In the first few moments of visiting Chateau Monestier La Tour, in Monestier, SW France near the town of Bergerac, I discover that the motto chosen by the proprietor, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, is a quotation from Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917), the eminent 20th French sculptor.
Rodin said that: “However you use time, time will respect that”. The exact quotation is: “Ce que l’on fait avec le temps, le temps le respecte”. In other words, the decision of how to spend time is up to us; time itself is neutral.
I remember seeing Rodin’s great sculpture: “The Thinker”: the seated man with elbow on knee, fist on his chin, deep in thought. Rodin is still famous for this sculpture, which is often used to represent philosophy.
This quotation and the remembered image sets the tone for the visit.
We can probably all remember our parents saying things like: “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time!” or words to that effect, while we, as teenagers, lollygagged around!
At Chateau Monestier La Tour, one of the ways in which time is figuratively measured is by the illustration of the sundial, or Cadran, over the entrance to the winery office and chai, showing the subdivision of time and the changing of the seasons. This illustrates another aspect of time; the time and patience required for goals and aspirations to manifest once set in motion. These symbols reflect the career expertise of Karl-Friedrich Scheufele as a watchmaker and Co-President of Chopard, famous Swiss watchmakers.
A way in which time is literally measured at Chateau Monestier La Tour is in the development and execution of short and long-term plans. A long-term strategic plan relates to the winery restructuring program to be completed by 2025. This has included the redevelopment of the vat room and barrel cellar, all ‘state-of-the-art’ and designed for quality results, effectiveness and the convenience of the winery employees.
In the shorter term, the quest has been for Chateau Monestier to become certified as an organic farm. This, after several years’ effort and hard work regenerating the land, the vines, the farming processes and transitioning to an organic framework, has been achieved in 2018 from Ecocert.
When the Scheufele family became owners of Chateau Monestier in 2012 they made the decision to improve the existing domaine and its winemaking and pursue biodynamic viticulture. These improvements included grubbing up some of the plots and replanting vines.
One key initiative has been the planting of a specific garden with herbs to nourish and support the soil and vines. The herbarium contains drying and storage facilities for the plants as well as to make the tissanes or teas with which to treat the soil and vines.
Stéphane Derenoncourt, consultant and his team, who have biodynamic viticulture expertise, oversee the vineyards and wine making at Chateau Monestier La Tour. They use this expertise for making the tissanes from the different herbs, which require different temperatures to release their oils.
It’s this focus on using herbs to treat plants and soil as part of the biodynamic agricultural practices at Chateau Monestier La Tour that fascinates me. The opportunity to see where the plants are dried and the description of their uses is of particular interest. By way of example, I have described below three commonly known plants from the nine listed in the herbarium, the description of their uses, as well as the description of biodynamic compost.
Dandelion, known as Pissenlit in French (a very descriptive reference to its diuretic qualities) is used to support the vines in resisting diseases by strengthening the cellular structure of the plants.
Nettle, known as Ortie in French, (yes, those nettles that sting aggressively if you brush by them) full of nitrogen and iron is used to stimulate plant growth. Nettles are used to prevent mildew.
Comfrey, known as Consoude in French, full of potassium and iron is used as an insect repellent.
Biodynamic Compost. Use of quality compost to fertilize the soil is key to biodynamic agriculture. Composting works with manure from organic farms and is used usually with six specific mineral elements supplied by plants.
As a side bar comment, all this sounds reminiscent of the work of Nicholas Culpeper, (1616 – 1654), botanist, herbalist, physician and astrologer. He was the best-known astrological botanist of his time, pairing plants and diseases with planetary influences. I was brought up with the idea of acknowledging the power of plants and a copy of “Culpeper” was readily available in our home for reference.
I feel on familiar ground here.
Back to winemaking and the impact of these practices on the wine produced within this regime. These practices are regarded as homeopathy for plants, preventative not curative and the impact takes time so that the wine produced shifts over time as the biodynamic practices create beneficial change.
Five wines are produced using 6 grape varieties in the various blends. Two levels of red blends of Cabernet Franc and Merlot; white wine blend of Sauvignon and Sémillon, a rosé which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and the special late harvest wine particular to the area, Saussignac AOC which is a blend of Sémillon, Muscadel and Sauvignon. As a fan of red wines, their grand vin, Chateau Monestier La Tour, Côtes de Bergerac AOC, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, particularly catches my attention. I immediately appreciate the fine quality of this wine, which is full bodied but not heavy with good structure and with the Cabernet Franc will age well.
I have visited Chateau Monestier La Tour twice now and each time I am conscious of the timeless nature of the place. It feels very grounded. Each time, I have felt a sense of calm and peacefulness here. I feel this especially in the barrel cellar room, where I can almost feel the wines breathing and in the herbarium with the subtle fragrances of the herbs. The warm welcome from the Administrator at the Chateau is very much appreciated. I will be returning to look at the herb garden in bloom and thinking about what ideas I can use in our garden!
Chateau Monestier La Tour and the Scheufele family are making a significant values-driven investment in money and time in this small village in the Dordogne.
“A rising tide lifts all boats”.
References: Chateau Monestier La Tour http://www.chateaumonestierlatour.com Contact details are on the website to arrange a visit.
Stéphane Derenoncourt Consultant http://www.dereroncourtconsultants.com
Nicholas Culpeper: www. famousscientists.org Copies of his book are available on Amazon