After so much time dreaming of holidays during lockdowns, here’s a wonderful opportunity to engage with the wine community in Sigoulès, near Bergerac in SW France by signing up for the summer event on July 24th of the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. A parade, a lunch and much fellowship awaits when you step outside your comfort zone and into a wonderful traditional event.
Taste Vin – Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, SW France near Bergerac.
Check out the Confrerie website for all the details, menu and registration.
facebook: confrérie du raisin d’or
Summer festival Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès July 24
In an uncertain world, I like to remember that February has long been the month to celebrate romance and love.
Heart branch on beach in Vancouver
Since the Middle Ages and more particularly since Victorian times, St Valentine, Cupid and Aphrodite have been celebrated with romantic cards and images of hearts; like this wooden heart made by the Heart Man and placed on the beach in Vancouver.
Not only do we celebrate love and romance with hearts, roses and chocolates but also with champagne!
This year we celebrated with a half bottle of Billecart-Salmon Champagne. This is in keeping with my interest in smaller bottles with high quality wines. Billecart-Salmon is a small champagne house started in the 1880s, is still run by the family in Mareuil sur Ay and has a devoted following among champagne aficionados. One quote is that…“Billecart Salmon is perhaps the best representative of a Champagne house that has chosen finesse over brute strength.”
We discovered Billecart-Salmon on a wine tour of the Champagne region in 2013. Here are two photos from that visit including the line up of champagne bottles we sampled during a tasting.
Chateau Billecart-Salmon, Mareuil-sur-Ay
Billetcart-Salmon champagne tasting 2013
here is our half bottle (375ml) of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve Champagne 12.0%alc./vol.
The end of summer in Vancouver coincides with the annual Bordeaux wine release by the BC Liquor Stores. September is the important month.
Excitement builds as aficionados wait for the online and print catalogues as well as notification of the prebooking opportunities. It looks like the 2018 vintage will be a very good year, like 2015 and 2016.
The Bordeaux Release is quite the show! Especially when you see shopping carts loaded down with multiple cases of wine being wheeled out to nearby parked cars.
For me, the catalogue of wine is not just about the wine. The catalogue is like a travel brochure as each name that I know conjures up the place: the countryside, the beautiful chateaux themselves, and the rows of vines and the sense of history – the whole ambiance is like magic for me.
I have visited the Bordeaux wine region – left bank, right bank – several times either on arranged tours or one-off visits to a particular chateau. Seeing the names is like reading poetry that you know well, there’s a rhyme to the words: Chateaux Margaux, Palmer, Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Leoville Barton, Lynch Bages, La Dominique, Quintus…
Some are chateaux I have visited for the first time in the last few years, often with my wine expert friend. Yet others like Chateau Margaux and Chateau Palmer I first visited decades ago with my parents and have happy memories of those introductions to the world of Bordeaux wines !
Putting aside these fine memories, I got down to the business of modestly buying some of the 2018 Bordeaux Release!
When the wine is released in the ‘liquor stores’ run by BC Liquor Stores, there is a mad rush of people swooping in with determination written on their faces as they grab a copy of the catalogue, which is an excellent reference guide with helpful information, and decide what they will buy!
I have to admit I probably had that same look of determination on my face as we decided what to buy. I didn’t have time to do any research before buying. I know from previous experience that if you dither, the choices you would like will have gone!
The wines in the 2018 Bordeaux Wine Release were selected at the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux in 2019, and are now released for sale in 2021.
After we bought some wine at the release, I serendipitously rediscovered my Decanter magazine issue of June 2019, in which Jane Anson, Master of Wine and Decanter’s Bordeaux Correspondent gave her En Primeur Report for Bordeaux 2018.
Not only does she write about the vintage overall but she also assesses individual chateau and interestingly, identifies those chateaux she considers to be Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 (i.e. possibility of being rated 100 points).
I compared this list with the wines available through the BC Liquor Stores and prepared the following chart of those wines which appear both on Jane Anson’s three criteria list from 2019 and the BC Liquor Store release in 2021 for left bank Bordeaux wines. Here it is, rather a short but informative reference list.
Jane Anson MW – Decanter Magazine
BC Liquor Stores
BC Price $Can
Ch. Cambon La Pelouse
Ch . Cambon La Pelouse
Ch. Ormes de Pez
Ch. Ormes de Pez
Les Tourelles de Longueville
Les Tourelles de Longueville
Ch. du Glana
Ch. du Glana
Ch. Leoville Poyferré
Ch. Leoville Poyferrê
Producer to Watch
Ch. Clerc Milon
Ch. Clerc Milon
Ch. Lafite Rothschild
Ch. Lafite Rothschild
Ch. Mouton Rothschild
Ch. Mouton Rothschild
Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalonde
Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalonde
Needless to say, both the Decanter article and the BC Liquor Store catalogue list many more wine choices.
The above chart is a very short list of those Bordeaux left bank red wines which were assessed as either Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 points of Left Bank Bordeaux 2018 red wines and were also available in the BC Liquor Stores 2018 Release. These were the criteria for inclusion.
The value to me of this comparison chart is that it fine tuned the information in the BC Liquor Store catalogue and has introduced us to some vineyards we didn’t know about at the lower end of these price points that we will keep an eye on for future purchases.
Enjoy the magic of Bordeaux!
References: Jane Anson MW, Decanter Magazine June 2019, Vintage Preview: Bordeaux 2018
2018 Bordeaux Release – BC Liquor Stores.com
and with recognition to my wine expert friend who always encourages my interest in Bordeaux wines.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Entertaining friends, one or two at a time in a responsible social distancing way, is still something we enjoy hosting on the patio. Offering what I call a mini-meze feels like an easy, no fuss option.
Mini-meze with pâté of sardines, anchovies and almonds
Basil and Cilantro (Coriander) growing up a storm and protected from local cat!
A meze in eastern Mediterranean countries involves quite a few different and delicious dishes. I prepare an abbreviated version with roasted vegetables, slices of local feta with olive oil drizzled over and chopped herbs, either oregano or fresh basil from the garden, sliced tomatoes and various cheeses including the greek cheese, Kefalotyri. I add some form of protein, sometimes smoked salmon, or as in the photo above, a paté of sardines, anchovies and almonds – quite delicious with toasted black bread or crackers.
A photo of the rapidly growing Basil and Cilantro (Coriander) is included. The planter is covered to protect it from a neighbourhood cat!
This mini-meze Is served in the context of enjoying a chilled white wine, usually an indigenous Cyprus white grape called Xinisteri, which is similar to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris – in that continuum of freshness but not too acidic. As mentioned previously, a favourite of ours is the Zambartas Xynisteri.
Zambartas Xynisteri 2017
I read in a French wine publication that a gloomy autumn, ‘ un automne morose’ is anticipated, in which bad news about the financial health of organizations is starting to become a reality and could affect the whole wine sector including sales for the upcoming festive season. It’s probably a time to look out for great prices of choice still and sparkling wines.
Offering a mini-meze with wine is one way to continue to support our local/and or favourite winegrowers during these challenging times.
Today, I saw the Heartman as I was walking along the seawall in Vancouver.
Floral love art by the Heartman, West Vancouver
The Heartman, as we call him, creates beautiful arrangements of flower petals on the earth or grass, always in the shape of a heart. He radiates calm and peace and his delightful work inevitably brings a smile or a photo opportunity moment to passers-by.
This heart symbol seems particularly appropriate as we all do our best to: “Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Safe”; the affirmation that British Columbians have taken to heart, literally, coined by Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer of British Columbia.
The focus on compassion and safety is reflected in the approaches to winery visits this summer where social distancing and safety are paramount for visitors to be encouraged to venture into winery tastings.
The key message for people planning to visit wineries during their summer holidays, whether here in BC or in other wine growing areas, is to anticipate the need to make an appointment for a wine tasting. For now, drop in wine tastings are a thing of the past. Additionally, the numbers of people tasting at any one time is sharply reduced, so check out how many people can be in the tasting party. And, ask about the guidelines on spitting wine at the tasting area: some wineries provide a disposable spit cup, so a good idea to clarify this before the tasting begins!
Each winery creates their own wine tasting procedures as long as they keep to the guidelines around social distancing and sanitation. This affects where the wine tastings take place, indoors or increasingly in outdoor spaces. A point of enquiry is the definition of social distancing. Here in British Columbia, we are operating with a 2 metre social distance. In France, the social distance is 1 metre. Figure out what that distance looks like, so you can conform to the expectation or leave more space. Its important everywhere to know the guidelines, so you can: “respecter la distance de 1 mètre” or 2 metres, whichever is relevant.
Winery visitors can expect highly professional levels of sanitation for everything from counter tops to wine stemware to pour spouts on wine bottles with visitors being discouraged from touching bottles of wine for sale, unless buying them!
I visited the websites of two award wining wineries I know well in SW France to see what is on offer in these Covid times. Both these wineries have 5 stars with Trip Advisor for their winery visits.
Sue and Humphrey Temperley, proprietors of Château Lestevenie
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie, Gageac et Rouillac, Dordogne.
Chateau Lestevenie has clear instructions on their home page about phoning to arrange wine tastings. They indicate that wine tastings are strictly by appointment to one household group per time in order to maintain social distancing. Chateau Lestevenie is a beautiful countryside winery offering a wonderful visit and opportunity to learn with Humphrey and Sue Temperley and admire the work they have also done to promote the flora and fauna on their property.
These comments above assume that the winery visit will be in person. A growing element in wine tourism now is the advent of the virtual wine tour and tasting.
Caro Feely, Co-Proprietor, Chateau Feely, Saussignac SW France
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
Another local winery in the Dordogne is Chateau Feely where Caro Feely has been busy launching a range of virtual experiences to enable people to experience Chateau Feely from anywhere.
Caro says: “We have been working flat out days, nights, weekends to get these new products developed and the response has been great. We had started developing ideas for online courses as part of our wine school the last couple of years and the coronavirus offered the push and the ‘time space’ we needed to get the first products done.”
Caro has produced several videos on their website describing the biodynamic vineyard of Caro and her husband, Sean, including a one minute video produced about their new Virtual Discovery Wine Course.
‘Down the road’ from these country wineries, in Ste Emilion and the areas around Bordeaux another approach to wine tasting takes place. This year, many of the most famous chateaux in the wine world are conducting their wine tastings with merchants using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft teams etc. Samples of wines are shipped to the merchants in advance and then the tastings take place virtually with the chateaux technical directors discussing the wines and answering enquires from the merchants. This is how the 2019 en primeur wine sale to merchants is taking place for many chateaux. The good news is that it appears 2019 was a year producing a high quality vintage.
Economically speaking 2020 looks like a tough year for winemakers. At the en primeur level of wine sales, many chateaux are discounting their 2019 vintage prices to encourage sales. Inevitably, this price challenge will ripple down through the industry and affect all the wine-makers.
In the time of Covid, let’s be kind to our wine-makers and support them through an unforgettable year, which is bringing many challenges as well as opportunities for change.
Photographs can be a great distraction: enjoyable, sometimes surprising and inevitably stacked with memories. When recently ‘decluttering’ an attic full of memorabilia and photos it was difficult not to be become absorbed in looking at the old photos. Subsequently, I looked at my blog photo collection and found myself reminiscing about various Châteaux and wine related visits. Here are several photos that remind me of those times.
Château Margaux, Medoc
Château La Dominique, Saint-Emilion: the new chai designed by architect Jean Nouvel.
Pierre Sadoux, father and son, Chateau Court les Mûts, Vigneron of the Year 2018, Bergerac Wine Region, Guide Hachette
Burrowing Owl Winery, Oliver, BC
Chateau Haut-Brion, looking out to the vines, Pessac, Bordeaux
The entrance to Vouni Winery, Panayia, Cyprus
The Quintus Dragon, Château Quintus, Saint-Emilion.
La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux
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.
La Confrérie des Compagnons des Vins de Loupiac
The colourful parade of confréries
House of Bollinger – the original family home, Ay, Champagne.
Every photo represents a story to me and I am grateful to many people for making these wine related visits possible.
Happy Spring! Vancouver is looking beautiful in warm, sunny, springtime weather. I hope it’s similar wherever you are!
Winery proprietors Sylvie Chevallier and Marc Ducrocq are living their dream at Château les Hauts de Caillevel. Nearly twenty years ago, after careers in the corporate world, they decided to change course, live in the country, raise their children in a pastoral setting and make wine. Sylvie and Marc see themselves as partners with nature in the creation of wines from their property.
Official recognition of their Bio certification
After successfully completing oenology courses, Sylvie and Marc settled themselves at Chateau les Hauts de Caillevel in 1999 with the objective of making wine in the most environmentally friendly way they could. This approach culminated in their official certification as a “Bio” or a biologique/ organic farm in 2010, an achievement that deservedly gives them a sense of pride and satisfaction.
The vineyard is located high above the river valley on the plateau village of Pomport; approximately 20 minutes drive from Bergerac. Château les Hauts de Caillevel offers camping facilities as well as tastings to visitors. It’s a relatively small wine producer farming 18 hectares of which 8.70 hectares are red grapes and 9.30 hectares are white grapes and they produce eleven different wines.
Château les Hauts de Caillevel, winter view from the office
Driving along their expansive drive to the house and vineyard office, I feel the peaceful calm of this pastoral setting at the edge of the escarpment, which faces across the valley to neighboring villages. It’s the same sense of benign energy I have felt at another Bio winery in the Region, where I expected to see a unicorn appear from the surrounding woods at any moment.
It’s a chilly, misty December day and we are dressed warmly for the weather. I have made an appointment to visit the winery and meet Sylvie Chevallier on the recommendation of a colleague in the Confrèrie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, the wine confrèrie I have had the pleasure of being a member of for several years. Sylvie Chevallier has a reputation for making good wine, recognized by the Guide Hachette. She is also someone who is recognized for her significant contribution to the area through her community work over the years.
December is a busy time for winemakers and so I appreciate the opportunity to visit this winery, which I did not know about previously.
As it turned out, Sylvie had other vineyard priorities she had to attend to on the morning of our visit. Undeterred, we have the pleasure of meeting her husband Marc. Over a coffee and warmed by the wood burning stove in their office, we settle down for an interesting conversation with Marc about wine making at Château les Hauts de Caillevel.
Several things stand out from that conversation that imply to me that here are two people who are risk takers and confident in their vision of making their own path in the wine-making world.
After completing their oenology training, they learnt about winemaking on the job with the help of external, experienced wine consultants.
They include in the suite of grape varieties that they grow an indigenous grape variety in the region called Périgord Noir, which has a lower alcohol by volume percentage than the typical varieties. In this way, they believe they are responding to the trend of consumers wanting to enjoy wine but with lower alcohol levels.
They grow Chenin Blanc, a grape variety more usually associated with the Loire Valley in France and in South Africa. According to AOC regulations, this variety can be blended in small quantities in the Bergerac Region white wine and Sylvie and Marc use Chenin in this way. They also make a 100% single varietal Chenin Blanc wine outside the AOC Bergerac Wine Region framework. I am interested to taste this as Chenin Blanc produces some of the greatest white wines in both Touraine and Anjou-Saumur in the Loire Valley. It’s a white wine that ages well.
We have a wide-ranging conversation and exchange of ideas about wine making both in France and Canada. We also talk about the trend to organic winemaking and the overall reduction in chemical usage, whether vineyards are formally certified Bio or not, that is widespread across the Bergerac Wine Region.
Towards the end of our visit, I ask Marc what was the biggest surprise in being a wine-maker over the years? His immediate response was the effect of nature and how one is at the mercy of the weather. His view is that wine-makers have to be a fatalist to accept what the weather brings. It’s an important reality check to hear this comment. I expect that wine makers also have to an overarching sense of optimism to cope with the unpredictability of nature.
After a pause, Marc also comments that the other surprise for him is how difficult it is to market wine due to various complications in the related processes. He feels this is a real issue for the smaller local wine producers, who can have difficulty making a living.
We run out of time to taste the wines of Chateau Les Hauts de Caillevel and so a return visit in 2018 will be planned. We do take a quick tour of the tasting room and I buy several wines including the 100% Chenin and a 2015 red, called Ebène, which is a Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend, to enjoy at home.
The Suite of wines from Château les Hauts de Caillevel
I appreciated Marc’s candour about the realities of being a wine chateau proprietor. Having the opportunity to visit and speak personally with winery proprietors in this way is for me, what makes wine come alive; recognizing that flow from grape to glass.
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.
Autumn vine leaves, Saussignac
Autumn vine leaves
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.
The Vineyard landscape
More Vineyard Landscape
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.
The Cemetary 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?”
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.
Sud Ouest Newspaper, November 13, 2017 Bergerac and Sarlat edition.
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 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.
Sunflowers saluting the sun
Trimming the vines
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.
Jazz en Chais concert: Chateau Court les Muts
Chateau Court Les Muts
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.
We are sitting outside in the warm early evening. We hear music and talking coming from a nearby cherry tree. First of all we think people working in the vineyard opposite have the radio on. A little later that evening we are told that the music and chat show discussions are emanating from the radio placed in the tree as it is the only way to keep the starlings from robbing the tree of all its ripening fruit. From then onwards we call this the singing cherry tree.
A couple of days later, we are rewarded for our patience in listening to heated debates coming from the heart of the tree with this box of ruby red cherries.
I decide this number of cherries calls for more than eating them as they are. Making the French custard cake Clafoutisi seems an appropriate baking choice.
From the oven, Cherry clafoutis
I search the Internet for clafoutis recipes and choose the Allrecipes.com recipe for Brandied Cherry Clafoutis To date, I have made three; each one better than the last and all “successful”. This particular recipe identifies canned cherries but I use fresh, pitted ones from the singing cherry tree. A couple of other variations based on ingredients on hand: I marinate the cherries in Armagnac and instead of allspice use a mixture of nutmeg and ginger.
To verify that I am not straying too far from a French approach to making clafoutis, I consult a book from my late Mother, herself an accomplished cook: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholie and Julia Child. This Pengiun Handbook was published in 1961 and my Mother’s copy is dated November 22, 1966.
Here is what these ladies said about fruit flans or Clafoutis: ” The Clafouti (also spelled with a final ‘s’ in both singular and plural) which is traditional in the Limousin (region) during the cherry season is peasant cooking for family meals, and about as simple a dessert to make as you can imagine: a pancake batter poured over fruit in a fireproof dish, then baked in the oven. It looks like a tart, and is usually eaten warm”.
This baking choice looks better and better.
The Allrecipes.com recipe lists this general comment: ” Clafouti is a traditional French dessert with brandied cherries baked with a custard topping creating a warm and sweet dessert that goes well with a cup of tea”.
This is where we part company as I see clafoutis as an ideal lunchtime dessert, served if appropriate for the occasion with a vin liquoreux. A local choice would be a wine from the Bergerac wine region: a vin liquoreux which would be either a Monbazillac AOC or Saussignac AOC late harvest wine.
Vin Liquoreux, Saussignac AOC from Chateau Lestevenie
In this instance, I pair the Brandied Cherry Clafouti with a 2003 Chateau Lestevenie Saussignac AOC Vin Liquoreux. Chateau Lestevenie is in Gageac Rouillac, one of the four communes permitted to make Saussignac AOC wines. The fruit aromas and flavours together with the honeyed ripeness of this fully mature wine complements the cherry, vanilla, baked custard of the clafoutis.
Vin Liquoreux: Chateau Lestevenie
To position both Monbazillac and Saussignac vins liquoreux in the wine lexicon, think broadly in Sauternes terms. These are late harvest wines made from grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea or noble rot. The predominantly Semillon grapes are picked late in the season when the grapes have been touched by the morning Autumn mists and the afternoon sunshine. A major distinction between Saussignac vin liquoreux and other sweet wines, is that this is the only sweet wine produced in France that forbids the addition of sugar or “chaptalization” under its AOC rules. It’s the Semillon grapes which allow the wine to age well.
Pairing cherries from the singing cherry tree and wine from a local winemaker is a way to celebrate the summer culture of SW France.
allrecipes.com: Brandied Cherry Clafouti
Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholie, Julia Child, Published by Penguin Books in 1966
Jancis Robinson; Oxford Companion to Wine re Monbazillac wine
I have been musing for some time about the size of bottle in which wine is sold. There are more options for buying wine in a wine bar or restaurant: new technology like wine on tap and different size glasses of wine, yet there appear to be fewer options to buy smaller volumes in a wine store. That appears to be the case in Vancouver at any rate.
If we want to enjoy one or maybe two glasses of wine at home, we are faced with opening a regular sized 750 ml bottle and then trying to keep the remainder fresh for a couple of days, sometimes using tools like the vacuum pump. Most likely we forget about it and then end up pouring it into my special “left-over-wine-for-cooking” bottle. I am thinking about checking out the availability of half bottles of wine.
My mental antennae are on alert for smaller bottles when we eat lunch at Chez Alain, a favourite restaurant for Sunday lunch in Issigeac, a medieval village in the Dordogne, SW France. At five tables around us on this particular Sunday, I count five smaller sized bottles of Chateau Le Tap organic white wine; it’s their Bergerac Sec; a Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle blend.
Chateau Le Tap, Bergerac Sec, 750 and 500 ml bottles
We talk to the restaurant staff and they tell us that these 500 ml bottles of Chateau Le Tap wine are popular, particularly for two people having lunch or dinner. This makes perfect sense to me and I am determined to visit Olivier Roches, the Proprietor at Chateau Le Tap.
Chateau Le Tap, a family run winery in the Bergerac Wine Region, is located at the edge of Saussignac, a small, rural village south of the Dordogne River. Olivier and his wife Mireille and their children have lived there since 2001. They are part of a long established winemaking family from the Pécharmant appellation wine making area of the Périgord Poupre.
Château Le Tap in its rural setting, Dordogne
After the usual pleasantries and introductory chitchat, I ask Olivier about the 500 ml bottles. He tells me he sells these mainly to restaurants. He has been bottling his Bergerac Sec white wine in the 500 ml size for about 10 years. As he also makes Saussignac appellation late harvest wine, which is mainly sold in 500 ml bottles, he has the capacity to also bottle his Bergerac Sec wine in the same fashion. He says that while the regular size 750 ml bottle of wine is the norm, there is definitely a market for the smaller size bottles as people increasingly pay attention to their wine drinking habits.
As I am visiting Olivier Roches and his winery, it is interesting to explore Chateau Le Tap wine production in general. Chateau Le Tap was certified as Bio, an organic producer, in 2007. Echoing the comments of all the wine-makers I have met, Olivier Roches’s focus is always to improve quality. In pursuit of this goal, this year he is restructuring his vineyards. He tells me his approach to wine making is practical and guided by scientific principles. He sells his wines mainly in other parts of France and to several Northern European countries as well as to local clients. Guests at his two well-appointed Gites on the property can also buy wine and enjoy it on their doorstep.
Beyond this Bergerac Sec Blanc that I like with its aromatic, long and fresh taste, I sample other offerings in the Chateau Le Tap suite of wines. Another white wine is the Bergerac Sec Cuvée 3G, named for his three sons/garçons. This 2011 wine is an interesting blend of Sauvignon Gris (10%), Semillon (20%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%) and Muscadelle (30%). The description on the website is silent on the remaining 10% of the blend. This wine won the Médaille D’Or Concours des Vignerons Indépendants de France 2013 and the Selection Guide Hachette 2014, clear recognition of Olivier Roches’s wine making skills.
Olivier’s top of the line red is the Cuvée JulieJolie named for his daughter. With 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this has the hallmarks of blackcurrant and cherry, soft tannins and all the subtleties of a good quality wine. Chateau le Tap do not at present market their red wines in smaller bottles.
If my observation of the Chez Alain customer interest in enjoying lunch with a smaller bottle of wine is anything to go by, it seems to me that Chateau le Tap is meeting customer interests at the restaurant with their 500 ml offering of white wine.
As I leave Chateau Le Tap and think about what I have learnt, I remind myself that a book I have just finished reading has further stimulated my interest in smaller bottles. The story, “Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” is the author Sebastian Faulks’s homage to P.G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975), the English humourist and prolific writer. Wodehouse’s books about the funny, fantastic, fictional antics of Bertie Wooster and the famous Jeeves, his Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman, set in pre-World War II English upper class society have amused generations of readers.
The Bertie Wooster character in Sebastian Faulks’s tribute book makes various references to food and particularly wine, including “something chilled and white”, “having a nice half bottle of something from the cellar”, together with references to claret, possibly his preferred wine choice and several references to a half bottle or a “half bot.” My favourite Bertie W. wine and food description in the book reads like this:
“. the half bot. was a loosely recorked red of a most fruity provenance; the solids included a wedge of veal and ham pie that could have jammed open the west doors of Salisbury Cathedral”.
Salisbury Cathedral, which houses one of the four originals of the 13th century Magna Carta, is in my hometown of Salisbury, Wiltshire.
Salisbury Cathedral, West Front
Being born and bred in Salisbury, my imagination is certainly stimulated by Bertie Wooster’s reference to the wedge of veal and ham pie.
All humour aside, it’s interesting to note that in the fictionalized world of Bertie Wooster in the early 20th century, that a half bottle of wine was commonplace.
To follow up on my earlier thought of checking availability of smaller or half bottles of wine, I set off one morning in Vancouver on a fact finding mission. Limited in scope, I visit two wine stores. A BC Liquor Store and an independent wine store. The BC Liquor Store is one of the 195 retail stores in the (British Columbia) BC Liquor Distribution Branch network operated across the Province of British Columbia. The other store is privately owned and operated.
In the BC Liquor Store, I am advised that the few half bottles in stock are displayed near the cash register along with small bottles of spirits and liqueurs. The selection is six red wines from different countries and four whites, including a prosecco. In the independent wine store, a varied and larger stock of half bottles is prominently arranged together at the front of the shop under a sign indicating Half Bottles, creating an eye catching display. In discussing these wines with the sales person, who mentions that people buy the half bottles both to limit wine consumption and also to try new wines, we agree that buying half bottles is for drinking fairly soon, as the wine ageing process is accelerated in smaller bottles.
It’s funny how disparate thoughts can pull together. My interest in finding out about the availability of smaller bottles of wine was piqued by our experience at the Restaurant Chez Alain, the work of Olivier Roches at Chateau Le Tap and the humour created by fictional BertieWooster and Jeeves, followed by some Vancouver-based fact finding.
Inspired by this information, I’m off to choose a couple of “half bots.” We’ll see how we get on. I think Bertie Wooster would approve.
Chez Alain, Issigeac: See trip advisor. Phone: +33 5 53 68 06 03
July is the month of summer celebrations, including in this corner of south west France. Advertising notices drop into my email inbox about wine promotions, new books – including Saving our Skins, the latest book by Caro Feely who I mentioned in my last posting, – firework exhibitions, theatre productions, jazz concerts. It’s all there on offer over the summer months. Organizers work double time to attract and welcome tourists and local residents to their events.
In the village of Sigoulès in the Dordogne volunteer members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès prepare for their annual major event over the July 19 /20 weekend to coincide with the area wine festival. The wine fair and tastings are on Saturday July 19th, the parade of all the visiting Confréries and the annual general assembly or Chapitre on Sunday, July 20th..
A complementary series of guided walks and concerts organized by the Confrerie take place in the area during July and August. Adding to the excitement in the area this summer is that the Tour de France Stage 20 passes through the Dordogne and Bergerac the following weekend.
Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d’Or event
The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or 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. The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès particularly focuses on the wines of the area.
The origin of these confréries dates back to the Middle Ages to the 12th and 13th centuries when occupational groupings were more likely called companies/corporations or guilds. Possibly the most famous of these early organizations was the “La Jurade de Saint Emilion”, created in 1199 and responsible for controlling many aspects of the wine industry in Saint Emilion (Bordeaux).
Similar organizations of apprentices and masters existed until the time of the French Revolution when they were declared illegal in 1791 in the spirit of the free movement of labour.
In the 20th Century, there has been a resurgence of local organizations or confréries which, by reinstating traditional pageantry, costume and ritual are celebrating the gastronomic heritage in the many different regions of France. Their existence has increased since the 1960’s with the development of tourism. The Confrérie Saint Emilionnaise took the name of “Jurade” in honour of the earlier organization when it was recreated in 1948.
Confréries are generally linked to a tourism bureau, the local mayor’s office, local festival and/or agricultural initiatives as part of a broader promotional imperative. Not only are the confréries linked locally, they are also aligned regionally and nationally.
For example, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès partners locally with the wine fair organization and local wine-maker communities: Foire aux Vins de Sigoulès and the Communauté de Communes des Coteaux de Sigoulès; regionally it is a member of the Chancelleries des Confréries d’Aquitaine, plus the Union des Confréries du Périgord and nationally is a member of the Conseil Français des Confréries.
The Confrérie organizations
Sometimes, confréries twin with other confréries. By way of illustration, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is twinned with the Confrérie du Pâté de Périgueux. I wrote about the pâté competition I attended last November in an earlier posting. Many different types of food and gastronomy are represented in the world of confréries: strawberries, cherries, pink garlic, fish, grilled food, mushrooms and so on.
The gastronomic heritage of France is so highly valued that it has been recognized by UNESCO as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition. The Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) identification is promoted by UNESCO as a counterpart to the World Heritage designation which focuses mainly on tangible aspects of culture.
The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines the intangible cultural heritage or living heritage as:
“The practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith, that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage…”
A subtext of confrérie activities includes promoting economic opportunity in the areas through links to tourism. At the international level, some members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès recently facilitated and conducted a series of events with local wines for Cuisine et Chateau, a Canadian organization from Calgary, Alberta which brings groups of visitors to the area each year for a week of culinary and wine experiences.
Marnie Fudge, co-proprietor of Cuisine et Chateau mentioned to me that their experience was “fabulous” and they valued the professionalism and expertise of the Confrérie members they dealt with during their visit. As Canada works towards finalizing the details of its trade agreement with the European Union, it feels like we are making a small contribution to that effort!
A comment about the word confrérie whose literal translation is brotherhood. In a 21st century context, I translate this to mean a group of men and women who associate with each other in a congenial way for a common purpose. A confrère in French means colleague which underscores this broader interpretation. Collegiality and congeniality in support of cultural heritage are core confrérie values.
This all sounds quite serious, whereas the confréries and their events are also about the joyful celebration of culture with food, wine, music, pageantry and fellowship.
The colourful parade of confréries
This joyful celebration will be the cornerstone of the events in Sigoulès over the July 19 and 20th weekend and all the other events organized by the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès and community partners in July and August.
The confrérie events, whether this one in Sigoulès or similar events elsewhere in France are a wonderful way to learn more about the culture and history of France, local gastronomic products and, importantly, meet local people. I have attended several wonderful confrérie events where I’ve met delightful people.
The band accompanies the parade
Last year, I was delighted to be invited to join the Confrerie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès in the role of Ambassadrice, one of two from Canada at present. The Ambassador initiative includes Confrérie members in other regions of France as well as other countries including Australia and Canada.
My blog is about how wine opens the door to history, culture,food,science… For me, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of those doors.
Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac
I arrive at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue to talk to the co-proprietor, Caro Feely about their winemaking and wine tourism business. On my way here, walking down the country lane towards their farm past the Saussignac Cemetery, dignified yet colourful with the many pots of commemorative flowers, I reflect upon the niche that Caro and Sean have carved for themselves in the highly competitive wine making business.
Sean and Caro have been in Saussignac, a small village in the Bergerac wine region in the Dordogne since 2005. That was the year they changed their life and moved from corporate lives in Ireland to become wine makers in the Dordogne. Their initiation to their new life is a compelling read in Caro’s book: Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France. It’s a page turning book and the reason for my sense of awe when I meet this low-key yet dynamic couple.
Autumn view from Terroir Feely
Always intrigued by the process through which people create major life changes, I read Caro’s book with this sense of enquiry in mind. Caro and Sean embarked upon a new lifestyle of considerable uncertainty: no wine-making experience when they started, language barriers, the burden of French bureaucracy, two small daughters to raise and a host of other challenges. Yet, they had personal qualities of perseverance, adaptability, optimism and drive together with experience in marketing and financial management. These personal attributes and competencies have stood them in good stead. On top of this, their passion for the life-style, the land and region, and organic, sustainable and now biodynamic farming has fueled their energy to make it all happen.
Learning to make good wine wasn’t enough to succeed. Caro has said that the transition to their new life was “beyond hard”. They soon realized that they needed to diversify in order to survive financially. This in turn led to the creation of French Wine Adventures with wine courses; wine walks with vineyard lunches, the Harvest Weekend, and the building of their ecological accommodation at the vineyard. Their brand new swimming pool opens this season. In other words, they have created a biodynamic virtuous circle of wine making and wine tourism.
Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue is a Certified Biodynamic farm of approximately 10 hectares under vines. Demeter, the internationally recognized biodynamic certifying body, certified Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue as biodynamic in 2011 following their organic certification from Ecocert in 2009. In addition, The Great Wine Capitals Network recognized Terroir Feely as the Regional Winner for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices in 2013. Their wines are also gaining recognition for quality.
Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award
I ask Caro what draws people to visit them at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue. She doesn’t hesitate to respond:
“ We are passionate about what we do and we create a personal experience for people. We share common interests with our visitors. We are eco-friendly; we make certified biodynamic wines; we have ecological buildings. People come to enjoy the vineyard and participate in our Harvest Weekend which is the first weekend in October.”
We talk about wine farming practices and their evolution from organic to biodynamic status in 2011.
Caro explains that it takes 3 years to convert to biodynamic status. Farming practices are introduced in which the vineyard is cultivated as part of a whole farm system. It involves making and using preparations for the soil and plants from plant and manure materials as well as caring for the vines and the soil according to the biodynamic calendar which suggests times to sow, harvest, prune in synch with phases of the moon. She tells me that since they have been following the strict biodynamic approaches that more orchids have appeared on the farm as well as greater biodiversity. She also believes these practices have benefitted their wines!
Caro says that until she saw the difference biodynamic practices made to their farm, she thought that biodynamics sounded like “dancing with the fairies”. To gain a better understanding myself, I subsequently looked up various sources and websites including: Demeter, various Rudolf Steiner sites, Berry Bros and Rudd Wine Merchants. There is a lot of material about the subject.
In brief, biodynamic agriculture originates in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and agronomist who lived from 1861 – 1926. He gave a famous agricultural series of lectures in 1924, which predate most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual philosophy called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic and the spiritual dimensions in nature. One of Rudolf Steiner’s greatest admirers was Maria Thun (1922 – 2012) who created an annual biodynamic gardening calendar that Caro refers to on the Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue website.
The name Rudolf Steiner was familiar to me because of his influence in education. Waldorf Schools which originated from his humanistic approaches to education are in evidence today in about 60 countries.
From a viticulture perspective, biodynamics views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic by Demeter, the vine-grower must use the 9 biodynamic preparations described by Rudolf Steiner. These are all preparations made from plants or manure and applied to the plants and soil.
Biodynamics in viticulture is growing and is practiced by farmers in several countries including France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Canada and the US. While organic and biodynamic farming doesn’t guarantee great wine, it appears that there is a tendency for wines made with these farming practices to be more highly scored by consumers with respect to expressions of terroir, balance and more vibrant tastes. Tasters indicate that biodynamic wines are more floral in flavour.
In general, there is a continuum of farming approaches progressing away from industrial practices that rely on chemicals towards using fewer chemical interventions and introducing more sustainable practices leading to organic and biodynamic approaches. Farming interventions are regulated in the EU, as elsewhere, including the use of mineral substances like copper and sulphur which are permitted in all approaches to wine farming along the continuum– it’s a question of degree.
Literature about biodynamic wine making refers to Certified Biodynamic wine making and also to wine makers who practice “broadly biodynamic” farming approaches. This implies that they subscribe to and follow many of the biodynamic practices yet do not pursue the biodynamic certification. From our observation visiting many wine makers, this translates into the ever-increasing attention to improved agricultural practices, which is positive for the land, the farmers themselves and the consumer. Caro and Sean have gone that step further in following the rigorous standards for their farm to be Certified Biodynamic.
Caro tells me that; “ …the Bergerac Wine Region has the highest number of organic wine producers in France after Alsace.”
All to say that the dialogue around farming practices is increasing and the interest in biodynamics is growing. In a competitive wine world, it’s worth noting that over the past 10 years there has been significant growth in the sales of biodynamic wines as consumers shift their interest to biodynamic and sustainable practices.
It’s 9 years since Caro and Sean made their major lifestyle and career leap of faith into wine making in the Dordogne. Since 2007, they have been practising biodynamic wine making, achieving their certification in 2011. I have tasted their wines several times over the years and I particularly like their Sauvignon Blanc, “Sincérité”.
Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation
Caro and Sean have been generous with their time talking to me about their vineyard adventures to date. I close my notebook and say my goodbyes. It’s time to let Caro and Sean get back to their work.
It’s a very rainy Cyprus day in February after a dry January. Highlighting the contrast between a wet today and many dry yesterdays, the heavy rain seems oppressive as we drive along the highway to the Limassol area.
We arrive in the village of Agios Amvrosios looking for Zambartas Wineries. I phone to check their location in the village and am told the person we are scheduled to meet had to go to Nicosia urgently. My heart sinks as we have been looking forward to this visit.
Map of Cyprus
Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries
Fortunately, all is not lost as the man on the phone invites us to continue with our visit. He will show us around. This is not only good; it’s fantastic when I realize that our host is Dr. Akis Zambartas, the founder of the winery. The stars have aligned to make this a memorable visit with one of the gurus of wine making in Cyprus.
Zambartas Wineries is a boutique winery founded in 2006 by Dr. Akis Zambartas in the Krasochoria Wine Region on the south facing slopes of the Troodos Mountains. The focus is on the production of quality wines while employing environmentally friendly practices. Akis has been joined in this enterprise by his son Marcos and daughter in law, Marleen.
Father and son are highly qualified scientists. Both are chemists with further degrees in oenology. Akis took his Ph.D. in chemistry at Lyon University in France followed by a degree in oenology from Montpelier University, famous for its oenology program. Not only is Akis a scientist he also has a wealth of business experience from a previous role as a chief executive officer in the wine and spirit industry in Cyprus. He has also been a pioneer in the discovery of Cyprus grape varieties. Marcos took a graduate degree in chemistry from Imperial College, London, followed by a degree in oenology from the School of Oenology, Adelaide University.
Dr. Akis Zambartas opening wine during our visit
After our mutual introductions, we tour the winery and meet Stefan another key member of the team. We move to the Tasting Room overlooking the winery and begin our exploration of the suite of Zambartas wines, which include several indigenous varieties. We enjoy them all. The ones that capture our attention are:
Zambartas Rosé. This is their flagship wine. It is a blend of Lefkada (a local indigenous variety) and Cabernet Franc. This is a ripe, red berry and strawberry style Rosé with cherry flavours on the nose, good acidity and freshness.
Xynisteri white wine
Lefkada-Cabernet Franc Rosé
Maratheftiko red wine – indigenous variety
Zambartas Xynisteri is a white wine from the Xynisteri indigenous grape. I increasingly enjoy this indigenous variety. For my palate, the experience is like having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with traces of Pinot Grigio. The lemony, white fruit and honeyed fresh flavour with good acidity makes this my favourite glass of wine at lunchtime with a fig and Cyprus goat cheese salad.
Zambartas Maratheftiko is a red wine from the Maratheftiko indigenous vine. These vines can be challenging to grow yet the resulting wine is worth the efforts of the winemakers. There are subtle herbal flavours as well as those of violets. It’s a more delicate wine than its full colour would suggest and requires some thoughtful food pairing. Cheese, veal would be good choices.
In challenging economic times in Cyprus, Akis and Marcos have been enterprising in their marketing. They have remained true to their vision of making quality wine at Zambartas Wineries and steadily increasing their production and expanding their markets. Their boutique winery of currently 60,000 bottles per year has increased both its domestic and export reach.
Most exciting for wine drinkers in the UK is that Berry Bros and Rudd, the oldest wine and spirit merchants in the UK who have had their offices at No.3, St. James’s, London since 1698, now list Zambartas Maratheftiko.
Not only is Berry Bros and Rudd representing their Maratheftiko but Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 also mentions Zambartas Wineries. There appears to be increasing interest in “island wines” and Zambartas Wineries is riding this wave.
We spend a very enjoyable hour or so talking with Akis who is able to describe complex matters in straightforward terms. We hear about their environmental practices, how they apply science to their viticulture decisions, the locations of their parcels of vines, the geology of different sites, their sustainability objectives as well as their efforts to support important initiatives in the evolution of Cyprus wine making.
I ask Akis for his thoughts on the future of wine making in Cyprus. He says it will be important to continue the modernization of practices and to use and apply knowledge: both the academic knowledge of science and oenology and also the intuitive connection and experiential knowledge of the land and the vines. Akis says that the future of Zambartas Wineries is with his son, Marcos. This is another example of the power of intergenerational legacies in the wine-making world that we have seen elsewhere.
The heaviness of the rain at the beginning of our visit lifts and soon the sunshine returns. The almond blossom, harbinger of Spring in Cyprus, opens in the orchards and the annual renewal of nature begins.
The arrival of Spring – Paphos area
Back in British Columbia and it turns out we have another interest in common: TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) whose vision is generating “ideas worth spreading”.
Zambartas Wineries was a sponsor of a TEDX Nicosia event. These are locally organized events held under a TED license to start a community conversation about issues of concern. Followers of TED will know that the TED 2014 Conference was recently held in Vancouver. We watched some of the live sessions broadcast for free to local residents via the library system.
We greatly enjoyed our visit to the Zambartas Wineries and our time with Akis. Whenever I think of our visit, I feel inspired by the dynamism, sense of purpose and the results the family has achieved in a relatively short period of time.
References: www.zambartaswineries.com., www.bbr.com (Berry Bros and Rudd)
December weather in the Dordogne is often sunny yet cold. White frosts cover the ground and spiders’ webs freeze on the vines. It’s Jack Frost’s favourite time of year.
A largely 19th century mythological figure in literature with roots in Anglo-Saxon and Norse winter customs, Jack Frost is the personification of frost and cold weather. This generally friendly sprite is a regular winter visitor to the Dordogne valley vineyards.
Fog creating an ethereal landscape
It’s chilly and fog often covers the Dordogne river valley in the mornings. Sometimes it rolls up the hills creating an ethereal landscape. Later in the morning, the sun usually bursts through on the higher ground and the blue sky returns.
With the harvest completed, the hard work of pruning begins in earnest and will last through January. When we see a car parked at the edge of a vineyard we know we’ll see a lone figure working his way along the rows of vines checking each vine carefully.
By now the vines themselves have lost most of their leaves. They are taking a well deserved rest. I hope my readers will be able to do the same over the holiday season.
In the next post, I’ll write about champagne – the great festive drink – and our recent visits to several notable champagne houses.
In the meantime, best wishes for Merry Christmas/ Joyeux Noel/Happy Holidays.
It’s a cold and bright, sunny day in the Dordogne; cozy coat and sunglasses weather. A great day to be outdoors! Walking alongside the local vineyards I think about a recent visit to Chateau Lestevenie in Monestier, a small country commune not far from Bergerac.
We were invited by Sue and Humphrey Temperley, the proprietors of Chateau Lestevenie to taste some of their wines in progress. This means tasting wines in their incomplete state as the wines work their way through the fermentation and ageing process. These tastings enable the wine-maker to make adjustments as the wines develop. Regular tastings are also part of a larger regulated process of quality control in which wine samples must be sent for monthly laboratory analysis.
For us, a visit to Chateau Lestevenie is all about wine farming. Perhaps it’s because Humphrey is an experienced farmer from the West Country of England who has brought his farming know-how and knowledge and understanding of chemistry to wine farming and wine making. Maybe it’s because working the land and supporting the resident wildlife is an important aspect of Humphrey and Sue’s farming approach here.
Humphrey’s wine making philosophy is that he blends and makes wine for his own palate and yet appreciates the input of others to the process. He says: “Making wine is a mixture of art and science. It’s a bit like cooking – you have to keep tasting what you are making.”
We start with tasting their 2013 Bergerac White Sec, 100% Sauvignon Blanc which has finished the fermentation process and is cloudy from being on the lees (yeast). It’s some time before it will be filtered and bottled. Even in its unfinished state, the aromatic characteristics are evident and we can taste the future potential in this wine.
Bergerac White (Sauvignon Blanc) in process (before filtering)
An intriguing aspect of tasting wines in progress is that we have the opportunity to see the large volume of dead yeast left from the fermentation process. The Bergerac White Moelleux that we taste has just been moved from the fermentation tank. The Moelleux is a sweeter Bergerac white wine which is predominantly Semillon, with some Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc. Strict hygiene practices are followed and Humphrey is getting ready to clean out the inside of the tank. He is going to wait until Sue is in the chai (winery) so there is someone there in case of emergency. It can be dangerous work which involves getting inside the tank.
The inside of the fermentation tank after the Moelleux white wine fermentation is complete.
Humphrey’s enthusiasm for wine making is catching. As we stand in the chai, part of an old quarry, our wine glasses are ready for each tasting. We sniff, swirl and swallow/spit our way through this year’s production of white, rose and red wines, giving our impressions as we proceed.
The conversation soon turns to the wildlife on the farm. After all, the hare is the symbol for Chateau Lestevenie. Humphrey and Sue belong to an informal group called Wildlife Friendly Vineyards. Part of their practices include the careful timing and minimal spraying of the vines so as to protect the insect pollinators – so essential to setting the fruit on the vines. The surrounding woodlands of mainly oak and chestnut trees are also being managed to restore a mixed age tree population. A mixed age approach brings different height and breadth of trees which in turn allows more sunshine and nutrients resulting in healthier woodlands to support wildlife.
The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie
The Dordogne is well known for the well established walks through the vineyards and countryside and attracts many visitors. Wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the region and wine tour companies bring visitors to Chateau Lestevenie to learn about wine making and enjoy a tasting. Humphrey is a natural and knowledgeable educator and enjoys introducing visitors to the wine making process.
Sue also writes an informative blog about the vineyard on their website. Her post: “Year in the vineyards at Chateau Lestevenie” gives a good overview of the calendar of wine making activities.
The focus here is on making good wine through skilful and eco-friendly wine production and farming practices. An example is the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Bergerac AOC Merlot Cabernet. About a month ago, Humphrey asked us to taste this and our notes include the following:
“On the palate: full, rich flavours, quite balanced, rounded, blackberry aromas, some spice and some vegetal. Medium acidity, tannins and alcohol. Good depth of flavours and body. Some sharpness on the length/after taste which will most likely round out with more ageing. Conclusion: Ready to drink with decanting. Will benefit from further ageing. Good quality with lots of potential. Similar to a Pécharmant AOC we had tasted recently. Very good value.”
Chateau Lestevenie 2010 Bergerac Merlot Cabernet
We tasted the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Merlot Cabernet again this week. Our view is that it is a very good wine with the depth and concentration that we appreciate in Bergerac wines.
The wine in progress tastings clearly benefit good wine making and we enjoyed the experience.
Armistice Day, 2013 with Les Anciens/ennes Combattants/es (Veterans)
On November 11, Armistice Day, we, like thousands of others across France stand solemnly in front of the War Memorial in our village. We listen to the comments of the mayor and other dignitaries as well as a representative of youth as they retell the dates of battles, of invasions and of the loss of youth during the two World Wars. At this ceremony, one of the British attendees reads the immortalized 1915 poem, ” In Flanders Field” written by the Canadian physician, Major John McCrae, 2nd in command 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. We recognize the words of the poem as they are read:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…….
Here, when the national anthems are played, the music starts with the British National Anthem, God Save the Queen and ends with the French National Anthem, the Marseillaise. Sadly, no-one sings the words now but I am sure many do so internally. I sing under my breath, feel a rush of emotion and a sudden clearing of the throat. Both British and French war veterans, les anciens/ennes combatants/tes, dignified with their medals, stand apart from the rest of us as an honoured group.
Everyone in attendance wears either the red poppy of the British Red Cross or the cornflower; Le Bleuet – since 1920 the official French symbol which recognizes those who died for France. Some people wear both. These two floral symbols originate from the First World War when the red poppies and blue cornflowers continued to grow on the northern French battlefields in land devastated by shell bombardments.
The Poppy and Le Bleuet – Remembrance Symbols
This year it was a cool, blue sky day and the national and regimental flags fluttered in the breeze. After about 40 minutes, the secular ceremony was over and the mayor invited all present to enjoy a Vin D’Honneur in the Salle Des Fetes – the social events room for the village.
This practice of a Vin D’Honneur always seems so civilized. We enter the Salle des Fêtes and see the mayor and councillors serving wine to the village community. It’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together and also talk to the mayor and councillors informally if they wish.
Wine and soft drinks are poured and this day the white wine is a 2011 Bergerac Sec Fleur de Cuvée Blanche from Chateau Les Plaguettes where Serge Gazziola, a well known wine maker in the area, is the proprietor. This is an award winning Sauvignon Blanc, pale yellow in colour, aromatic and very refreshing.
Wine is such a flexible beverage. It’s present at most events where people gather together whether to celebrate or commemorate, as on this occasion of Remembrance Day.
Chateau Les Plaguettes 2011 Fleur de Cuvée Blanche
Driving through the Dordogne on a sunny November day highlights the autumn colours of the vines: varying shades of gold, russet and brown which signal the twilight of the wine season for the year.
This day we are driving to Périgueux to attend a gathering of Confréries at the pâté de Périgueux competition.
The winter market in Périgueux November to March and the notice of the pâté competition
When we arrive the judges are busy tasting the pâtés and forming their opinions. Its tense work and important for the pâté makers of the area. The results are delivered at a ceremony in the market square later in the morning.
The serious business of judging pâtés in Périgueux
In the meantime, the Confréries, the local voluntary organizations with historic origins that promote the region and its gastronomic products such as wines, cheeses, pâtés, strawberries parade through the streets in the old town of Périgueux They are preceded by musicians and folk dancers who entertain people going about their regular shopping in the markets.
Folk dancing in Périgueux
After the results of the competition are announced in the market square there is a tasting of the pâtés accompanied by white wine. This is a 2012 Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts.
Chateau Court-Les-Mûts – the white wine served with the pâte
We know the red wines from this winemaker but aren’t so familiar with the whites. The fruit aromas of this lightly sweet wine make it an excellent complement to the pâtés.
After the ceremony in the square, we are fortunate to attend a lunch which highlights the gifts of the terrain including pâté, foie gras, mushrooms and truffles.
My favourite dish was the starter of Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce. The small amount of foie gras in the middle of the pâté was balanced by the pastry and the sauce.
Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce
A late harvest Monbazillac wine was on offer. The late harvest wines are frequently paired with foie gras. However, this day we enjoyed the Pécharmant red wine: Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure, Jour de Fruit. A robust, full balanced wine it was a good counterpoint to the richness of the pâté and foie gras.
The Pécharmant AOC area is to the north east of Bergerac. It is a small area known for iron elements in the terrain. Only red wines are produced under this AOC. Predominantly Merlot with Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pécharmant AOC wines are known as robust, well structured and approachable.
This day in Périguex was a tremendous opportunity to participate in a very special French gastronomic event that gave great pleasure to everyone going about their Saturday shopping in this historic town.
Chateau Ladesvignes sits on a plateau high above the Dordogne Valley on the D7 road, the wine route between Pomport and Monbazillac and 10 to 15 minutes from the centre of Bergerac.
Chateau Ladesvignes and the view beyond
As we turn into the courtyard directly off the D7, the first thing we notice is the stone archway inscribed with the name Chateau Ladesvignes and the great cedar tree beyond. The tree is a natural magnet and we are soon standing beneath its outstretched limbs gazing at the panorama that unfolds beneath and beyond us of fields, farms, vines, cattle, hamlets, villages and the spires and rooftops of Bergerac. The tree stands above old fortified walls surrounding the property on one side and we discover that many of the winery buildings are probably 15th century; no one knows for sure. We linger a few minutes to take in the expansive view and breathe in the history of the place.
The view of the Dordogne Valley from beneath cedar tree at Chateau Ladesvignes
We’re here to meet Véronique Monbouché, wife and co-proprietor with her husband Michel. Mme. Monbouché tells us she and her husband acquired 35 hectares in 1989 and subsequently took over other family vineyards to farm the 60 hectares that they cultivate today. Being fourth generation winemakers, they hope their two children will carry on the family tradition one day.
Entering the wine tasting room, Mme. Monbouché guides us through a tasting of their wines. It’s a warm day and we particularly enjoy their everyday white Bergerac Blanc Sec. It is fresh, delicious, made mainly from Sauvignon Blanc grapes and is competitively priced. We enjoy the range of wines we taste and notice that many of them have won awards.
Tasting wine at Chateau Ladesvignes
Chateau Ladesvignes Bergerac Blanc Sec
I particularly appreciate their tri-fold brochure. For each of their wines there is a photograph of a bottle of the wine with a brief tasting description. Also included are recommendations for serving temperatures and wine ageing, as well as the prices and ordering details. The medals and awards are noted. The information is practical, helpful and easy to read. It is a well designed marketing tool.
We ask Mme. Monbouché about wine tourism at the Chateau and she disarmingly tells us that marketing is not their strong suit! Our impression is that the wine sells itself through quality and value.
Véronique Monbouché explains that the main market for their wines is France and especially the restaurants in Bergerac and the vicinity. Similar to the other wineries in the area, they sell their wines to Northern Europe, mainly Belgium, Holland and the United Kingdom. While we are there cases of wine are being loaded on a large truck for delivery to Belgium. Chateau Ladesvignes is represented in Québec where their award winning Monbazillac dessert wine is available.
Chateau Ladesvignes is a perfect place to visit if touring the Bergerac area. It is easy to locate off the main road to Marmande. In addition to the quality of the wines and the tasting experience, there is the added bonus of the panoramic view of Bergerac and the Dordogne Valley from the shade of the grand old cedar tree.
The tall and imposing Tasting Room is the first thing we noticed as we drove along the high plateau driveway to Vignobles des Verdots in the community of Conne de Labarde, south east of Bergerac and not far from the Bergerac Regional Airport. The building is contemporary yet monumental in style and makes a bold statement of optimism and confidence that mirrors the same characteristics of wine-maker and proprietor David Fourtout, named Winemaker of the Year 2012 in the Bergerac Wine Region.
Tasting Room and cellars: Vignobles des Verdots
As we made our introductions and agreed in which language we would conduct our conversation and tour (English this time), we were conscious that the forecourt of Vignobles des Verdots was a hive of activity. A large truck arrived to pick up cases of wine and deliver them in Belgium, a couple drove up in their estate car to collect wine to drive home to the Netherlands and so it went on. This led to a discussion about the markets for the Verdots wine and David said that they sell their wine in 20 countries: 50% is sold in France and 50% is sold internationally with Belgium, Holland and Germany being key markets as well as the Scandinavian countries. We asked about sales to Canada: Vignobles des Verdots is sold in Quebec through SAQ, the Quebec Liquor Control Board; the buyers for the Ontario Liquor Control Board had visited the day before but sadly it has been a long time since any wine has been sold in British Columbia.
David started our tour in the cellars beneath the Tasting Room and we descended to the large, cavernous area to see where the wines are aged in oak barrels. This cellar has exposure to the surrounding limestone rock through large openings that have been cut into the concrete on all sides of the cellar. The openings in the wall are backlit and the rock surface is both visible and touchable. There is also a large opening cut into the floor, covered by a metal grid, showing the underground Verdots stream that continues on under the vineyard and nourishes the vines. The water is crystal clear and fast flowing over yellow-gold sand. We had an immediate sensation of being part of the earth, rock and ‘terroir’ of the place.
Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots
Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des Verdots
We then had a tour of the winery or ‘Chai’ and were shown the investments that the Fourtout family has made in the purchase of various winemaking equipment as part of a process of continuous quality improvement. These investments are in addition to the recent construction of the Tasting Room and cellars.
David Fourtout talked to us about his philosophy and approach to winemaking. He practices organic styles of winemaking. He prefers to remain flexible in his approach and use interventions according to the needs of the vines. Similar to the message we have heard in other wineries in the area, David emphasized that the use of sulphites, a natural wine preservative, has been much reduced at Vignobles des Verdots.
Geologically and climatically, the area is simllar to Saint Emilion with respect to the soil but has more of a continental climate with colder weather in winter, hotter weather in the summer but less rain.
We are always interested in the marketing and promotion of wines and found that David Fourtout is committed to these functions and, with others, takes a leadership role in the advancement of the Bergerac wines. He is currently leading a committee in the Bergerac Wine Region to look at the promotion of their wines including recommending changes to the appellation controlee regulations. There is an initiative to advocate changing the name of the Cotes de Bergerac appellation to Grand Cru de Bergerac to be reflective of the quality of these levels of wines. It will be interesting to follow this and see what unfolds.
There is a virtuous circle of wine tourism practised at Vignobles des Verdots: from the five euro summer vineyard brunches and the significant farm gate wine sales in July and August to the B & B accommodation in one of the towers of the Tasting Room, there is a lot of promotional activity. All the family gets involved: his wife and his parents who also live on the property help out with the Tasting Room activity. His Father was the power behind the Tasting Room construction.
Talking about the Tasting Room…. we had a comprehensive tasting of the suite of Verdots wines. They make wines under 6 different appellations: AOC Cotes de Bergerac Rouge and AOC Bergerac Rouge, AOC Bergerac Rosé, AOC Bergerac Blanc Sec, AOC Sweet Cotes de Bergerac and AOC Monbazillac. These are blended wines from the estate and the red wines consist of predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; the whites are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle; the sweet whites are from Semillon and Muscadelle; the Rosé is made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon by ‘bleeding’ off the juice during the fermentation process; and finally, the Monbazillac or liquoreux wine is made by blending Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that have been hand picked taking only those grapes which have been affected by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea also known as Noble Rot. The different wines together with tasting notes are well documented on the informative Vignobles des Verdots website noted below.
Tasting room at Vignobles des Verdots
In addition to making wine according to 6 appellations, the Verdots wines are made in 4 different levels: Clos des Verdots, Chateau Les Tours des Verdots, Grand Vins les Verdots and Le Vin Selon David Fourtout. All the wines are of a high quality. For Canadian readers, the Chateau les Tours des Verdots Blanc is available through the Quebec liquor stores.
For us, the Grand Vin “Les Verdots Selon David Fourtout” was the most delicious: balanced, complex, textured and fruit forward. It has all the flavours and depth we enjoy in a Bergerac style red which, dare we say it, seems to us to be of similar quality and style but better value than its Bordeaux cousins.
Grand Vin les Verdots by David Fourtout, owner and wine-maker
As we prepared to leave and say our goodbyes and thanks for an interesting and informative visit, several people arrived all at once to taste wines. David called over to his Mother to come and help. At its heart, this is still a family farm growing grapes and making wine over four generations with its focus firmly on the future.