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.

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

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(VIDEO) Celebrating French culture, wine and food in SW France

Driving down the winding road under a sunny blue sky towards Sigoulès, a village in SW France, I see in the distance coloured paper decorations stretched over the road at the village entrance and the large sign SIGOULES in yellow and gold letters.

 

 

It’s mid-summer and early in the morning. I parallel park in the field-cum-parking lot and feel the festive mood in the air as I walk over to the large central village square. People are up and about getting the place ready for the annual Wine Fair, including the gathering of the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. Stallholders are setting out their wares for sale: wines, olive oils, lavender oils and soaps, food items and all manner of regional products. They are anticipating the bustling crowds of visitors who will come over the weekend to celebrate and enjoy the local wine and food culture of the area.

I meet Joanna Urwin, a local film-maker who has generously offered to make a video of the festivities and we discuss “photo-opps”, where she can best position herself to film public events and where I will talk about Confréries and their activities.

Confréries have their origins in the guilds of the Middle Ages.  Today, they are an integral part of local tourism, economic development and cultural initiatives supporting regional products.   They were recognized by UNESCO in 2010 as an intangible cultural heritage; an aspect of the “Gastronomic meal of the French.”   Confréries also encourage the discovery of regions through such initiatives as well-attended music concerts and popular guided walks in the areas. The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès also provides a bursary to a student engaged in wine studies, thus helping to support the education of the next generation of wine professionals.

Confréries operate in a reciprocal manner and members visit other confrérie events across France and in other areas of Europe.   This is representative of their value of conviviality and social connection.   Members of 45 other Confréries,  both in France and as far away as Belgium attend the event in Sigoulès.

The attached video, created by Joanna Urwin of VideoProFrance, provides an insight into this local Foire aux Vins and the annual public celebration of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès in SW France.

 

References:    To see video:

https://elizabethsvines.com/2016/10/01/(video)-celebrating-French-culture-wine-and-food/

UNESCO:  List of Intangible Cultural Heritage  2010   http://www.unesco.org

Conseil Français des Confréries,  www.conseil-francais-des-confreries.com

Monbazillac wine: Chateau Cluzeau.   http://www.chateaucluzeau.com

Joanna Urwin, http://www.videoprofrance.com

Welcome

‘Inspector Bruno’ and the women winemakers of Bergerac

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

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

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.

References

Inspector Bruno novels    www.brunochiefofpolice.com

Château K          www.chateau-k.com

Les Hauts de Caillevel     http://www.caillevel.fr

Château La Robertie        www.chateau-larobertie.com

Château Feely       http://www.feelywines.com

Château Le Raz      www.le-raz.com

Château  Moulin Caresse    www.pays-de-bergerac.com

Domaine de Perreau      www.domainedeperreau

TV Series   Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Vine)

 

Portfolio Tasting, London: something new, something remembered

I hear the buzz of conversation before I see the people.   Mid morning chat is at a gentle hum as people from across London and elsewhere greet each other and settle down to the serious business of a portfolio tasting courtesy of Davy’s Wine Merchants established in 1870.

Davy's Portfolio Tasting

Davy’s Portfolio Tasting

 

I have been thinking about historical context quite a bit recently, so I am distracted by considering the age of this business and thinking about what was going on when Davy’s Wine Merchants was established.   A time of upheaval and change in Europe with revolutions in the mid century and the unification of Italy a year later.   Queen Victoria was well established on the English throne and the Victorian writers: Trollope, Dickens, Elliot, Hardy were writing books that have become classics of English Literature.   I admire the skill and tenacity required to build and sustain a business over that length of time: 146 years.     Certainly, it speaks to the ongoing public interest in enjoying quality wines.

So back to the business at hand: sampling some of the wines presented by wine producers and/or the Davy’s Team.   It’s an impressive sight in the Hall of India and Pakistan at The Royal Over-Seas League house in St. James’s, London.   31 Tables with over 250 wines presented representing all the classic wine growing areas of the Old and New Worlds and developing wine growing areas such as England itself.

It would take a great deal of time to do justice to the large selection of wines at this tasting. After walking around the room and looking at all 31 tables, I resolve that the only way to take advantage of this opportunity is to be selective in my approach.

I taste a number of wines presented by Jean Becker from Alsace in France.   Their Pinot Gris 2013, soft, with peach fruit aromas; Gewürztraminer 2013, violets and very floral aromas, Riesling Vendanges Tardives Kronenbourg 2009, smooth, honeyed, acidic, and excellent for sweet and sour dishes.

I move on to Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja, from Spain and really enjoyed the Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 2008, a beautiful rioja nose on the wine, smooth and long.

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

Italian wines from the organic wine producer, Azienda Agricola Montauto, in Maremma, Tuscany are something new and stand out wines for me. Their winemaking philosophy is to make wines that support food, not overpower it.     I particularly enjoyed their white wine: Montauto Vermentino Malvasia 2014.   There is considerable length to the wine, with deep and balanced fruit aromas.   At 13% alc./vol it is a very drinkable wine.  Vermentino and Malvasia are grape varieties typical of this area in Tuscany along with Trebbiano and Grechetto.   Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring France has found a natural home in the area too. The Maremma area of Tuscany looks like an area worth visiting for its natural beauty, historical interest and microclimate supporting viticulture and the organic wines themselves.

As a final tasting experience, I can’t resist the Fine Wine Collection hosted by Davy’s staff and in this instance by wine consultant, Martin Everett MW.   I look at the line up of wines and notice that a Monbazillac AOC wine, a late harvest botrytized wine from the wider wine region of Bergerac is included; a Monbazillac Chateau Fonmourgues 2009.

Fine Wine Collection

Fine Wine Collection

The red wines at this Fine Wine Collection table are Bordeaux classics, both Left and Right Bank.

I focus on the right bank, Pomerol and St. Emilion.   Château du Tailhas, Pomerol 2012, located near Château Figeac, and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Grand Cru St. Emilion. 2006 – a special vintage- and taste these wines.

When I look at my notes, all I write is “ Beautiful”.

It says it all.

When I taste these top of class, prestigious Bordeaux wines with their full and satisfying flavours and aromas, I am always transported back to other occasions when I have enjoyed them.

On this occasion, I think back to 2009 and a visit to both Château Figeac and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot.   What struck me at the time was not just the quality of the wine but the accessibility and congeniality of the proprietors, in each case with family members at a multi-generational helm.   I remember at Château Figeac, Madame Manoncourt, the co-proprietor with her husband, rushed up to meet us as we were leaving. She had just driven back from Paris, a considerable distance, yet insisted on taking the time to welcome us to the Château.   In reading the history of Château Figeac, the Manoncourts were one of the first Châteaux owners many years ago to open their doors to general public or non trade visitors.   That sincere interest in the consumer is what good customer relations is all about.

Similarly, at Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, which we also visited in 2009, Monsieur Bécot joined us on our tour of the Château and the cellars and went to great lengths to explain their approach to making their wines.

It’s always the people who make the difference.

Peeling back the onion rings of memory, these experiences make me think of teenage visits to Bordeaux with my parents many, many years ago, when the proprietors always took the time to show us around yet the visits had to booked then by correspondence  some time in advance.   I remember at that time we visited Château Palmer and Château Margaux among others.

All these thoughts and memories come flooding back as a result of attending the Portfolio Tasting of Davy’s Wine Merchants, an organization with a long history and family lineage.

Enjoying wine, especially excellent wine, is always an evocative experience for me of other times, places and people.  It’s a time machine in a bottle.

 

 

References:

Davy’s Wine Merchants:    www.davy.co.uk

Domaine Jean Becker:    www.alsace-wine.net – Becker

Azienda Agricola Montauto:   http://www.montauto.org.

Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja:   http://www.miguelmerino.com

Chateau Figeac:  www.figeac.com

Chateau Tailhas:  www.tailhas.com

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot:   http://www.beausejour-becot.com

Monbazillac: http://www.cave.chateau-monbazillac.com

 

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region: Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès: : late harvest wine meets Gâteau Basque


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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”.