Saussignac, a small village of approximately 420 people in SW France in the Dordogne area of Nouvelle Aquitaine, really is a village of wine.
Route to Saussignac village
Dusk at the end of a hike in the Dordogne – the outline of Chateau Saussignac
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
Apart from being the name of the village, where the chateau dates from the 17th century and is on the site of a much older building, Saussignac is also the name of the Saussignac Appellation D’Origine Contrôlée. The wines of this appellation are a late harvest botryrized wine made mainly from Sémillon grapes. This is a distinct category of the natural sweet wines produced from withered, shriveled grapes; a Vin Liqoreux, on the same honeyed track as a Sauterne or a Monbazillac. These wines of liquid gold can be savoured best with foie gras or a blue cheese, like Saint Augur or Roquefort, a dessert or even as a chilled aperitif. Several wine makers in the Saussignac area make these delicious wines, which should definitely be savoured by anyone visiting the area.
Saussignac is home to several wine makers, many of whom are organic farmers.
One such innovative organic farmer, writer and educator is Caro Feely from Château Feely. Caro is hosting a free zoom virtual presentation and discussion on the Climate Change Crisis on Friday, November 12 at 5.00 pm UK or 6 pm France. To sign up, Caro can be reached at email@example.com www.chateaufeely.com
An addition to the local community wine makers are Frank and Riki Campbell, new proprietors at Chateau de Fayolle in Saussignac. Their goal is to promote the wines of the area on a global level.
Chateau de Fayolle, under the new ownership of the Campbells, is offering platters of cheese and charcuterie with wine tastings in a newly renovated and up to date wine tasting room, which has wonderful views over the rows of vines. Great recommendations of the wines and ambience have been received from wine loving friends in the area and visitors from Bordeaux, so it’s well worth a visit. Check out details on their website: http://www.chateaufayolle.com
To complete the picture of Saussignac as a village of art and wine, I would be remiss not to mention the creative work of Mike and Lee McNeal Rumsby at Le 1500; the boutique hôtel, bistro and painting retreat in the middle of the village opposite Château Saussignac. Lee managed some of the world’s finest hotels and Mike’s paintings are sold internationally, so Le 1500 is definitely a place to visit and enjoy. http://www.le1500.rocks
The village of Saussignac continues to live up to its reputation as a place of Art and Wine.
This year in summer 2021, the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in the Bergerac Wine Region in SW France was innovative in fulfilling its mandate of promoting local winemakers.
Instead of hosting its annual Confrerie wine event attended by Confrerie members from across France, it creatively switched to participating in the local Festival for Winemakers of Sigoulès-Flaugeac. The Confrérie hosted a wine tasting event of local wines in which the public voted for the wines of their choice. Great Idea!
Awards were then given by the Commandeur Guy Bergeron, representing the Confrérie, to the winners in the 5 wine categories of Red, Rose, Dry White, Sweet White, and Late Harvest Liquoreux. All 19 winemakers who participated in the public tasting were thanked for their participation.
And the five winners were…
Rouge/Red wine: Stephanie et Philippe Barré-Perier in Saint Pierre D’Eyraud
Rosé/ Pink: Jean Philippe Cathal, Domaine Petit Marsalet, St. Laurent des Vignes
Blanc Moelleur/Sweet White: Durand Frères, Château Haut Lamouthe, Lamonzie St Martin
Blanc Liquoreux/ Late Harvest Liquoreux: Stéphane Dumoulin, Chateau le Cluzeau, Sigoulés-Flaugeac
Congratulations to the winners of the people’s votes!
All these community names are very familiar to me and I am so pleased to acknowledge the work and effort that went into this event.
Given the COVID restrictions in place, the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, under the leadership of the Commandeur and the support of the members, continues to be active in the community upholding its role as part of the UNESCO World Heritage recognition of Confréries in France as a fundamental aspect of French Gastronomie.
Caro Feely walks through the Marche de Noel in Saussignac with her usual friendly and confident air.
Caro Feely, Co-Proprietor, Chateau Feely, Saussignac SW France
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.
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
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.
Route to Saussignac village
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
Collaboration and networking
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.
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.
Do you have vacation plans in the Dordogne this summer? If you have your sun hat, comfortable walking shoes and a bottle or two of water, then the above agenda of walks in the Dordogne has your name on it!
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
Each summer, the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès organizes walks through the bee-buzzing, bird-singing rolling countryside of the Dordogne, always ending with a wine tasting. The starting point is the village of Sigoulès.
Other local opportunities to enjoy casual, friendly wine tasting events take place each Monday evening in the nearby village of Saussignac. Apéro Vigneron offers wine tasting and al fresco food in the village main square.
These are memorable vacation opportunities to meet local wine makers and taste their selections of Bergerac Region wines in casual, village environments, far from work-a-day city crowds.
Sunflowers saluting the sun
The flag of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès
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.
Château Monestier La Tour. Time and the passage of time: Auguste Rodin quote, the sundial symbolising the passage of time and the watchmaking career of the Proprietor, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele and the Chateau Monestier la Tour emblem of the Crane.
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.
Line drawing of Château Monestier La Tour with the Rodin quote
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.
Winery office, Chai and presentation square
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.
New Vat Room
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.
The herb drying room, Chateau Monestier La Tour, with the descriptions mounted on the wall..
Herb Drying and Storage Room
Herb Drying and Storage Room
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.
Pissenlit or Common Dandelion
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.
The herb drying room at Ch Monestier La Tour – nettles in the left foreground
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.
Biodynamic compost description
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.
The Tasting Room, Chateau Monestier La Tour
The range of wines at Chateau Monestier La Tour
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.
Inspector Bruno Courreges, gourmand, wine lover and local chief of police lives in the Périgord, SW France in the small town of St Denis, where he knows everyone and their secrets. He enjoys a peaceful life with his vegetable garden, horse, ducks and hens and defends the local community, its people and traditions against threats that menace the traditional way of life.
Inspector Bruno also has a weakness for intelligent, independent minded women.
Without question, then, he would be supportive of the women winemakers of Bergerac.
While I, and I am sure many others, would greatly enjoy meeting Inspector Bruno, there will be no such opportunity as he is the fictional creation of Martin Walker. For myself, I feel I have become acquainted with Inspector Bruno from reading the novels.
Inspector Bruno mystery series by Martin Walker
I have met Martin at a couple of wine events in the Dordogne. After reading the following article in a local Dordogne English language newspaper, The Bugle, I decided to write to him and ask if I could reproduce his article about women wine makers of Bergerac on my website. He has graciously agreed to this and I am very pleased to include his article below.
‘The Bugle, June 2016
The women winemakers of Bergerac by Martin Walker
Along with the Universities of Bordeaux, Padua and Melbourne, the Davis campus in California is one of the world’s great wine schools and last year for the first time, half of the graduates were women. And our own Bergerac region is remarkable for the number of women making terrific wines.
Not all of them are French. The legendary Patricia Atkinson of Clos d’Yvigne may have retired but the wines she made are still being produced by her successors. Le Rouge et Le Noir may be the best known, a classic blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon but I also enjoy the wine she called le Prince, a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. And her book, The Ripening Sun, is strongly recommended as one brave woman’s account of a triumphant and often lonely struggle to make prize-winning wines from scratch.
Not far from her vineyard at Gageac-et Rouillac near Saussignac is Chateau K, where the Norwegian Katharina Mowinckel may have given up her dream of becoming a world-class horsewoman, but now makes first-rate organic wines. The original name of the Chateau was Fougueyrat, but knowing that Scandinavia would be an important market, she decided that Chateau K would be easier to pronounce. And the Chateau K wines she makes are very good indeed, as you might expect from this lovely corner of the Bergerac. Her cheaper wines, called simply K, are also good value.
My friend Sylvie Chevallier produces lovely wines at Les Hauts de Caillevel, prize-winning Monbazillacs, charming wines and very serious red wines indeed. I was honoured to be on a jury where we were able to recognize the quality of her wines and then I had the pleasure of getting to know her when we were both promoting Bergerac food and wine in Switzerland, when the traveling Lascaux museum was on show in Geneva. And now Sylvie has been elected the apolitical chair of the tourism committee of our regional council, a fine choice. I just hope it leaves her sufficient time to continue producing her splendid wines. And like more and more Bergerac wines these day, they are bio-organic certified. She calls herself ‘a peasant winemaker’ but her wines are noble indeed.
Brigitte Soulier at Chateau la Robertie makes wines so good they are served at the Vieux Logis restaurant in Tremolat, my own favourite place to eat. Her Monbazillacs are a treat but I have a great fondness for her red wines, which add a little Cot (the old Perigord name for Malbec) to the usual Cabernet-Merlot blend.
If you have not yet visited Caro Feely at Saussignac, you should. Caro runs wine courses and lunches and with her husband Sean makes very fines wines indeed. If you get hold of their red wine called Grace, treasure it for a few years. But also enjoy the view from their home over the Dordogne valley all the way to Bergerac.
Chateau Feely, home of Caro Feely, one of the women wine makers of Bergerac
I had the pleasure one evening at Sean and Caro’s home of meeting their neighbor, Isabelle Daulhiac, who with her husband Thierry make some of the best value Bergerac Sec white wines that I know. I cannot possibly leave out Nathalie Barde of Chateau le Raz or Sylvie Deffarge Danger of Chateau Moulin Caresse (a name that perfectly describes the smoothness of her red wines) but I am running out of space.
And then there is our local TV superstar, Gaelle Reynou-Gravier of the Domaine de Perreau at St-Michel-de-Montaigne, in the Montravel district of Bergerac. She is the model for Gaelle Dumesnil in the latest version of Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Einre) French TV series. In the latest episode, she is the inspiration for the role of the childhood sweetheart of one of the stars of the series. But the real stars are her two special wines, a wonderfully deep red called Desir Carmin and an enchanting Desir d’Aurore, which I consider the best Chardonnay wine produced in the Bergerac.
I should add that she is more than lovely enough to play the role herself, but having a wife over thirty years and two daughters, I have been thoroughly schooled in the dangers of being a sexist. But each of the women I have cited is as lovely and delightful as the wines she makes, and I offer up my thanks to le Bon Dieu that such magnificent women made such splendid wines.’
A note about Martin Walker, author of this article:
Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac. Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International. He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.
We are having coffee with a friend in Vancouver; sitting outside at our regular haunt putting the world to rights as usual. Our friend comments, “ Well, you know the big thing nowadays for organizations is “reaching out”. We talk about this “reaching out” and what it means or implies: communicating, engaging with interested parties.
Later on, I reflect on “reaching out” and my thoughts turn to the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in South West France and the efforts that they make to reach out to many groups in the course of their activities during the year.
I wrote about the history and current role of Confréries in France and in particular about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in the July 2014 article on my website. In summary, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products.
UNESCO has recognized the gastronomic heritage of France as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition.
Tourism plays a major role in the French economy and the Confréries, with their links to the past and involvement with the gastronomy of the area are usually associated with a tourism organization in the vicinity.
In some ways, this feels like a lot of words on a page and high-level policy. On the ground, what is the value proposition? It’s about promoting the local area, culture, food and wine to residents and visitors. Aside from the annual major event for each Confrérie called the Chapitre, and attending the Chapitres of other Confrèries, local events are organized that reach out to others.
The magic of the work of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès of which I am so fortunate to be a member, albeit from a distance much of the time, comes alive for me in particular ways.
One way is in walking with people who take part in the summer time Confrérie organized hikes, which focus on the discovery of the local countryside. I pass the time of day with other hikers: why do they come? What’s it all about for them?
Hiking in the Dordogne with the Confrérie
Consistently, the response is that they love the countryside, the opportunity to explore the area with other people with similar interests. They appreciate the fellowship offered by the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. Often they are people who live in Bergerac, the local main town, and sometimes they have recently retired there after a career in Paris or overseas. They want to connect with the soil, the trees, the birds, the mushrooms, the wild flowers; these things are important to them.
Hiking with the Confrérie
At the end of each hike, there is an opportunity to enjoy refreshment with others. On offer is a glass of local wine or juice and a savoury biscuit. Un pot d’amitié, a cup of friendship, to which participants are invited to donate a small amount to cover costs. All this is organized and brought to the assembly point by members of the Confrérie.
At the end of the hike: enjoying a cup of friendship
This is the magic of the countryside and fellowship.
Another expression of this magic is attending concerts organized by the Confrérie in local mediaeval churches.
How good can it get to listen to talented musicians in this kind of setting?
One example from this summer is a concert held at the church in Sigoulès featuring a flautist and guitarist playing music from both sides of the Pyrénées. These musical pieces are by composers who originated from different regions of the French and Spanish Pyrénées: Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Georges Bizet, Pablo de Sarasate, and Isaac Albeniz. These are some of my favourite composers. Afterwards, we stand and chat in the shade of the plane trees and enjoy un pot d’amitié – a glass of wine from a Sigoules winemaker.
Concert with the Confrérie
Another example is a concert of young talented musicians from the Conservatoire de Bergerac. In this instance, two young guitarists. On the programme, which I have shown here, I circled the pieces I particularly enjoyed. At the end of the performance, as an encore, they played a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s famous song: “Isn’t She Lovely”. I loved the repetoire, the imagination and the skill of these two young people.
Concert with two guitarists
Afterwards, there is an opportunity to meet other concertgoers and enjoy a cup of friendship again: wine or juice with a slice of ham and cheese cake offered by Confrérie volunteers. We stand, smile and chat in the warm, early evening sunshine outside the church at Puyguilhem in the Commune of Thenac from where it is possible to see in the distance where the 100 years began and in another direction where it ended.
This is the magic of time and place, music and fellowship.
Who does all this reaching out? Committed members of the Confrérie who give countless hours of their time to promoting this region of France that they love and value, to engaging with local residents and visitors and to using their skills and talents in the interests of others.
For me, all this effort is about getting to the heart of matters in ways that people value. This is “reaching out” at its best. As our friend in Vancouver suggests, reaching out is a big thing.
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
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
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
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
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
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.