: no wine-making experience when they started, language barriers, the burden of French bureaucracy, two small daughters to raise and a host of other challenges.   Yet, they had personal qualities of perseverance, adaptability, optimism and drive together with experience in marketing and financial management.   These personal attributes and competencies have stood them in good stead.   On top of this, their passion for the life-style, the land and region, and organic, sustainable and now biodynamic farming has fueled their energy to make it all happen.

Learning to make good wine wasn’t enough to succeed. Caro has said that the transition to their new life was “beyond hard”.  They soon realized that they needed to diversify in order to survive financially.   This in turn led to the creation of French Wine Adventures with wine courses; wine walks with vineyard lunches, the Harvest Weekend, and the building of their ecological accommodation at the vineyard.   Their brand new swimming pool opens this season. In other words, they have created a biodynamic virtuous circle of wine making and wine tourism.

Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue is a Certified Biodynamic farm of approximately 10 hectares under vines.   Demeter, the internationally recognized biodynamic certifying body, certified Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue as biodynamic in 2011 following their organic certification from Ecocert in 2009.  In addition, The Great Wine Capitals Network recognized Terroir Feely as the Regional Winner for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices in 2013.    Their wines are also gaining recognition for quality.

Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award

Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award

I ask Caro what draws people to visit them at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue. She doesn’t hesitate to respond:

“ We are passionate about what we do and we create a personal experience for people.   We share common interests with our visitors.   We are eco-friendly; we make certified biodynamic wines; we have ecological buildings. People come to enjoy the vineyard and participate in our Harvest Weekend which is the first weekend in October.”

We talk about wine farming practices and their evolution from organic to biodynamic status in 2011.

Caro explains that it takes 3 years to convert to biodynamic status.   Farming practices are introduced in which the vineyard is cultivated as part of a whole farm system.   It involves making and using preparations for the soil and plants from plant and manure materials as well as caring for the vines and the soil according to the biodynamic calendar which suggests times to sow, harvest, prune in synch with phases of the moon.     She tells me that since they have been following the strict biodynamic approaches that more orchids have appeared on the farm as well as greater biodiversity.   She also believes these practices have benefitted their wines!

Caro says that until she saw the difference biodynamic practices made to their farm, she thought that biodynamics sounded like “dancing with the fairies”.     To gain a better understanding myself, I subsequently looked up various sources and websites including: Demeter, various Rudolf Steiner sites, Berry Bros and Rudd Wine Merchants.    There is a lot of material about the subject.

In brief, biodynamic agriculture originates in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian  philosopher and agronomist who lived from 1861 – 1926.   He gave a famous agricultural series of lectures in 1924, which predate most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual philosophy called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic and the spiritual dimensions in nature.   One of Rudolf Steiner’s greatest admirers was Maria Thun (1922 – 2012) who created an annual biodynamic gardening calendar that Caro refers to on the Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue website.

The name Rudolf Steiner was familiar to me because of his influence in education.   Waldorf Schools which originated from his humanistic approaches to education are  in evidence today in about 60 countries.

From a viticulture perspective, biodynamics views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic by Demeter, the vine-grower must use the 9 biodynamic preparations described by Rudolf Steiner.   These are all preparations made from plants or manure and applied to the plants and soil.

Biodynamics in viticulture is growing and is practiced by farmers in several countries including France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Canada and the US.      While organic and biodynamic farming doesn’t guarantee great wine, it appears that there is a tendency for wines made with these farming practices to be more highly scored by consumers with respect to expressions of terroir, balance and more vibrant tastes.   Tasters indicate that biodynamic wines are more floral in flavour.

In general, there is a continuum of farming approaches progressing away from industrial practices that rely on chemicals towards using fewer chemical interventions and introducing more sustainable practices leading to organic and biodynamic approaches.   Farming interventions are regulated in the EU, as elsewhere, including the use of mineral substances like copper and sulphur which are permitted in all approaches to wine farming along the continuum– it’s a question of degree.

Literature about biodynamic wine making refers to Certified Biodynamic wine making and also to wine makers who practice “broadly biodynamic” farming approaches. This implies that they subscribe to and follow many of the biodynamic practices yet do not pursue the biodynamic certification.   From our observation visiting many wine makers, this translates into the ever-increasing attention to improved agricultural practices, which is positive for the land, the farmers themselves and the consumer.   Caro and Sean have gone that step further in following the rigorous standards for their farm to be Certified Biodynamic.

Caro tells me that; “ …the Bergerac Wine Region has the highest number of organic wine producers in France after Alsace.”

All to say that the dialogue around farming practices is increasing and the interest in biodynamics is growing. In a competitive wine world, it’s worth noting that over the past 10 years there has been significant growth in the sales of biodynamic wines as consumers shift their interest to biodynamic and sustainable practices.

It’s 9 years since Caro and Sean made their major lifestyle and career leap of faith into wine making in the Dordogne.   Since 2007, they have been practising biodynamic wine making, achieving their certification in 2011.     I have tasted their wines several times over the years and I particularly like their Sauvignon Blanc, “Sincérité”.

Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation

Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation

Caro and Sean have been generous with their time talking to me about their vineyard adventures to date. I close my notebook and say my goodbyes.    It’s time to let Caro and Sean get back to their work.

 

 Bergerac Wine Region

Bergerac Wine Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:     http://www.hautgarrigue.com,   http://www.feelywines.com,    www.tripadvisor.ca….saussignac,    www. rudolfsteinercollege.ed,   http://www.rsarchive.org/lectures      www.steinerbooks.org,  www.demeter.net, http://www.waldorf.ca,   http://www.bbr.com/knowledge (Berry Bros & Rudd)