It’s a cold and bright, sunny day in the Dordogne; cozy coat and sunglasses weather. A great day to be outdoors! Walking alongside the local vineyards I think about a recent visit to Chateau Lestevenie in Monestier, a small country commune not far from Bergerac.
We were invited by Sue and Humphrey Temperley, the proprietors of Chateau Lestevenie to taste some of their wines in progress. This means tasting wines in their incomplete state as the wines work their way through the fermentation and ageing process. These tastings enable the wine-maker to make adjustments as the wines develop. Regular tastings are also part of a larger regulated process of quality control in which wine samples must be sent for monthly laboratory analysis.
For us, a visit to Chateau Lestevenie is all about wine farming. Perhaps it’s because Humphrey is an experienced farmer from the West Country of England who has brought his farming know-how and knowledge and understanding of chemistry to wine farming and wine making. Maybe it’s because working the land and supporting the resident wildlife is an important aspect of Humphrey and Sue’s farming approach here.
Humphrey’s wine making philosophy is that he blends and makes wine for his own palate and yet appreciates the input of others to the process. He says: “Making wine is a mixture of art and science. It’s a bit like cooking – you have to keep tasting what you are making.”
We start with tasting their 2013 Bergerac White Sec, 100% Sauvignon Blanc which has finished the fermentation process and is cloudy from being on the lees (yeast). It’s some time before it will be filtered and bottled. Even in its unfinished state, the aromatic characteristics are evident and we can taste the future potential in this wine.
An intriguing aspect of tasting wines in progress is that we have the opportunity to see the large volume of dead yeast left from the fermentation process. The Bergerac White Moelleux that we taste has just been moved from the fermentation tank. The Moelleux is a sweeter Bergerac white wine which is predominantly Semillon, with some Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc. Strict hygiene practices are followed and Humphrey is getting ready to clean out the inside of the tank. He is going to wait until Sue is in the chai (winery) so there is someone there in case of emergency. It can be dangerous work which involves getting inside the tank.
Humphrey’s enthusiasm for wine making is catching. As we stand in the chai, part of an old quarry, our wine glasses are ready for each tasting. We sniff, swirl and swallow/spit our way through this year’s production of white, rose and red wines, giving our impressions as we proceed.
The conversation soon turns to the wildlife on the farm. After all, the hare is the symbol for Chateau Lestevenie. Humphrey and Sue belong to an informal group called Wildlife Friendly Vineyards. Part of their practices include the careful timing and minimal spraying of the vines so as to protect the insect pollinators – so essential to setting the fruit on the vines. The surrounding woodlands of mainly oak and chestnut trees are also being managed to restore a mixed age tree population. A mixed age approach brings different height and breadth of trees which in turn allows more sunshine and nutrients resulting in healthier woodlands to support wildlife.
The Dordogne is well known for the well established walks through the vineyards and countryside and attracts many visitors. Wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the region and wine tour companies bring visitors to Chateau Lestevenie to learn about wine making and enjoy a tasting. Humphrey is a natural and knowledgeable educator and enjoys introducing visitors to the wine making process.
Sue also writes an informative blog about the vineyard on their website. Her post: “Year in the vineyards at Chateau Lestevenie” gives a good overview of the calendar of wine making activities.
The focus here is on making good wine through skilful and eco-friendly wine production and farming practices. An example is the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Bergerac AOC Merlot Cabernet. About a month ago, Humphrey asked us to taste this and our notes include the following:
“On the palate: full, rich flavours, quite balanced, rounded, blackberry aromas, some spice and some vegetal. Medium acidity, tannins and alcohol. Good depth of flavours and body. Some sharpness on the length/after taste which will most likely round out with more ageing. Conclusion: Ready to drink with decanting. Will benefit from further ageing. Good quality with lots of potential. Similar to a Pécharmant AOC we had tasted recently. Very good value.”
We tasted the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Merlot Cabernet again this week. Our view is that it is a very good wine with the depth and concentration that we appreciate in Bergerac wines.
The wine in progress tastings clearly benefit good wine making and we enjoyed the experience.
References: Chateau Lestevenie: wwwchateau-lestevenie.com
Wine Tours: http://www.BergeracWineTours.com