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

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Tour des Gendres

The physical approach to the wineries  we visit usually gives us a clue to the nature of our impending experience.   It’s like opening a book, reading the first page and forming an opinion as to whether this is a story we will enjoy.   We had no doubts we would enjoy our visit as we approached Chateau Tour des Gendres.

The route gives us the first clue:  the road there is off the beaten track,  an upside-down sign points the way through the treed and hedgerow lanes and a narrow driveway between farm buildings beckons us as though through an archway to the winery which opens up before us.    As we drive into the winery courtyard through this narrow entrance we feel a great sense of calm and tranquility in this magic circle of house, chai, tasting room and offices, tucked away in the countryside.   If a unicorn had suddenly appeared it would not have come as a surprise!

The charm of Chateau Tour des Gendres

The charm of Chateau Tour des Gendres

Chateau Tour des Gendres is owned by the de Conti family, two brothers, a cousin and their wives,  and has been in operation at three different family properties from 1981.   Yet wine has been made on this land for at least 800 years.  Luc de Conti, the wine maker and a co-proprietor, greeted us warmly and immediately invited us to walk among the vines.   As he says,  the vines are the heart of their operation.   Monsieur de Conti is articulate and passionate about his vines and generous in the time he spent with us.    Influential in the Bergerac wine region, he is a past President of the Syndicat des Vins in Bergerac.    As we stood among the neat rows of vines, Luc explained the Chateau Tour des Gendres farming and winemaking ethos which is to work in harmony with nature.

Rows of vines at Chateau Tour des Gendres where organic practices are followed

Rows of vines at Chateau Tour des Gendres where organic practices are followed

Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres

Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres

Tour des Gendres is an organic winery operation and was certified “Bio” by AGROCERT  (Agricultural Products Certification) in 2005.   The decision to pursue the organic route to wine making is health related and started in 1994.  Luc explained they do not use any chemicals in the vineyard.   They use very small amounts of the substances, such as sulphites, which are allowed under the organic wine making regulations.    Luc and his team prefer to use emulsions in the vineyard made from plants such as nettles, horsetail and heather.    Luc described how birds from the neighbouring oak forests are also part of their arsenal against certain insects in the vineyard.    He showed us how the vines are pruned to limit the number of buds and hence manage the yield per vine to support the high quality of their wines.

After time among the vines, Luc invited us to the tasting room to sample the Tour des Gendres Appellation D’Origine Controlée (AOC) Bergerac wines.   We tasted 7 wines in total:  4 white wines and 3 reds.   The wines are blended from their own grapes in accordance with the AOC guidelines.   Luc also makes a couple of single varietal wines:   a cabernet sauvignon and a muscadelle.   Since these two wines do not conform to the AOC guidelines, he bottles these in the distinctive sloping shoulder Burgundy style bottles to differentiate them from the AOC Bergerac wines.

Chateau Tour des Gendres - Tasting Room

Chateau Tour des Gendres – Tasting Room

Always interested in the marketing of wines, we asked about the market for the Tour des Gendres wines.   As we have heard in other wineries, Holland and Belgium are key markets.   Interestingly, Québec represents a significant overseas market for their wines and three of them are listed on the Société Alcohol Québec (SAQ) website:  Cuvée des Conti (white), Gloire de Mon Père (red) and Moulin des Dames (white).      The Cuvée des Conti white wine is particularly popular in Québec where the predominantly Semillon blend of this wine (Semillon 70%, Sauvignon Blanc(20%, Muscadelle 10%) is favoured to accompany food.

Tasting the Cuvée des Conti at Chateau Tour des Gendres

Tasting the Cuvée des Conti at Chateau Tour des Gendres

The main white wine grape varieties grown in SW France are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.   These are the significant varieties permitted in AOC Bergerac Sec wines and the AOC wines must be blended from at least two of the permitted grape varieties.   What creates the subtleties and differences in the wines are the varying percentages of grape varieties used by wine makers.   These might further vary year by year depending upon weather, geology, harvest conditions and other ‘terroir’ elements.

In this tasting, we particularly paid attention to the discernable difference that a shift in varietal percentages in this classic Bergerac white wine can make.   A Sauvigon Blanc focus may provide more of a sipping wine or a Vin de Plaisir. Whereas the Semillon focus of the Cuvée des Conti gives the wine a combination of a honeyed texture and complex flavours  and this is what supports its suitability to accompany food as opposed to being a sipping wine.

We experienced an illustrative food pairing first hand a few days later when we had lunch at the Restaurant Chez Alain in the historic market village of Issigeac following a visit to Issigeac’s popular Sunday morning market.    The Cuvée des Conti is on the Restaurant Chez Alain wine list.    We selected it to accompany a chicken dish and were immediate converts to this Semillon style of Bergerac white wine with food.

Enjoying the Cuvée des Conti at Restaurant Chez Alain in Issigeac

Enjoying the Cuvée des Conti at Restaurant Chez Alain in Issigeac

Not only is Luc de Conti a good teacher about wines and wine making, he is also whole-heartedly committed to natural wine making methods.   The excellent range of Tour des Gendres wines live up to the family’s vision of wine making on three distinct geological properties in a style that exemplifies fruit, balance, strength and freshness.   The press reviews and awards consistently recognize the quality of the de Conti wines and Luc de Conti’s wine making skills which were acknowledged by his nomination as Wine Maker of the Year in the region in 2012.

As our visit to Chateau Tour des Gendres drew to a close, we thanked Luc de Conti for his time and kindness in explaining so much to us and promised to return.     We drove away reflecting upon the new insights about winemaking gained from our experience in this tranquil place.

Location of Chateau Tour des Gendres

Location of Chateau Tour des Gendres

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Chateau Tour des Gendres   http://www.chateautourdesgendres.com

AGROCERT:  The organic standard.   see  www.organicstandard.com

Restaurant Chez Alain, Issigeac and Issigeac Sunday Morning Market, SW France

Société Alcohol Québec – SAQ