Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Lessons in Wine Tourism

Caro Feely walks through the Marche de Noel in Saussignac with her usual friendly and confident air.

We smile and greet each other.  I congratulate Caro on her recent important win in the world of wine tourism.   Chateau Feely, of which she is Co-Proprietor with her husband Sean, is one of the 9 Gold Trophy winners in the first French National Wine Tourism Awards: Trophées de l’Oenotourisme.  Chateau Feely won Gold for the Category: Education and Valorization/Recognition and Valuing the Environment.

This trophy award is significant as it puts the achievements of Caro and Sean at Chateau Feely on the national scene.   With their January 2020 inclusion in the Forbes Travel Magazine list of 5 best places to learn about wine, they are now on the international map.    This is tremendous recognition for their hard work and commitment.

In addition to the sale of their organic and now biodynamic wines, Chateau Feely situated in the village of Saussignac, part of the Bergerac Wine Region, offers the visitor a broad repertoire of activities and events.   Wine and Spirit Education Trust wine courses, the organic/biodynamic learning and education trail through the vineyard, ecologically built holiday accommodation are available.   Wine tours and events such as wine harvesting days, the wine club and recently added yoga lessons taught by Caro, a qualified yoga teacher, round out the vacation experiences.   There are also Caro’s three books providing a personal and entertaining insight into their experiences at Chateau Feely over the years.

I ask Caro if I can take her photo and write about what Chateau Feely has achieved in my blog.   She is happy with both suggestions.

I’ve known Caro since about 2007.   When we first met Caro and Sean, with their two young daughters, they were starting to make their way in the wine world in this beautiful part of SW France with their wine farm on the edge of the small village of Saussignac, about 20 mins from Bergerac.

Sean focuses on the farming side of the enterprise and Caro, with her background in marketing in the world of technology, moved the business forward in terms of visibility.   Her leadership skills of focus, strategic thinking, perseverance, entrepreneurship and commitment to action have all contributed to where they are today.

Saussignac, this small village of about 420 residents, resting in the shadow of the 17th Century Chateau with 12th Century and earlier roots, is very much a part of the local wine community, having its own Saussignac Appellation for a late harvest delicious wine made by various wine makers in the area.

The village of Saussignac plays a leading role in wine tourism in the area and highlights the importance of community engagement and collaboration.   Led by a dynamic group of local people, the village hosts weekly wine tastings on Monday evenings in July and August presented by a different wine chateau each week. The Confrérie du Raison d’Or de Sigoulès organizes weekly walks in the surrounding countryside during July and August.   The village supports periodic Art Shows, theatre and music productions.   A new restaurant in the village, Le 1500, with its welcoming courtyard, offers delicious and interesting meals.   Le 1500 and Chateau Le Tap, an organic winery adjoining Chateau Feely offer excellent accommodation.

The Bergerac Wine Region has seen a steady growth in organic and biodynamic wineries, certified or following organic farming principles.   I have written about several of them in the past: Chateau Le Tap, Chateau Lestevenie, Chateau Court les Muts, Chateau Monestier La Tour, Chateau Grinou, Chateau Hauts de Caillevel, Chateau Moulin Caresse, Chateau Les Plaguettes, Chateau Tour des Gendres, Vignobles des Verdots and Chateau Feely.

So what does wine tourism mean?   In France, it is interpreted to encompass the countryside, heritage, history, culture, wine of course and all the people involved. It’s a broad perspective.

The objective of the Trophées de l’Oenotourisme is to shed light on initiatives taken by these winning wine chateaux and their proprietors, who like everyone in the wine industry, work hard every day to put in place strong and attractive wine tourism offerings to suit the changing demands of clients and to encourage others through these examples.

The opportunity to share wine tourism ideas is particularly important as the market for wine changes due to various issues including a gradual change in consumption, the effects of climate change on the grape varieties grown in wine growing areas and the positive focus on quality not quantity.  It’s a sector under pressure and the sands of the wine industry are shifting.

This first national award scheme of Trophées de l’Oenotourisme for wine tourism is a collaborative initiative of the French wine and lifestyle magazine, Terre de Vins and Atout France, France’s national tourism development agency.

The list of the 9 Gold Trophy winners is noted at the end of this article.   I have looked at the websites of each of the winning chateaux and found that exercise interesting and informative.  In addition to these 9 chateaux, there are many others throughout France pushing the envelope on wine tourism.

When considering how people choose to spend their discretionary money, it is interesting to look at the world of retail.   It appears people are buying fewer ‘things’ and spending their money on experiences.   This seems to be a trend in vacation planning.   As Caro says: “Our clients are looking for more, that extra something, when they go on vacation, and we provide that through our educational and environmental approach”.

We live in an age of increasing stress with the many diverse demands place on individuals and families.   Mental health is a significant workplace safety and wellness consideration for individuals and organizations.   A vacation in the countryside where one can have enjoyable experiences learning about nature, the environment, benefit from exercise, fresh air, good fresh food and excellent wine sounds like a healing proposition.

What are the lessons one can take away from observing what is happening in the world of wine tourism?   These include:

  • Keeping up to date on trends, particularly about the evolution of the mature wine market.
  •  Learning new skills and expanding knowledge of relevant topics
  • Using technology effectively to communicate with potential visitors
  •  Investing time, energy and money (sourcing development funds where possible) to remain current
  •  Adaptability. **
  • Collaboration and networking
  • Community engagement

To benefit from this awards initiative, one way of looking at these Wine Tourism Trophies and their 9 categories is to see them as case studies of success and adaptability.   In this way, they offer value to students and observers of wine tourism. One new idea can have far reaching results.  In an era of change in the wine industry, these learning opportunities take on greater significance.

Congratulations, Caro!

References:

Here’s the list of the 9 Gold Trophy winners:

Les lauréats des premiers Trophées de l’Œnotourisme:

Catégorie Architecture & paysages –Château de Pennautier (11610 Pennautier), 
Catégorie Art & culture – Maison Ackerman (49400 Saumur), 
 Catégorie Initiatives créatives & originalités – Château Vénus (33720 Illats)
, Catégorie Œnotourisme d’affaires & événements privés – Champagne Pannier (02400 Château-Thierry)
, Catégorie Pédagogie & valorisation de l’environnement – Château Feely (24240 Saussignac)
, Catégorie Restauration dans le Vignoble –Château Guiraud (32210 Sauternes)
, Catégorie Séjour à la propriété – Château de Mercuès (46000 Cahors)
, Catégorie Valorisation des appellations & institutions – Cité du Champagne Collet (51160 Aÿ-Champagne)
, Catégorie Le vignoble en famille – La Chablisienne (89800 Chablis). I googled the chateau names to look at the websites.

 

Chateau Feely                                              www.chateaufeely.com

Chateau Le Tap                                           www.chateauletap.fr

Chateau Lestevenie                                               www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Chateau Courts les Muts                           www.court-les-muts.com

Chateau Monestier La Tour                      www.chateaumonestierlatour.com

Chateau Moulin Caresse                          www.moulincaresse.com

Chateau Hauts de Caillevel                      www.chateauleshautsdecaillevel.com

Chateau Tour des Gendres                      www.chateautourdesgendres.com

Vignobles des Verdots                               www.verdots.com

Le 1500                     https://www.le1500.rocks     (restaurant and accommodation)

Terre de Vins   www.terredevins.com

Atout France     www.atout-france.fr

Forbes Travel Magazine                             stories.forbestravelguide.com

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.

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

Bergerac Wine Region: jazz and wine

The heat wave in South West France, with temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40 degrees C, has thankfully cooled.      Sunflowers continue to salute the sun and lavender hedges are buzzing with the sound of many bees and other pollinators doing their work.

In the vineyards it’s work as usual.  The tractors are in the fields by 5.00 am getting a start on the work before it gets too hot.   Vine trimming is complete and new vines are planted where the vignerons are making changes to their vineyards.

Amid all the flurry of vineyard work, there is still time to enjoy music and wine!   More particularly jazz, performed at a wine chateau, in the barn or chai as it is called here, where the wine is made.

The Jazz En Chais, Cru 2015, a series of 5 jazz concerts held in the Pourpre Perigord area of South West France from March to November is very popular and offers live music, wine tasting at the host wine chateau as well as a farmer’s market where people can buy food and eat in situ before the concert.

Our most recent Jazz en Chais concert was held at Chateau Court Les Muts situated about 20 minutes from Bergerac and set in the gently rolling countryside of rural Dordogne, surrounded by the chateau’s own vineyards.   The wines of this Chateau are highly regarded in the area.

First of all, we enjoy a glass of Chateau Court Les Muts ‘L’Oracle’, their premier red wine:  50% Malbec, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, all black fruits, violets, chocolate and touch of white pepper.  Then, we find our seats in the chais and settle down to listen to the Serge Delaite Trio play a concert called Comme Bach… in which the classical music of Bach is harmonized with jazz classics by Duke Ellington, Bart Haward and others and played with talent, style and energy.  These concerts are a well attended and popular expression of South West France wine culture.

Being a fan of such music as Fly Me to The Moon, the Jazz En Chais series of live music partnered with high quality wines of the region ticks all the boxes for me for an enjoyable summer evening

References:  Les Jazz en Chais concerts, Cru 2015.  www.jazzpourpre.com

Chateau Court Les Muts,  www.court-les-muts.com.   See also their vine jewellery made on site.

Serge Delaite Trio. “Comme Bach”.