Enjoying Nature, Wine and Walking: holiday ideas in the Bergerac Wine area, SW France

Much is written these days about the benefits of spending time in Nature.   As an example, this year the Duchess of Cambridge’s Nature Garden will be a highlight of the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in London (May 21-25, 2019). http://www.rhs.org.uk

What better way to spend time in Nature than to have a wine-tasting and walking holiday in the French countryside, in the Dordogne Valley near the small town of Bergerac?   For time-out from the hurley-burley of city and work life, it would be difficult to find a better refuge for rejuvenating personal and family time.

Within a defined radius around the communities of Saussignac, Monestier, Sigoules and Pomport, all within an easy drive of Bergerac Airport, there are many wineries where a visitor can happily indulge all three interests of Nature, Wine and Walking, or Randonnées as the French call walks in the countryside.

Holidays in the French countryside often involve staying in self-catering Gites often attached to wineries.      I’ve written in my blog about most of the wineries I am going to mention and will highlight the relevant blog posts.   All the wineries offer wine tastings.   In cases where I know the wineries offer accommodation I am mentioning this but not making any recommendations.

Walking maps are available in the villages, usually in the Mairies (Mayor’s office) or on a notice board in public areas.     Another resource is Walking in the Dordogne: Over 30 walks in Southwest France by Janette Norton, available on Amazon.

The Confrerie du Raisin D’Or, an association which supports wine tourism in the area, organizes walks every Monday and Thursday in July and August. These walks always finish with a Vin d’honneur – wine tasting of local wines.   At this time of writing, the Confrérie’s Randonnées program hasn’t yet been finalized for 2019 but will be available on their website: www.confrerieduraisindor.com

Also available from March through November are jazz evenings offered in different wineries.   The next concert will be held April 12 and in June, the jazz evening will be in Pomport. Check out the 2019 Jazz en Chais program:  http://www.jazzpourpre.com

SAUSSIGNAC    (4 km from Monestier and 12 km from Pomport and 12 km from Sigoules,  19.6 km from Bergerac Airport)

Chateau Feely and Chateau Le Tap are adjoining wineries in this village.   Both are organic wineries and both offer Gite accommodation.

Chateau Feely and associated business French Wine Adventures offers wine courses, walks and talks in the vineyard.     Chateau Feely has been listed in the Top 100 wine estates in France, once for education and valorization of ecological practices and a second time for accommodation. Caro and Sean Feely have been pioneers in the area.   www.facebook.com/chateaufeely

Chateau Le Tap wine information and Gite accommodation offered by Olivier and Mireille Roche is available on their website.    Most recently, I mentioned Chateau Le Tap in the December 2018 post, Soirée Vigneronne.     www.chateauletap.fr

Chateau Court Les Muts is also in Saussignac and offers wine tastings.    We have been to a jazz evening offered in their winery in previous years.     See elizabethsvines archive: December 2017 “Bred in the Bone: Vigneron of the Year 2018, Chateau Court Les Mûts.   Jeweller Annabelle Degroote offers her creative and hand made jewellery on site.   The creative pieces are made from vine tendrils, pearls and stones.   www.court-les-muts.com

Local accommodation is also available at Le 1500, a Chambre d’Hôtes (B&B) and Café offering tapas, lunch and dinner located in the centre of Saussignac village opposite Chateau Saussignac.  Contact Mike or Lee:   saussignac@yahoo.com

MONESTIER

Three wine chateaux and a restaurant come to mind with respect to Monestier.

Chateau Monestier La Tour, which I wrote about in January 2019 with their herbarium and biodynamic agricultural practices.  See my last blog post: “Philosopher, watchmaker, winemaker: Chateau Monestier La Tour, Monestier”.   I recommend phoning to book an appointment for a visit.   www.chateaumonestierlatour.com

Chateau Lestevenie, which I have mentioned several times in various blog posts, most recently in the December 2018, Soirée Vigneronne post.   Chateau Lestevenie offer fun pop up dinners in the vineyard during the summer months.   Sue and Humphrey Temperley can show you the variety of beautiful orchids growing on their property.       It’s important to phone and book ahead for the popular (and delicious) pop up dinners.

www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Chateau Grinou – one of the early adopters of organic wine making practices in the area is located between Chateau Lestevenie and Chateau Monestier La Tour.   I have not yet visited the winery but have met the co-proprietor Gabriel Cuisset and sampled their 2018 wine at the December 2018, Soirée Vigneronne.     www.chateaugrinou.com

We have enjoyed many lunches at the Relais de Monestier restaurant, located in the centre of Monestier very near to the Chateau Monestier La Tour.     Le Relais de Monestier is on Facebook.

POMPORT

We have visited two wineries in this community, which is between Saussignac and Monbazillac.

Chateau Ladesvignes.       I wrote about this winery in 2013, which seems a long time ago now!     Apart from delicious white wines at this winery, the views from here over the Dordogne Valley looking towards Bergerac town are spectacular.     www.ladesvignes.com

Another nearby location to experience this amazing view is the restaurant near Monbazillac: La Tour des Vents, one star Michelin restaurant and adjoining brasserie. We have enjoyed several meals here over the years.   Important to reserve in advance.   www.tourdesvents.com

Chateau Les Hauts de Cailleval:  see elizabethsvines archive, December 2017 “Living the Dream, Chateau les Hauts de Caillevel.     I have good memories of sitting by a wood burning stove on a cold December day, drinking hot coffee and listening to the proprietor tell his story about wine making.   www.leshautsdecaillevel.com

SIGOULES

In the nearby village of Sigoules, the annual wine fair (Foire aux Vins de Sigoules) has been held here on the third weekend in July for over 40 years.   It’s organized together with the annual gathering of the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or, which attracts many Confreries from all over France.   The confrerie members officially parade through the village on the Saturday morning in their charming and creative costumes symbolizing the gastronomique culture they represent.     It’s a colourful and happy occasion held in the market square, near the Code-Bar and bistro frequented by many locals.   Le Code Bar, Sigoules is on Facebook.

There’s much more that can be written about the pleasures of this area: its proximity to the city of Bordeaux, the great wine areas of the Medoc and St. Emilion, the nearby route of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, the historic sites of the 14th/ 15th Century 100 years war.    There are the many food markets to tempt the visitor with local delicacies and kayaking on the Dordogne River to burn off calories.    The list goes on and on.

My focus here is about the opportunity for tranquility, for relaxing in nature, enjoying excellent local wine presented to the visitors by the wine-makers themselves in most situations and for walking among the vineyards and lanes of this peaceful, rural area; and, without doubt, rejoicing in the experience and having fun.

New Wine for a New Year: Soirée Vigneronne, Bergerac Wine Region, France

The low barrel ceiling of the cellar area of the old Château in Saussignac in South West France is home to the 2018 New Wine presentation by local winemakers.

We walk beside the dark stone exterior wall of the Château, using a powerful torch to prevent us slipping into muddy pot holes or against large rocks or tree roots.   We open the outer door and are greeted by a burst of yellow light and the sound of cheerful chatter as we step down onto the old stone-flagged floor of this cavernous area.

An informal gathering of over 100 people of all ages, from grandparents to grandchildren, is here to sample some new wines.  It’s a casual opportunity to meet neighbours and friends in this small village nestled in the vineyards of the Bergerac Wine Region near the town of Bergerac on the Dordogne River.

Stretched along the middle length of the long, narrow room are picnic tables, the sort that get stacked in village halls for events, joined end to end to accommodate the community meal this evening.   It’s organized as an “Auberge Espagnole” which for the uninitiated is a gathering in which every person or family bring their own food, drink and utensils and generally share what they bring.  It’s basically Bring Your Own and Clear Up Afterwards!  A fantastic, civilized and practical way for communities to socialize and share a meal together.     After all, food, and in this case wine, is at the heart of most convivial community initiatives all over the world.    So forewarned is forearmed: if you see a poster for an “Auberge Espagnole”, don’t try to reserve a room, start cooking and pack up your picnic basket!

Circulating around the room, we talk to three local winemakers who offered some of their new wines for tasting:

Gabriel Grinou from Château Grinou in nearby Monestier

Sue and Humphrey Temperley from Château Lestevenie, also in Monestier

Olivier Roche from Château Le Tap in Saussignac

Each winemaker mentioned that 2018 has been a challenging year due to the weather and the mildew.   There was a wet spring followed by a hot summer that turned into the hottest summer in France since 1947.   Mildew is a fungal disease that can affect the grapes and needs to be managed very carefully throughout the growing season and around harvesting time.  For farmers such as these, who practise organic or near organic farming methods, there are bigger challenges dealing with mildew, as there are fewer options for fighting diseases.

in spite of the inherent challenges in farming, which vary year to year, the winemakers are overall positive about the 2018 harvest with better grapes and higher yield in general than in 2017, which was a very difficult year.   I certainly see smiling faces among the group!

What we tasted:

Sue and Humphrey Temperley from award-winning Château Lestevenie offered their 2018 Bergerac Rosé.  A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon providing strawberry flavour with a hint of spice, Humphrey says ”…their best ever”.    In the photo below, the bottle is empty!  And as Sue says,  “…unfortunately, you can’t see the amazing colour”.    You can check out their website at: http://www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Olivier Roche from Château Le Tap, certified organic in 2010, offered his 2018 Bergerac White Sec.  Consistently a good quality wine, this is our “go to” white wine.    Olivier and Mireille Roche also offer gîte accommodation at their vineyard for wine tasting holidays!   http://www.chateauletap.fr

Gabriel Grinou from certified organic vineyard Château Grinou generously offered a basket of new wines for tasting.  The team of father and two sons are known for their high quality wines.    I tasted several from the wine basket and found their new and still developing red to be sunny and rich with lots of potential.   http://www.chateaugrinou.com

Farming and wine making are challenging endeavours at the best of times.    We greatly enjoyed the Soirée Vigneronne organized by the Cafe Associatif in Saussignac and wish all the winemakers a successful New Year with their New Wines.

In closing our last post for this year,  we extend best wishes to all for a healthy, happy and peaceful New Year!  See you in 2019.

elizabethsvines

Two women wine and food entrepreneurs connect SW France and Western Canada

Meet two women wine and food entrepreneurs who, in different ways, connect SW France and Western Canada:  Caro Feely in SW France and Marnie Fudge in Alberta, Canada.

Caro Feely is an organic wine farmer and producer with her husband Sean at Chateau Feely, an organic wine estate located in the Dordogne in SW France.    She has just returned from a book tour in British Columbia, Canada where she presented to Canadian audiences the latest of her three books, which describes the challenges and triumphs of building an organic wine business and raising a family while learning a second language.

I feel exhausted just thinking about it!

Caro’s books are called:  Grape Expectations, Saving our Skins and her latest book Glass Half Full was released in April 2018.

In addition to writing about her family’s experiences,  Caro and Chateau Feely offer organic wines made on site,  Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) level 2 wine courses,  Wine Weekends and luxury ecological accommodation.  Check out Caro’s books and all information about Caro and Sean’s initiatives at Chateau Feely on their website below.

I have known Caro for many years and admire her hard work and innovative ideas.

Marnie Fudge is the co-proprietor with her partner, Thierry Meret, of Cuisine and Chateau, an interactive culinary centre in Calgary, Alberta.      Marnie and Thierry offer cooking classes in Calgary, corporate team-building workshops based on teams cooking together and culinary tours.    The culinary tours are a gastronomical weeklong adventure through the Périgord region of SW France enjoyed while staying in a 16th Century chateau.

I met Marnie on a business related course some years ago and subsequently introduced her to the Confrerie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules as they share common interests in the presentation of local wines and wine and food pairing.

I will quickly add here that the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès is about to start their summer program of guided hikes and wine tastings in the Bergerac Wine Region.  These are listed on their website below.

For many years, Marnie and Thierry have been bringing Canadians to enjoy the wine and food of SW France on a foodie adventure.    During this stay, the group enjoys an evening with the Commander of the Confrerie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules who describes local wines and conducts a wine tasting focussed on a gastronomic dinner.      I have been fortunate to attend one of these excellent events when, by chance, I was in France at the same time as the group.

Marnie and Thierry are bringing their 2018 tour group to France this month in June.  Their 2019 Culinary Tour dates are posted on their cuisine and chateau website below.

Chateau Feely and Cuisine and Chateau are great examples of the international nature of the wine and food culture and sector.      Bravo and Hats Off/Chapeaux to Caro and Marnie;   these two women entrepreneurs are connecting SW France with people from Canada, and around the world.

References

Château Feely        chateaufeely.com

Cuisine and Chateau    cuisineandchateau.com

Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoules    confrerieduraisindor.com

 

Bred-in-the-Bone: Vigneron of the Year 2018, Château Court les Mûts, Bergerac Wine Region, SW France

The Sadoux family, father and son, both called Pierre, are leaders in the wine region of Bergerac.

I’m not just saying that.

They have been elected Vigneron of the Year 2018 in the Guide Hachette, the French guidebook for wines and champagnes.   It’s not the first time they’ve been recognized in this way.

Five generations have been in the wine business including a grandfather/great grandfather who was a ‘tonnelier’, that is a barrel maker or cooper, a key artisanal occupation in the wine industry.

I think of this family background as expertise that is bred-in-the-bone: formal oenology education enhanced by family mentoring.   Similar to an excellent apprenticeship program, it’s probably the best way to learn and achieve mastery in a chosen field.

It’s this mastery that I hear when I listen to both Pierre Sadoux, father and son, describe wine–making approaches at Château Court les Mûts in Razac de Saussignac, Dordogne, SW France.

On a sunny December day with autumn sunshine playing on the vine leaves that are multi-coloured from soft faded green to gold and scarlet, we head off to Château Court les Mûts to meet with Pierre Sadoux fils/son for a tasting of their suite of wines.

We’ve been enjoying their wines for several years now.   I find it interesting to revisit the winery and have a refresher on their range of wines as well as learn more from Pierre about their approach to wine making.

It’s the skill in blending different varieties that is one key to the traditional AOC wines made in the Bergerac Wine Region, as it is in the Bordeaux Wine Region to the west of the area.   Single varietal wines are not produced here.   The blending of the different varieties and the decision making that goes into that process to create a wine is one of the key differentiating factors in wines from different chateaux in the same region.     The wine subtleties arise from the different percentages of individual wine varieties used by different wine makers to make a particular wine type.

It’s a bit like several people making The Best Chocolate Cake but each person changing the mix of ingredients with the result that the individual cakes taste different yet still calling each one The Best Chocolate Cake.

The Sadoux family make a range of seven wine categories: Bergerac Dry White, Bergerac Rose, Bergerac Rouge, Côtes de Bergerac Red, Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux (semi sweet) and Saussignac, a late harvest wine.

We taste our way through the range starting with the dry white and finishing with the Saussignac late harvest.

It’s in the discussion with Pierre of each wine we taste that his wine mastery comes to the fore.   His detailed knowledge of each parcel of land; its history, soil structure including the varying depths of clay and limestone, and suitability for specific grape varieties is expressed with an intensity and concentration that commands attention.   As he is talking, I can see he is seeing each parcel of vines in his mind’s eye, as he tastes the different wines and talks about the different elements that went into creating the particular wine.  I know where the Malbec parcel is that he talks about and walk past it frequently.

Pierre describes the fluctuations in the grape harvest timing and quantities due to weather patterns, topography, rainfall, and all the interventions of nature, which are only some of the challenges facing a wine maker.   He gives one example of the unpredictability of the weather as the April hailstorm damage that could affect one area of a particular parcel of vines but not the whole area.   The hailstorm was devastating for some vine growers throughout the region and because of its time in the growing season, its effect will be felt over several years..

Wine production including the blending of the various varieties permitted under the AOC regulations for the Bergerac Wine Region is a major topic of discussion.

We take our time tasting the range of wines.   I enjoy the crispness of the 2016 Bergerac Sec white wine with 40% Sauvignon Gris, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. Good with fish; I also like it as an aperitif wine.   The 2015 Cuvée Annabelle with 30% Semillon, 25% Muscadelle as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris is more of a gastronomique wine suitable with a range of dishes.

In the red wines, anyone who enjoys the Malbec in South American wines will enjoy the Côtes de Bergerac red wine with 40% Merlot, 35% Malbec and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.   Dedicated Malbec fans will really appreciate L’Oracle 2014 which is blended with 60% Malbec, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.   This rich wine with depth and resonance of black fruits, pepper, chocolate and toast will give pleasure for several years.   Pierre tells us he believes his 2014 reds will age particularly well as they have more structure than the 2015 year, which has been heralded as a great year.

As we prepare to leave Château Court les Mûts, I remember to ask Pierre about his spouse Annabelle and the jewelry she makes from specially treated vine stalks decorated with pearls, crystals and various stones. He tells me she will be exhibiting her jewelry at the upcoming Saussignac Christmas Fair.    I have bought several pieces of her unique jewelry already and always receive positive comments when I wear them so a visit to the Marché Noël will be in order.   Annabelle sells her work through different craft fairs across France.

For me, this wine tasting and visit to Château Court les Mûts is about more fully recognizing the breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding of soil, land, terroir, as well as the vine growing and wine making processes that a successful wine maker must have.   That’s not factoring in the marketing know-how that is also required and essential in an increasingly competitive global industry.    It’s a formidable mix of knowledge, skills, temperament and in this case, legacy.

It’s not unusual to find multi-generational wine making families in the Bergerac Wine Region as in any agricultural area.

The expression bred-in-the-bone may be known to some as the title of a book by the late Canadian author Robertson Davies: What’s Bred in the Bone. That’s how I first became aware of it. It is an expression quite widely used by authors and means, “firmly instilled or established as if by heredity. “   It is traced back to a 15th century phrase: “what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh”.

References

Château Court les Mûts     http://www.court-les-muts.com

Les Bijoux Caprice de Vigne – Annabelle de Groote. Phone + 06 11 60 66 71

Guide Hachette      www.hachette-vins.com

Anyone for Rain Dancing in SW France Vineyards?

The vine leaves in SW France look beautiful at this time of year.   Most days when I walk beside the vineyards, I photograph the vines and marvel at the changing nuanced colours of the leaves; gold, scarlet, bronze, green, and by extension at the changing colours of the landscape.

I never tire of looking at the view; the winding road disappearing into the distance, the tall, ghostly coloured water tower on the hilltop and the sprinkling of farmhouses. The straight lines of vines marching up and down the undulating landscape which fascinate and remind me of David Hockney’s colourful paintings of the Yorkshire dales.

There is even a friendly cat of no fixed address that parades each day in front of the local cemetery.  I call him the Cemetery Cat.

At the same time as we enjoy the autumn sunshine highlighting the local beauty and warming us as we walk about, the local newspaper, Sud Ouest, is raising the alarm bells about the effects of climate change in the area, in particular the reduced rainfall.

Each day on the back page of the paper, there is a table showing the minimum and maximum temperatures in southwest France on the same day over the long term: 15, 30 and 50 years. The figures indicate that it appears that it is the minimum temperatures that have been affected;  in other words the weather does not get as cold now as it did 50 years ago in this area.   The newspaper also provides local 2017 climate statistics showing sunshine days are up and rainfall levels are down.  2017 is described as a dry and sunny year. The weather forecast for the next 15 days also indicates less rain than “usual” for this time of year.

The Sud Ouest local newspaper for Bergerac and Sarlat areas has a headline on Monday, November 13, 2017 that reads: Va-t-il falloir faire la danse de la pluie?     In other words, “Will we have to do the rain dance?”

Perhaps.

Certainly, some vine growers, aware of climate warming, are becoming concerned about the reduced level of precipitation at key moments in the vine production of grapes.   In July this year, for example, there was 50% of the usual rainfall for the month.

The newspaper references individuals in the winemaking community who are saying its necessary to start the discussion and debate about vine irrigation in France, where it is essentially prohibited due to the multiple authorizations necessary to irrigate vines and with few exceptions for specific reasons, e.g. newly planted vines.

Currently, when there is lack of water, the stressed vines search for water in the ground below by sending down deep roots.

Vine irrigation is a sensitive topic.   Some wine makers are concerned that irrigation will negatively affect or reduce the bountiful impact of vineyard ‘terroir “and lower the quality of the wines.  Many believe that marginally stressing the vines helps to produce superior fruit.     Some consider that France should allow vine irrigation as elsewhere in the world, where vine irrigation is well established. Others are concerned that irrigation will lead to increased production and affect the wine market and prices.       Additionally, irrigation in periods of reduced precipitation will place demands on water management in the area, another  consideration.

There is no question that the topic of vine irrigation in France will be on the table for discussion and debate going forward.   This is an important discussion to follow in the wine world.

In the bigger picture, the reduced level of precipitation and increased temperatures affect more than the vineyards and wine making.

So, what to do?

Back to the newspaper’s question about rain dancing.   Getting out the rain dancing shoes may be a good idea.   It’s certainly one approach. However, I interpret the suggestion of rain dancing as code for the fact there is no easy answer to these questions.   What’s interesting is that the local paper has taken the initiative to present a two-page article about the reduced rainfall this year.   It has specifically commented on the impact on the wine industry, which is a major economic driver for the area.

Beneath the beauty of the area and the elegance of the wines are challenging issues to be addressed.     Fortunately, there are imaginative, informed and creative wine makers in the area considering these issues and over time undoubtedly driving change in winemaking practices to accommodate environmental impacts.

Rain dancing?   Perhaps, but to a new or different melody.

References

Sud Ouest Newspaper, November 13, 2017 Bergerac and Sarlat edition.

Christmas Wrappings 2016

Life is to be lived forward, helped by looking backward from time to time.

This seems to be the common wisdom, certainly if one looks at all the retrospectives written around this time of year.    Whether we learn anything by looking backward and attempt to apply the lessons to the future is another matter…

What’s this got to do with writing a blog about wine and how it opens the door to other related and interesting subjects?

Well, I guess my aim is to deepen and broaden my knowledge about wine and then express it in different ways.

This year I pushed the envelope with three different initiatives:

  •  I gave a brief presentation to an interested group about antique Madeira wine labels in the context of social history,
  •  I created a video about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in SW France with the help of professional film maker, Joanna Irwin, and,
  • I conducted a wine tasting for the Wine Appreciation group at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.

As I plan forward for elizabethsvines in 2017, I’ll be looking backward as well, to see what can be learned from these experiences.

I appreciate comments and suggestions from my kind readers who are located all over the world;  the magic of the Internet.   There is a warm feeling when someone says: ” …I liked your recent blog…”

The great thing for me about my blog, which I have now been writing for four years, is that it isn’t a job.   The only expectations and deadlines are self imposed ones.

Oh! And by the way, before I forget to mention it:   I enjoy writing elizabethsvines.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, best wishes for the festive season and thank you for reading elizabethsvines, from

elizabethsvines

References from elizabethsvines archive:

elizabethsvines November 2016. Wines from my blog: wine tasting event at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.

elizabethsvines October 2016  video:   Celebrating French Culture, Wine and food:  https://elizabethsvines.com/2016/10/01/(video)-celebrating-French-culture-Wine-and-food/

(Video) Celebrating French culture, wine and food in SW France #2

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