Winery visits in the Time of Covid

Today, I saw the Heartman as I was walking along the seawall in 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.

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.

Website: chateau-lestevenie.com         email: temperley@gmail.com

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.

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.

Website: chateaufeely.com      email: caro.feely@chateaufeely.com

‘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.

Exploring the Isle of Wight, UK and enjoying Rosé wine!

The Isle of Wight (IOW) s one of my favourite places in Great Britain.  I love being by the sea and there’s lots of opportunity for that on this island off the south coast of England.

We arrive by ferry from Lymington.  After a 40 minute mini cruise during which we meander past the Lymington Yatch Haven with the many sailboat masts gently swaying in the breeze, we cross the strait and reach the Isle of Wight.

We dock at Yarmouth, where we visit the 16th Century Yarmouth Castle, one of King Henry V111’s defensive castles built to protect England from invasions from the Continent (!)

We’ve come to spend a few restful days on the Island and have no expectations other than chilling out in the relaxed atmosphere of a place that seems moored to an earlier, less frenetic era.  Part of the chilling out process is to enjoy seafood at The Hut at Colwell Bay and also to explore Isle of Wight history by visiting Queen Victoria’s seaside home at Osborne House in East Cowes.

The Hut at Colwell Bay is our gastronomic beachside destination located right on the edge of the sea.  We visit several times!   Sitting out on the deck enjoying the view is all part of the pleasure of the place.    Lobster, sea bass, crayfish, prawn, hake: it’s all freshly available.

The Hut features rosé wine, which they like to offer in large bottles such as magnums and jeroboams!

If Miraval Rosé Côtés de Provence rings a bell, it may be because it is owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in partnership with the Perrin family.  It’s not clear if this ownership structure is still the case.   It’s a crisp and dry wine with a good rating among the top 10 rosés from the area.    Côtes de Provence is the largest appellation of Provence wine in south-eastern France.    80% of Côtés de Provence wine is rosé and the relevant grapes are Grenache and Cinsaut, standard for the area.

Domaine de Saint Mitre Rosé Côteaux Varois is highly rated as a dry rosé and is a blend of Syrah which gives the wine structure and colour with Grenache and Cinsaut which add the aromatics.  This is a classic Provençal blend of grape varieties that work well together.  Côteaux Varois is a key Provençal appellation in the far south eastern area of France.

Rosé is now such a cool and crisp characteristic of summer gatherings of families and friends and seems more popular than ever.

To follow up on our interest in local history, one day we drive to East Cowes to explore Island royal history.

Queen Victoria, on the British throne from 1837 to 1901, made Osborne House in East Cowes her seaside home with Prince Albert and their children.   Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria continued to visit Osborne for the rest of her reign and died there in 1901.

Osborne House was built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert between 1845 and 1851 by the famous British builder Thomas Cubitt, whose company also built the main façade of Buckingham Palace in 1847.    The grand design of the house in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo was the brainchild of Prince Albert.

Visitors can tour the house, walled garden and other parts of the property.    I enjoy seeing the private sitting room which the Queen shared with Prince Albert with adjoining desks and from where she wrote her diary and much of her voluminous correspondence.    The walled garden also celebrates their relationship with entwined initials part of the garden trellis.  

There’s a lot to explore! 

We leave the Isle of Wight after a few days feeling refreshed by the sea air and slower pace of life.  Perfect for a summer pause.

References:    The Hut at Colwell Bay  reservations@thehutcolwell.co.uk

Osborne House, East Cowes, IOW   Managed as a tourist venue by English Heritage:      english-heritage.org.uk/osborne

Cherry Clafoutis Celebration: Vive La France 🇫🇷

The French people had lots to celebrate over the past weekend:  the victory of the French national football team, commonly known as Les Bleus, in the FIFA finals as well as their traditional July 14 Bastille Day holiday.    Invited to celebrate over dinner with friends, I couldn’t resist making the quintessential French dessert of Cherry Clafoutis.

Surprised to not find a recipe in my library of cookbooks I turned to the internet and found one I liked by SimplyRecipes.  Here’s their recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted

2 tablespoons of blanched slivered almonds

3 eggs

3/4 cup of sugar

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

1/2 cup of an all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of milk

3/4 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Powdered sugar for dusting

Method:

  1.  Butter and flour baking dish, scatter with cherries and slivered almonds. Preheat oven to 350’ F
  2. Make batter with eggs, sugar, salt and flour
  3. Add the milk, almond extract and vanilla extract
  4. Pour batter into the baking dish over the cherries and slivered almonds
  5. Bake at 350’ F for 35-45 minutes or until lightly browned
  6. Remove from oven and cool
  7. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.

I tweaked the recipe a little by reducing the amount of sugar, adding the almonds to the food processor and puréeing them with the batter ingredients, and using half cream and half milk.    I used an apple corer to remove the cherry pits, which left much of the cherry intact and looking good.    The  result was a creamy and not too sweet baked cherry custard and the verdict was overwhelmingly positive: delicious in fact!

This is the season for cherries.   British Columbia cherries are so sweet and full of flavour at this time of year that a Cherry Clafoutis is a great way to enjoy them cooked.

The question is:  what wine would I select to serve with this?  In keeping with the celebration,  my inclination would be a French wine, either a sparkling rosé or a light Beaujolais, fruity and lively.

I made two Cherry Clafoutis with one in the freezer, ready to be enjoyed at a later date.    When I serve that one  I will decide on which of these wine choices to serve.   Other wine suggestions are welcome!

Bon Appétit

 

Reference

For full recipe details check out the Cherry Clafoutis Recipe at http://www.simplyrecipes.com

 

 

 

Two women wine and food entrepreneurs connect SW France and Western Canada

Meet two women wine and food entrepreneurs who, in different ways, connect SW France and Western Canada:  Caro Feely in SW France and Marnie Fudge in Alberta, Canada.

Caro Feely is an organic wine farmer and producer with her husband Sean at Chateau Feely, an organic wine estate located in the Dordogne in SW France.    She has just returned from a book tour in British Columbia, Canada where she presented to Canadian audiences the latest of her three books, which describes the challenges and triumphs of building an organic wine business and raising a family while learning a second language.

I feel exhausted just thinking about it!

Caro’s books are called:  Grape Expectations, Saving our Skins and her latest book Glass Half Full was released in April 2018.

In addition to writing about her family’s experiences,  Caro and Chateau Feely offer organic wines made on site,  Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) level 2 wine courses,  Wine Weekends and luxury ecological accommodation.  Check out Caro’s books and all information about Caro and Sean’s initiatives at Chateau Feely on their website below.

I have known Caro for many years and admire her hard work and innovative ideas.

Marnie Fudge is the co-proprietor with her partner, Thierry Meret, of Cuisine and Chateau, an interactive culinary centre in Calgary, Alberta.      Marnie and Thierry offer cooking classes in Calgary, corporate team-building workshops based on teams cooking together and culinary tours.    The culinary tours are a gastronomical weeklong adventure through the Périgord region of SW France enjoyed while staying in a 16th Century chateau.

I met Marnie on a business related course some years ago and subsequently introduced her to the Confrerie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules as they share common interests in the presentation of local wines and wine and food pairing.

I will quickly add here that the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès is about to start their summer program of guided hikes and wine tastings in the Bergerac Wine Region.  These are listed on their website below.

For many years, Marnie and Thierry have been bringing Canadians to enjoy the wine and food of SW France on a foodie adventure.    During this stay, the group enjoys an evening with the Commander of the Confrerie du Raison D’Or de Sigoules who describes local wines and conducts a wine tasting focussed on a gastronomic dinner.      I have been fortunate to attend one of these excellent events when, by chance, I was in France at the same time as the group.

Marnie and Thierry are bringing their 2018 tour group to France this month in June.  Their 2019 Culinary Tour dates are posted on their cuisine and chateau website below.

Chateau Feely and Cuisine and Chateau are great examples of the international nature of the wine and food culture and sector.      Bravo and Hats Off/Chapeaux to Caro and Marnie;   these two women entrepreneurs are connecting SW France with people from Canada, and around the world.

References

Château Feely        chateaufeely.com

Cuisine and Chateau    cuisineandchateau.com

Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoules    confrerieduraisindor.com

 

The whisper of history: Château Haut-Brion,Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux,France

It’s mid November, on a cool yet hazy, sunny day when we navigate our way through Pessac on the outskirts of the city of Bordeaux to find the entrance gates of Chateau Haut-Brion.   We have a 3.00 p.m. appointment for a visit to the wine estate.

The whisper of history murmurs to us as we enter the Chateau Haut-Brion driveway. Saying nothing, we listen to the echoes of nearly five centuries since wine has been made at Chateau Haut-Brion. Wine has been produced on this land for centuries before that.   Before finding our way to the parking area, we stop and take photos of gnarled vines in their closely planted rows.

The whisper of history tell us that:

In 1533, Jean de Pontac, by purchasing an existing noble house in Haut Brion united it with the vine growing land, leading to the birth of the Chateau Haut-Brion.

In 1660 – 1661, the cellar records of King Charles the Second of England, who was known to be a bon-viveur extraordinaire, note 169 bottles of “ Vin de Hubriono” (sic) are held for guests at the royal table.

In 1663, Samuel Pepys, the famous English diarist, wrote that he had drunk at the Royal Oak Tavern in London: “…I drank a sort of French wine called Ho-Bryan (sic) which had an especially good taste that I had never encountered before. “

In the 17th century, writers were commenting on the nature of the soil in the area of “white sand with gravel” and the particulars of the terroir.

In 1787, the American Ambassador to the French Court, Thomas Jefferson, later the third President of the United States, visited Chateau Haut-Brion.   A wine connoisseur, he also commented on the nature of the gravelly terroir.   In his writings, he identified four great wine houses of the area including Chateau Haut-Brion. In this, he anticipated the identification of Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Lafite, Chateau LaTour and Chateau Margaux in the official classification system of 1855, as Premiers Grands Crus wines of the Gironde. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was reclassified to Premier Grand Cru in 1973 and added to the prestigious list.

Chateau Haut-Brion changed hands several times during the centuries.   There is an apocryphal story about one of the owners in the Pontac family in the 17th Century.     It is said that he lived to over 100 years, an age almost unheard of at that time.   This gentleman attributed his longevity to his daily glass of Chateau Haut-Brion!

The present owners since 1935 are the Dillon family. The current head of the Domaine Dillon is Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who is a great grandson of Clarence Dillon, the New York financier and purchaser of the property. Since the purchase, the family has invested significantly in the property through a program of continuous renovation, innovation and improvement both to the historic chateau building and to the winery facilities.

On this particular November afternoon, after ringing the intercom bell at the visitor entrance, our guide, who was informative about the estate and interested in our visit, joins us.   Following an introduction to the past and present owners through the medium of their portraits, we are given a detailed look at the topography of the vineyard and its proximity to the neighbouring estate, also owned by the Dillon family, which is Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion; a story for another time.

During our visit, the wine making process is explained to us. At Haut-Brion, our guide explains, traditional approaches are employed while at the same time using modern and efficient equipment with a program of regular reinvestment and improvement. For any aspiring wine maker, an opportunity to work at Haut Brion would seem a great privilege.   My impression is that wine making at a wine estate with such a historical context would be more a vocation than an occupation.

One of the things that I appreciate at Chateau Haut-Brion is that it has its own cooperage service or barrel maker on site.   Supporting and fostering these artisanal skills such as barrel making in the wine industry is important for their continuation.   This on-site barrel-making workshop is “the fruit of a partnership between Haut-Brion and Séguin Moreau” and has been in place since 1991.

All wine starts with the soil in the vineyards, the selection and management of the vines and the choice of particular varieties for individual parcels of land.     The high standard of care of these vineyards to produce grand cru wines has been consistent over the centuries.

The conclusion of most wine tours is to taste the wines produced on the property and our afternoon at Haut-Brion is no different.   We are guided to the 18th century Orangerie, which was renovated in 2001 and is used as the tasting room.

We are offered the 2011 vintage wines, which our guide tells us, are just being opened now.   Haut-Brion records indicate that 2011 was a very good year for their wine.   It was the driest year registered since 1949. With enough rain in the summer to allow the vines to work their magic, the harvest took place from August 31 to September 27.   All this data and more are recorded by Chateau Haut-Brion and available for review.

The typical blend of grape varieties in the red wine at Haut-Brion is Cabernet Sauvignon 45%, Cabernet Franc 15% and Merlot 40%.   These wines are created for laying down and building a cellar for future enjoyment.   The Haut-Brion recommended life of the 2011 vintage is from 2020 to 2035.   In 2017, we are tasting this wine in its teenage years; in the process of ageing and developing its full expression of the terroir and all the wine making expertise that has gone into its production.

Standing in the Orangerie, tasting these magnificent wines and looking out at the garden and the old Chateau itself, has to be a memorable wine moment.   So much so that when I look back, I remember hearing the whisper of history and at the same time, tasting the richness of the red wine, the deep black fruit, the chocolate aromas with developing smoked tones and that sensation of enjoying a beautifully crafted wine.

A December 2017 article in the British weekly magazine, Spectator, written by their wine writer, Bruce Anderson, summed up this sentiment well when he wrote about “wines of a lifetime.”   Coincidentally, in that article he also refers to a Chateau Haut-Brion wine, in that case a 1959 vintage that he enjoyed with a friend.

In preparing to leave, we thank our guide for our visit.

For me, the visit to Chateau Haut-Brion will be up there in my list of chateaux visits of a lifetime.

References:

Chateau Haut Brion:   http://www.haut-brion.com

Note: A point of appellation detail: Chateau Haut-Brion retains its 1855 Premier Grand Cru classification although it is not in the Medoc area.   It is in the Pessac Leognan appellation, which was previously part of the Graves appellation. (See the attached map of Bordeaux and the Neighbouring Regions.)

Spectator magazine: http://www.spectator.co.uk

Inspired by Chelsea Flower Show, sustained by champagne

I am inspired by the magnificent displays of flowers and plants at the Chelsea Flower Show this year in London and sustained by a memorable glass of Louis Roederer Brut champagne.

Not just roses catch my eye but hostas, dahlias, alliums and succulent plants all attract attention.   Thoughts turn to where I can squeeze in another plant in my garden;  what about that Restless Sea hosta?

We spend three plus hours at Chelsea, looking at the model gardens, enquiring about various plants in the Pavillion and admiring the garden sculptures in stone and wood.   Such creativity and talent on display.

We are impressed by the Royal Bank of Canada model garden, inspired by the Boreal forests of northern Canada.   RBC wins a gold again this year.

On a hot afternoon, a visit of several hours is the best way to enjoy Chelsea Flower Show in my view.   In previous years, I have attended for the whole day and my feet have not appreciated my efforts.

In the last half hour before closing, we find our way to the champagne tents where both Louis Roederer and Billecart Salmon champagne are on offer.  I enjoy both and have visited each of these champagne houses in France.  In 2014,   I wrote a series about champagne and associated visits, which are listed in my archives. Here are a couple of photos from the 2014 elizabethsvines archives:

Today, we choose the Louis Roederer Brut.   The classic, dry, biscuity, refreshing flavour with subtle bubbles is just what we need to celebrate another Chelsea visit.   I even forgot to take a photo…

 

 

Christmas Wrappings 2016

Life is to be lived forward, helped by looking backward from time to time.

This seems to be the common wisdom, certainly if one looks at all the retrospectives written around this time of year.    Whether we learn anything by looking backward and attempt to apply the lessons to the future is another matter…

What’s this got to do with writing a blog about wine and how it opens the door to other related and interesting subjects?

Well, I guess my aim is to deepen and broaden my knowledge about wine and then express it in different ways.

This year I pushed the envelope with three different initiatives:

  •  I gave a brief presentation to an interested group about antique Madeira wine labels in the context of social history,
  •  I created a video about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in SW France with the help of professional film maker, Joanna Irwin, and,
  • I conducted a wine tasting for the Wine Appreciation group at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.

As I plan forward for elizabethsvines in 2017, I’ll be looking backward as well, to see what can be learned from these experiences.

I appreciate comments and suggestions from my kind readers who are located all over the world;  the magic of the Internet.   There is a warm feeling when someone says: ” …I liked your recent blog…”

The great thing for me about my blog, which I have now been writing for four years, is that it isn’t a job.   The only expectations and deadlines are self imposed ones.

Oh! And by the way, before I forget to mention it:   I enjoy writing elizabethsvines.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, best wishes for the festive season and thank you for reading elizabethsvines, from

elizabethsvines

References from elizabethsvines archive:

elizabethsvines November 2016. Wines from my blog: wine tasting event at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.

elizabethsvines October 2016  video:   Celebrating French Culture, Wine and food:  https://elizabethsvines.com/2016/10/01/(video)-celebrating-French-culture-Wine-and-food/

‘Inspector Bruno’ and the women winemakers of Bergerac

Inspector Bruno Courreges, gourmand, wine lover and local chief of police lives in the Périgord, SW France in the small town of St Denis, where he knows everyone and their secrets.     He enjoys a peaceful life with his vegetable garden, horse, ducks and hens and defends the local community, its people and traditions against threats that menace the traditional way of life.

Inspector Bruno also has a weakness for intelligent, independent minded women.

Without question, then, he would be supportive of the women winemakers of Bergerac.

While I, and I am sure many others, would greatly enjoy meeting Inspector Bruno, there will be no such opportunity as he is the fictional creation of Martin Walker.  For myself, I feel I have become acquainted with Inspector Bruno from reading the novels.

Inspector Bruno

Inspector Bruno mystery series by Martin Walker

I have met Martin at a couple of wine events in the Dordogne.    After reading the following article in a local Dordogne English language newspaper, The Bugle, I decided to write to him and ask if I could reproduce his article about women wine makers of Bergerac on my website.  He has graciously agreed to this and I am very pleased to include his article below.

‘The Bugle, June 2016
The women winemakers of Bergerac by Martin Walker
Along with the Universities of Bordeaux, Padua and Melbourne, the Davis campus in California is one of the world’s great wine schools and last year for the first time, half of the graduates were women. And our own Bergerac region is remarkable for the number of women making terrific wines.
Not all of them are French. The legendary Patricia Atkinson of Clos d’Yvigne may have retired but the wines she made are still being produced by her successors. Le Rouge et Le Noir may be the best known, a classic blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon but I also enjoy the wine she called le Prince, a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. And her book, The Ripening Sun, is strongly recommended as one brave woman’s account of a triumphant and often lonely struggle to make prize-winning wines from scratch.
Not far from her vineyard at Gageac-et Rouillac near Saussignac is Chateau K, where the Norwegian Katharina Mowinckel may have given up her dream of becoming a world-class horsewoman, but now makes first-rate organic wines. The original name of the Chateau was Fougueyrat, but knowing that Scandinavia would be an important market, she decided that Chateau K would be easier to pronounce. And the Chateau K wines she makes are very good indeed, as you might expect from this lovely corner of the Bergerac. Her cheaper wines, called simply K, are also good value.
My friend Sylvie Chevallier produces lovely wines at Les Hauts de Caillevel, prize-winning Monbazillacs, charming wines and very serious red wines indeed. I was honoured to be on a jury where we were able to recognize the quality of her wines and then I had the pleasure of getting to know her when we were both promoting Bergerac food and wine in Switzerland, when the traveling Lascaux museum was on show in Geneva. And now Sylvie has been elected the apolitical chair of the tourism committee of our regional council, a fine choice. I just hope it leaves her sufficient time to continue producing her splendid wines. And like more and more Bergerac wines these day, they are bio-organic certified. She calls herself ‘a peasant winemaker’ but her wines are noble indeed.
Brigitte Soulier at Chateau la Robertie makes wines so good they are served at the Vieux Logis restaurant in Tremolat, my own favourite place to eat. Her Monbazillacs are a treat but I have a great fondness for her red wines, which add a little Cot (the old Perigord name for Malbec) to the usual Cabernet-Merlot blend.
If you have not yet visited Caro Feely at Saussignac, you should. Caro runs wine courses and lunches and with her husband Sean makes very fines wines indeed. If you get hold of their red wine called Grace, treasure it for a few years. But also enjoy the view from their home over the Dordogne valley all the way to Bergerac.

Chateau Feely

Chateau Feely, home of Caro Feely, one of the women wine makers of Bergerac

I had the pleasure one evening at Sean and Caro’s home of meeting their neighbor, Isabelle Daulhiac, who with her husband Thierry make some of the best value Bergerac Sec white wines that I know. I cannot possibly leave out Nathalie Barde of Chateau le Raz or Sylvie Deffarge Danger of Chateau Moulin Caresse (a name that perfectly describes the smoothness of her red wines) but I am running out of space.
And then there is our local TV superstar, Gaelle Reynou-Gravier of the Domaine de Perreau at St-Michel-de-Montaigne, in the Montravel district of Bergerac. She is the model for Gaelle Dumesnil in the latest version of Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Einre) French TV series. In the latest episode, she is the inspiration for the role of the childhood sweetheart of one of the stars of the series. But the real stars are her two special wines, a wonderfully deep red called Desir Carmin and an enchanting Desir d’Aurore, which I consider the best Chardonnay wine produced in the Bergerac.
I should add that she is more than lovely enough to play the role herself, but having a wife over thirty years and two daughters, I have been thoroughly schooled in the dangers of being a sexist. But each of the women I have cited is as lovely and delightful as the wines she makes, and I offer up my thanks to le Bon Dieu that such magnificent women made such splendid wines.’

A note about Martin Walker, author of this article:

Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac.  Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International.  He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.

References

Inspector Bruno novels    www.brunochiefofpolice.com

Château K          www.chateau-k.com

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

Château La Robertie        www.chateau-larobertie.com

Château Feely       http://www.feelywines.com

Château Le Raz      www.le-raz.com

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

Domaine de Perreau      www.domainedeperreau

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

 

Portfolio Tasting, London: something new, something remembered

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

Davy's Portfolio Tasting

Davy’s Portfolio Tasting

 

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

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

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

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

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

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany

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

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

Fine Wine Collection

Fine Wine Collection

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

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

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

It says it all.

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

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

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

It’s always the people who make the difference.

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

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

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

 

 

References:

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

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

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

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

Chateau Figeac:  www.figeac.com

Chateau Tailhas:  www.tailhas.com

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

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

 

 

 

 

Hot off the UK press: Canadian wine and French bubbly

Perusing the newspapers in London on Valentine’s Day weekend, I noticed two recommendations of wines I have written about in elizabethsvines.

Wine recommendations

UK Telegraph Magazine with Hamish Anderson’s wine recommendations

That certainly caught my attention.

Hamish Anderson, a wine writer known for his work as wine buyer for the collection of Tate Museum sites in the UK, publishes his tasting notes in the Food and Drink section of the Telegraph Magazine.

His three wine recommendations for Valentine’s Day included the Meyer Family 2014 Pinot Noir from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and Bollinger Rosé Brut.

I like both these wines and have written about them in previous posts so I am pleased to read Mr Anderson’s comments.

It’s amazing the gems one finds casually glancing through the weekend papers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region: A time of roses and wine

Warm summer evenings encourage wandering through the country lanes and villages of SW France.   All the senses are engaged: the heat of the sun on a bare arm, the sound of crickets and birds in the fields, the rich colours and patterns of the landscape, the smell of late summer in the air and, with no one looking, the already sweet taste of the ripening dark merlot grapes on the vines.

Roses, their beauty fading in the late summer heat, still bloom and tumble over fences and catch my eye as I walk by.

Roses also stand guard like sentries at the end of vineyard rows, perhaps planted to act as an early warning of any plant diseases that could affect the vines.   Roses typically require the same type of soil and have similar sunshine requirements as vines. Roses and grapevines are also both prone to powdery mildew (oidium) yet roses are more susceptible to this disease than vines.   An outbreak of powdery mildew on the roses planted at the end of the row of vines can alert the vine grower of potential trouble for the vines.   In this way, roses perform a role similar to the traditional “canary in the coal mine”.

In discussion with several wine makers, I discover that not everyone is convinced that roses are the best early indicator of mildew disease.    One wine maker I talk to thinks that oak leaves are more reliable; if the oak leaves on trees at the edge of his vineyards turn grey, he is on the alert for mildew.

Another wine maker I talk to assures me that using roses to identify mildew is a technique from another century!   Many wine makers see roses in the vineyards as purely decorative and that a more sophisticated use of science has overtaken the traditional and somewhat romanticized role of roses.

Risk management models have now been developed to anticipate the possibility of mildew on the vines.   This is business language I relate to. In pursuing this further, I discover that the website for the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of British Columbia has a comprehensive description of the two major types of mildew and references the risk management model developed by the University of California, Davis Campus. I provide the link below for those interested in reading more.   The roses in our garden always seem very healthy. Yet, perhaps I can apply the principles to anticipating mildew on them.   A topic for another day and further thought.

I am always amazed how writing about wine and related subjects opens doors to other topics.     Thinking about roses and wine leads me to switch the words around and think about wine and roses.   Doesn’t that ring a bell?

A little bit of googling leads me to the 1962 Blake Edwards sad and dramatic film, The Days of Wine and Roses starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick with the music of Henry Mancini.     Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s theme song won an Oscar and the film received four other Oscar nominations. Little is recalled today of the poet who wrote his poem, Vitae Summa Brevis Spem nos Vetet Inchoate Longam, in English thankfully,  and in it coined the phrase “the days of wine and roses” which infers a period of happiness and prosperity.  Ernest Dowson, (1867 – 1900) an English, Oxford University educated poet wrote this poem in 1896.    His call to action is powerful as he cautions us: “ They are not long, the days of wine and roses.”

I reflect on this after my walk among the vineyards as I enjoy a glass of award winning Chateau Court Les Muts  ” L’Oracle”, one of their best red wines with black berry, white pepper overtones in a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Early warning signal or decorative pleasure, the vineyard roses enhance the wine experience, even as they start to shed their now early autumn petals.

References :

http://www.wineserver.ucdavis.edu            University of California, Davis Campus   Viticulture and Enology, and site regarding Integrated Pest Management.

http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca :                         Ministry of Agriculture, Grape Diseases, Powdery Mildew (Uncinula necator)

http://www.court-les-muts.com            Chateau Court Les Muts

The Days of Wine and Roses film:  see wikipedia.org.

Henry Mancini composer          www.henrymancini.com

Ernest Dowson poet:                many sites, including wikipedia and poem hunter  including a reading by Richard Burton on YouTube

Bergerac Wine Region: jazz and wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serge Delaite Trio. “Comme Bach”.

Bergerac Wine Region: cherries and wine

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.

Dordogne cherries

Dordogne 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.

Cherry clafoutis

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.

Cherry clafoutis

Cherry clafoutis

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

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.

Chateau Lestevenie

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.

References:

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

Chateau Lestevenie wines: chateau-lestevenie.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès …..promoting cultural heritage and economic opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac

References:

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage   www.unesco.org/culture/ich

http://www.pays-de-bergerac.com/english/assos/confrerie-du-raisin-d-or

http://www.confreries-france.com

http://www.federation-grand-est.fr/histoiredesconfr/

http://www.cuisineetchateau.com/culinary-tours/

Tour de France Bergerac 2014   http://www.letour.com

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Haut Garrigue/Terroir Feely – …..creating a biodynamic virtuous circle

 

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.

Terroir Feely

Terroir Feely

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


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

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

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.

 

 Bergerac Wine Region

Bergerac Wine Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:     http://www.hautgarrigue.com,   http://www.feelywines.com,    www.tripadvisor.ca….saussignac,    www. rudolfsteinercollege.ed,   http://www.rsarchive.org/lectures      www.steinerbooks.org,  www.demeter.net, http://www.waldorf.ca,   http://www.bbr.com/knowledge (Berry Bros & Rudd)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Champagne Region, NE France: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger: Optimism in a Bottle, Part 3 of 3

It’s our second day in the Champagne region and another sunny day.  In Reims, we arrive at the House of Roederer and pull up to the main gate, which slowly opens to let us into the parking area.    There to greet us is our guide for the visit, Martine.   Chic in black and white with natural elegance and a straight back that would have merited a Good Deportment Badge at my old school, Martine is the quintessential wine professional; knowledgeable, confident and attentive to her guests.

This style typifies our experience at the House of Roederer whose mantra is “Quest for Perfection”.   Originally established in 1776, it was renamed in 1833 and has built its strength from this 19 Century organization.  Roederer remains a private company under the leadership of Frédéric Rauzaud, the seventh generation of the Roederer family.

House of Roederer, entrance hall with champagne bubbles overhead and bronze bust of Russian Tsar Alexander 11 in the centre

House of Roederer, entrance hall with champagne bubbles overhead and bronze bust of Russian Tsar Alexander 11 in the centre

We are shown into the entrance hall, which immediately speaks to the illustrious, past and present of Roederer.   The bronze bust of Tsar Alexander 11 has pride of place.   He was the Tsar for whom Roederer created Cristal Champagne in 1876.   Already a fan of Roederer champagne, the Tsar requested a new champagne to be unique in style and bottle for his personal consumption only.  It is said the clear crystal bottle with a flat base was designed so that nothing could be hidden either within or underneath the bottle.   This was to forestall any assassination attempt on the Tsar.

Then we enter the spacious, pale wood paneled tasting room where the 19th and 20th century Royal Warrants of several devoted European royal families are displayed around the room.   There are other contemporary symbols of recognition and awards on display.  They all demonstrate the high esteem in which Roederer has been widely held over the centuries.

Tasting Room at Roederer

Tasting Room at Roederer

Martine guides us through a tasting of several Roederer champagnes.  She talks about each champagne and as she does so, in true connoisseur style, silently opens each bottle with a gentle twist of her wrist.  No popping of corks here.

Roederer champagnes are known for acidity and fruitiness, which together develop the refreshing citrus and biscuity characteristics with a subtle explosion of bubbles in the mouth.   An unsophisticated yet definite “Wow” exclamation was my response to those bubbles.  We particularly liked the Blanc de Blancs 2006 (Chardonnay) and a primarily Pinot Noir 2006 vintage from the Montagne de Reims vineyards.  We also enjoyed the non-vintage Brut Premier for its fresh style.

Cristal champagne, created by Roederer for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876

Cristal Champagne, created by Roederer for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876

For the finale, we tasted Cristal.   While all the champagnes we tasted were memorable, there was something special about Cristal, perhaps an added silkiness. Cristal is made from Pinot Noir (60%), Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier from the seven finest vineyards on the estate and is only created in the best years. The vines for the grapes for Cristal have to be a minimum of twenty-five years old. The champagne is aged in the cellars at Roederer for six years and can be kept for many years before it is drunk.

We leave Roederer before lunch and drive on to the House of Bollinger, arriving at the imposing former home of the family and present day premises in Ay.  The House of Bollinger was established in 1829 and named for one of the founders, Jacques Bollinger.  There are currently three branches of the Bollinger family involved in managing the business.

House of Bollinger, Ay, Champagne, France

House of Bollinger – the original family home, Ay, Champagne.

Bollinger has been a popular champagne in Great Britain for many decades and one third of their sales go to Britain.  The House has been providing champagne to the Royal Family since the time of Queen Victoria.  The Royal Warrant was granted in 1884 and it is said that it was Edward V11 who originally coined the phrase:  “…a bottle of Bolly”.  In addition to their royal connection, Bollinger is, of course, known in the world of film, for over four decades now, as James Bond’s favourite champagne. These long standing connections are a source of immense pride to the company.

Champagne Bollinger

Champagne Bollinger

Behind all the publicity and fun there is a deep respect for tradition at Bollinger, which has received the first award given to a champagne house for their efforts in preserving and handing on the best of the traditional techniques and heritage.  This is the Living Heritage Company award – EPV or Entreprise du Patrimonie Vivant.   At the same time, modernization and innovation have been encouraged.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Bollinger with paired champagnes.  Lobster in a soup of tomatoes and zucchinis/courgettes, guinea fowl with truffles, cheese, followed by a warm apricot and peach fruit soup with apricot sorbet.  We started with Bollinger Rosé, followed by Bollinger La Grande Année 2004 and finally, Bollinger Special Cuvée. Bollinger’s style is distinctive for its full bodied toasty characteristics, possibly as a result of the higher percentage of Pinot (60%) typically blended in their champagnes.  Like all the Champagne Houses,  they have adapted to the   changing tastes of customers over the centuries;  from the sweeter style of the 19 Century to the current preference for dry (brut) champagne.

The pairings, needless to say, are excellent.  Bollinger recommends the Grande Année 2004 for duck breast, quail or quinea fowl. The Rosé is recommended for both seafood and fruit dishes.  Bollinger Special Cuvée, the third champagne we taste, is regarded by many connoisseurs as one of the finest of all French champagnes.

'007' and Bollinger

‘007’ and Bollinger

After this unforgettable lunch we are shown the extensive Bollinger cellars.  During this time we are reminded of Mme. Jacques Bollinger’s interview with the Daily Mail newspaper during a visit to London in 1961.  When asked: “When do you drink champagne?” she replied:

“ I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.  When I have company I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am.  Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty”.

When it came to choosing champagne to drink on New Year’s Eve, we would have been delighted to enjoy a bottle from any of these Houses.   As it turned out, we selected Roederer Brut Premier.

Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon

Roederer Champagne and Smoked Salmon

We enjoyed that characteristic taste of medium acidity, lemony-citrus, biscuit/almond flavour and its refreshing style with soft yet pronounced bubbles, and savoured the moment.  We drank the champagne as an apéritif and paired it with smoked salmon on rye toast. The appetizer was prepared with toasted rye bread cut into slices and spread with cream cheese, and then topped with smoked salmon, capers, chopped fresh cilantro leaves (coriander), and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Sublime.

Our visit to the Champagne region and these four Grande Marque Champagne Houses has provided us with lasting memories. Our stories about the people and their pursuit of excellence, the historic places and delicious champagnes that we tasted will linger on.

References:    www.champagne-bollinger.com          www.louis-roederer.com

Champagne Region, NE France: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger – Optimism in a Bottle Part 2 of 3

There’s a sense of excitement in the air as we start our drive last October through the vibrant green vineyards of the rolling Champagne countryside.   We are going to visit four of the Grande Marque Champagne Houses, see their premises, taste their champagnes and have the opportunity to feel the ambience of these historic businesses.  

Caravans of the grape pickers - Champagne

Caravans of the grape pickers – Champagne

It’s harvest time and everywhere we see grape pickers at work. 

We arrive at Billecart-Salmon,  a medium sized Champagne House based in Mareuil sur Aÿ. 

Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Door Sign at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

  It was established in 1818 through the marriage of  Nicolas-François Billecart to Elizabeth Salmon and is carried on by their descendants.  I was first introduced to their champagne a year ago and enjoy the restrained, elegant style.   Billecart-Salmon are known particularly for their rosé champagne but offer the full range of styles.  

Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon

Four legged friends trimming the grass at Billecart-Salmon

 At a tasting lunch, we experience their different champagnes with a corresponding range of savoury and sweet bouchées (bite sized offerings) from smoked salmon to chocolate, all elegantly presented in ‘silver-service’ style.   We are impressed by their gracious hospitality and their pleasure in providing a full tasting and pairing experience.  

Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch

Suite of Billecart-Salmon champagnes for tasting lunch

   We visit the cellars where we are interested to see the chalk board listing the different plot harvests. The magic of the grape growing areas come to mind as we read Chardonnay from Cramant, Mesnil, Chouilly;  Pinot Noir from Äy, Le Clos Hilaire, Verzenay,  Mareuil sur Äy. 

We also meet some of the younger generation of staff being groomed for senior positions and it is encouraging to see this kind of organizational development in place.

Krug premises in Reims

Krug premises in Reims

We continue our drive through the vineyards towards Reims, the famous Gothic Cathedral town and important hub of the Champagne industry. Our second visit is to Krug at their establishment in Reims.

Established in 1843, Joseph Krug, founder,  watches solemnly over the  present day proceedings from his centrally positioned portrait in the main Salon.    Krug has its own allure and dedicated client following supported by the marketing arm of the LVMH, Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, purveyors of luxury goods.    Krug aficionados are invited to “share your unforgettable experiences at kruglovers.com.’

Joseph Krug and his famous notebook

Joseph Krug, Founder and his famous notebook

At Krug, the extraordinary attention which is paid by all the great Champagne Houses to sampling, assessing and recording the year’s wines is emphasized to the extent that  we understand the skill, expertise and patience that is in every top quality Champagne.     At Krug itself,  they sample and assess the year’s wines from nearly 250 plots.   They also taste again 150 reserve wines from previous years.    Each year over 5000 tasting notes are collected and recorded.      This work of the Cellar Master, with Olivier Krug – who we had the opportunity to meet – and other members of their Tasting Committee sets the stage for the blend of wines for the year’s Non Vintage Champagne.  We visit their cellars and see the large number of individual vats for the fermentation of wine from the individual plots, secure within a special space in the cellars.  This is before we taste their formidable suite of champagnes.

Krug - individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots

Krug – individual vats for first fermentation from individual plots

By the end of the day our minds are buzzing with the experience of it all: the countryside, the people we met and their stories, the  exhilarating taste of a number of champagne styles, the sights and sounds of the Champagne Region.

The hills and vineyards of Champagne

The hills and vineyards of Champagne

More than anything it’s the sense of being there, soaking up the atmosphere and experiencing the Champagne heritage.    It’s been a great day.

Fast forward to January, 2014 and France’s culture ministry has proposed the vineyards, houses and cellars of Champagne for world heritage status (UNESCO) along with those of Burgundy.   The proposal will go before the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2015.   If approved, they will join Saint-Emilion (Bordeaux) representatives of French winemaking on the UN body’s list.  We applaud this proposed recognition of talent and tradition.

 In Optimism in a Bottle post 3 of 3,  I describe our visit to Roederer and Bollinger.

Reference:   Champagne Billecart-Salmon: http://www.champagne-billecart.fr

Champagne Krug:    www.krug.com

Champagne Region, NE France: Four Grande Marque Champagne Houses: Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer, Bollinger: Optimism in a Bottle, Part 1 of 3 – Introduction

Champagne – the great celebratory sparkling wine.    For me, it’s optimism in a bottle;  an immediate feel-good emotion.

A recent trip last October to the Champagne region of NE France about 130 kms from Paris was an experience in geography, history, tradition, science and an exploration of champagne style and tastes.

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Eperney

Harvesting in Champagne vineyards near Epernay

While drinking champagne epitomizes fun and frivolity and the marketing is conducted with great hyperbole and lyrical language, the wine making production behind this façade is serious, detailed, patient, professional and exacting.     As they say at Billecart-Salmon:  “Give priority to quality, strive for excellence.”

In each of these four Grande Marque Champagne Houses  of Billecart-Salmon, Krug, Roederer and Bollinger, we were impressed by the infinite attention to quality and detail.   This was particularly evident in the precise knowledge of hundreds of individual small plots of vines throughout this most northerly wine region of France.     It is the nuances of soil composition, orientation to the sun, topography and other details which singularly or together create the subtle differences in the wine from each plot which is so important in the essential blending process to make top quality champagne.

The Champagne Appellation d’Origine Controllée (AOC) designation governs all aspects of the production of champagne from planting to labeling and production in the Champagne delineated area of over 35,000 hectares.    Only sparkling wine produced in this area can be called champagne and the Champagne Houses are relentless in their protection of this name.

Three main grape varieties are permitted in champagne making:  Chardonnay,  Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.   Generally, champagne is white although most Houses create a rosé.    There are exceptions to the standard approach:  Blanc de Blancs is made from Chardonnay and Blanc de Noirs is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The four most important wine growing areas are Montaigne de Reims (mainly black grapes) ,  Côte des Blancs (mainly Chardonnay),  Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Bur .  These areas are outlined on the Wine Spectator map included.   It identifies the “heart of Champagne” around Epernay and Reims, however, there is a Champagne area further to the south which is not visible on the map.

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

Wine Spectator map of the Heart of Champagne

So where do the champagne bubbles come from?   The quick answer is that they are made through a natural process in the bottle. The Champagne AOC requires that the traditional method of champagne production is used which requires both the mandatory secondary fermentation in the bottle and minimum periods of maturation on the lees (dead yeast molecules) of 15 months for non vintage champagne and 3 years for vintage.  The top Champagne Houses allow for much longer maturation periods – 10 years is not unusual – to create their signature styles.

Champagne is made in several complex steps which I won’t attempt to elaborate.  Some key elements only are referred to below.  Each Champagne House uses their own specific approaches to create their Champagne House signature style and flavour.   An important fact to note is that the grapes are harvested according to the plot where they are grown and the still wine produced from each plot is kept separate until the blending stage.   This means that the nuances from the individual plots are retained.

This individuality is important in the detailed and exacting process of sampling and assessing the still wine from each of hundreds of plots.   In non-vintage wine where consistency across years is the objective, the chosen individual wines are blended together with reserved wines from previous years to create the assemblage (blend) for that year.

The reputation of each Champagne House rests significantly on this sampling, assessing and blending of different wines.   It’s the alchemy of champagne making and the responsibility of the cellar master and the blending committee.   It is after bottling and with the addition of a liqueur de tirage  ( including sugars and yeast nutrients) that the bubbles are made during the secondary fermentation.

The mystery and sophistication of champagne has been carefully nurtured over time.   The four Champagne Houses we visited were founded in the 19th century although Roederer has its origins in the 18th C.   Apart from Krug which is part of the LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton corporation, the Houses are independent and have passed from generation to generation.   Even at Krug, Olivier Krug, 6th generation of the Krug family is still actively involved in the business.

Reims Cathedral - the west portal with rose window and tympanum

Reims Cathedral – the west portal with rose window and tympanum

The Champagne region is steeped in history.     Much of the area was significantly affected by World War 1.  Half the Louis Roederer vineyards were destroyed in that war.  During that period the Bollinger cellars were used as a hospital, courtesy of Mme. Bollinger.    The history of Reims, a major hub in the Champagne industry goes back to the Roman times.   For more than one thousand years the sovereigns of the Franks and then France came to the Cathedral or its predecessor to be crowned (816 – 1825).     Keeping pace with more modern times, the great Gothic Cathedral is home to stained glass designed by Marc Chagall and installed in 1974.

With only time for a brief visit, we walked from the bright October afternoon sunshine into the shadowy, chiaroscuro atmosphere of Reims Cathedral.   Our footsteps sounded heavy as we walked up the aisle admiring the vaulting and the brilliance of blue and red shafts of light from the stained glass.    Before leaving this inspiring place we followed our usual practice of lighting a wax taper, casting our own pencil of light into the shadows.

In the Part 2 of 3,  I will write about our visit the same day to Billecart-Salmon and Krug.

References:  With thanks to Wine Spectator for the map of the Heart of Champagne

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: ‘Jack Frost’ in the vineyards.

Jack Frost in the vineyards

Jack Frost in the vineyards

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

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.

Winter sunshine

Winter sunshine

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.

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Ladesvignes

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

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

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

Tasting wine at Chateau Ladesvignes

Chateau Ladesvignes Bergerac Blanc Sec

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.

Locating Chateau Ladesvignes

Locating Chateau Ladesvignes

References:      Chateau Ladesvignes www.ladesvignes.com

Québec Liquor Board www.saq.com

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Chateau Tour des Gendres

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

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

The charm of Chateau Tour des Gendres

The charm of Chateau Tour des Gendres

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

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

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

Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres

Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres

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

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

Chateau Tour des Gendres - Tasting Room

Chateau Tour des Gendres – Tasting Room

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

Tasting the Cuvée des Conti at Chateau Tour des Gendres

Tasting the Cuvée des Conti at Chateau Tour des Gendres

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

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

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

Enjoying the Cuvée des Conti at Restaurant Chez Alain in Issigeac

Enjoying the Cuvée des Conti at Restaurant Chez Alain in Issigeac

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

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

Location of Chateau Tour des Gendres

Location of Chateau Tour des Gendres

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

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

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

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

Société Alcohol Québec – SAQ

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France: Vignobles des Verdots

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

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

Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots

Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des VerdotsVerdots

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

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

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.

Finding Vignobles des Verdots

Finding Vignobles des Verdots

Reference:    Vignobles des Verdots     http://www.verdots.com

Bergerac Wine Region, S W France: Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Driving into the courtyard of Chateau Moulin Caresse in Saint Antoine de Breuilh our immediate reaction is to exclaim at the natural charm of the place.   In the attached map below, look at the top left quadrant in green to the west of Ste Foy La Grande to get a sense of the location near Vélines.

 Montravel, Bergerac Wine Region

Montravel, Bergerac Wine Region

The property is on the right bank of the Dordogne River and is at the eastern end of a large plateau that begins in St. Emilion which is 20 kms away.

The gravel driveway where we enter is surrounded by trees and shrubs on one side, the office and tasting room straight ahead and the long, low building of the chateau is on our right hand side, on the south slope with a view over the expanse of the Dordogne Valley.   It’s a landscape of trees, river, vineyards and orchards.

View across the Dordogne Valley from Chateau Moulin Caresse

View across the Dordogne Valley from Chateau Moulin Caresse

Mme. Sylvie Duffarge, co-owner with her husband Jean-Francois and responsible for the marketing of the wines, greets us and invites us to the tasting room to talk about their wines.   She emphasizes that her husband’s family has been making wine here since 1749 and their sons are now in the business with them.

We contemplate the enormity of the changes that successive generations of this wine making family have faced over the centuries.   In 1749, Louis XV was on the throne in France,  George II in England and the revolutions in America and France were in the future.    Musically, it was the time of Handel and Gainsborough was painting his pastoral portraits of English families.   All this gives us a sense of historical perspective.   Chateau Moulin Caresse is one of many examples of family run businesses in France where successive generations build and evolve the business over time.

Mme. Duffarge expains that Chateau Moulin Caresse makes wine according to the Bergerac and Montravel AOC guidelines.   They make 5 levels of wine:  Cuvée Cépages – young, everyday wines;  Cuvée Magie d’Autonne – wines matured in barrels and can be laid down for 5 – 8 years;  Cuvée Cent Pour 100 – superior wines that can be laid down for 7 – 15 years and Cuvée Coeur de Roche – their grand cru de domaine red wines that can be laid down for 15 – 20 years.   They also make a sparkling wine:  Perles d’Ecume.

Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse

We tasted most of the wines and focussed more on the Cuvée Cépages and Cuvée Magie d’Autonne.   In the Cuvée Cépages range, we particularly enjoyed the rosé which is Cabernet Sauvignon based.   This is an excellent vin de plaisir (everyday wine) for the summer.   In the Magie d’Autonne range, we very much enjoyed the white.  It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and some Sauvignon Gris, a grape not generally used but Mme. Duffarge advises us that it adds texture to the wine.    The wine is a brilliant crisp pale yellow colour with substance and texture.   The Magie d’Autonne range is made according to the rigorous Montravel AOC guidelines.

The Duffarge family have 52 hectares under vines planted mainly on the plateau which has sandy clay soil with pockets rich in iron deposits.   The soils here can give a minerality to the white wines characteristic of the Montravel AOC wines.  The hillsides or coteaux are clay limestone which is best suited to the Merlot and Cabernet France vines.

A new chai or winery was built two years ago with mainly stainless steel and some cement vats.   The white wine is fermented in oak casks and rolled to stir the lees.   When asked about the use of sulphites, a preservative used in wine making since antiquity, Mme Duffarge mentions that they are using significantly less sulphites than several years ago due to better technology and improved wine making practices.   This was a common message we heard in our visits to Bergerac wine makers.

New Chais,  Chateau Moulin Caresse

New Chai, Chateau Moulin Caresse

Chateau Moulin Caresse wines are award winners.   The Cuvée Cent Pour 100 Montravel AOC wine has been a consistent winner of awards including Decanter World Wine Awards.   The Magie d’Autonne Montravel AOC white wine is a well regarded white wine of the region.

For Canadian readers,  Chateau Moulin Caresse Magie d’Autonne 2007 red is available through the Quebec Liquor Stores.

The visit to Chateau Moulin Caresse was particularly interesting as we had little previous contact or knowledge of this corner of the Bergerac wine region.   Meeting Sylvie Duffarge and hearing the family story highlighted for us the ongoing commitment of multi-generational wine making families in this region both to the land and to quality wine making.

Reference:    www.saq.com    Société des alcools du Quebéc (Quebec liquor stores)

http://www.pays-de-bergerac/vins/chateau-moulin-caresse

The Bergerac Wine Region, South West France: An Introduction

Bergerac Wine Region,  SW France

Bergerac Wine Region, SW France

The Bergerac wine region in SW France takes its name from the 11th Century town of Bergerac which is situated on the banks of the Dordogne River 175 km from the Atlantic Coast and 590 km southwest of Paris in the Dordogne Department in the Administrative Region of Aquitaine.

The Dordogne is one of the great rivers of France.  It arises in the Massif Central and flows westwards to Bordeaux where it joins with the Garonne to make the Gironde Estuary leading to the Atlantic.    The Dordogne was essential for the transportation of Bergerac wines in the past by “Gabares” which are large flat-bottomed boats used for taking wine barrels down river en route to foreign markets.   Now tourists are the cargo of choice.   The river has also created the rich alluvial river valley soil which along with other geological and climatic elements has created excellent wine growing conditions.

The Bergerac wine region adjoins the Bordeaux region, one of the best known wine areas of the world.    After much debate about the boundaries for the Bordeaux region, it was decided in the early 20th Century that they would coincide with those of the Gironde local government department.   This left the Bergerac wine area outside these limits yet with many of the same or similar geological and climatic characteristics.   For many years,  Bergerac has been in the shadow of its famous neighbour and this has affected its position in the market place.   Fortunately, due to the determined pursuit of quality and the consistent efforts of dynamic wine makers in the region,  this lack of confidence is diminishing and the excellent wines that are available from this area are gaining greater recognition.

At the western edge of the Bergerac wine region, the vineyards are a continuation of the Bordeaux Côtes de Castillon and St. Emilion on the right bank of the Dordogne and the Entre-Deux-Mers south of the river in terms of vine growing conditions.   The geology within the region varies for each of the individual Appellation d’Origine Controlée areas.   The geological possibilities are sandy clay, limestone, iron-rich clays, gravels, clay-limestone, Agenais molasse and some specific areas have marl and clay soils with fossilized oyster deposits.   Climatically, the Bergerac region has a less maritime and more continental climate than Bordeaux.    It has marginally less rain and more sunshine and has about a 10 day longer ripening season which can be critical in some years.

Key facts about the Bergerac wine region are that it has approximately 12,000 hectares under vines, encompasses 93 villages and has approximately 1,000 wine makers creating wine in accordance with Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) guidelines.

There are 13 Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) areas in this region which link to 5 wine colours as described by the Maison des Vins de Bergerac:

Rosé wines:  Bergerac rosé AOC,

Red wines: Bergerac rouge, Côtes de Bergerac rouge,  Pécharmant and Montravel rouge AOCs

Dry white wines: Bergerac sec, Montravel AOCs

Semi-sweet white wines:  Côtes de Bergerac blanc, Côtes de Montravel, Haut-Montravel, Rosette AOCs

Late Harvest/Botrytis – Liquoreux wines:  Monbazillac,  Saussignac AOCs

Each AOC has its particular requirements as to vine planting density, alcoholic content, grape varieties and blends and so on. The AOC is identified on bottle wine labels.

Increasing numbers of wine makers are following organic wine making practices which may have more stringent demands.   Easy drinking, young wines known as vins de plaisir are made in the area as well as vins de terroir which are richer, more structured and generally aged longer.   Similar to the Bordeaux area, the red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec and the same varieties are used in rosé wines.    The white grapes are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and in some areas small amounts of Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.

The wines are paired with local produce and favourites such as duck, foie gras, various pâtés and cheeses together with local vegetables and fruits, all sold in the colourful and popular street markets.

The Bergerac wine region is picturesque and characterized by hills, forests, fortified villages and towns (Bastides) and is agricultural with vineyards, plum and apple orchards, walnuts and more recently sunflowers.

In addition to producing quality wines and other produce, the area has a rich and varied past.   Gallo-roman remains from the 1st Century A.D. have been found locally.   More recent history includes the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between the French and English regarding English claims to Aquitaine;  the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants or Huguenots in the 16th and 17th Centuries and the World Wars 1 and 2.    For most of WW 2, the Bergerac area was in the “Free Zone”.

The Hundred Years War began and ended in Aquitaine within a 80 km radius even though it included well known battles in other parts of France – think of English King Henry V and Agincourt (1415):  “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”   (Shakespeare: Henry V).    Even though the English were finally defeated in 1453, the area has been popular with English people for many years.    Bergerac became a protestant stronghold during the 16th Century and established wine trading links with protestant countries, especially when Huguenots from the area fled to other protestant northern European countries in the 17th Century.   Holland remains a key market today for Bergerac wines.    As always, historical context informs not just the past but also the present.

On a recent visit to the area, we had the opportunity to visit 5 wine chateaux/wineries and they and their wines will be featured in upcoming weeks.

Aquitaine

Aquitaine

References:

History of Bergerac:  www.bergerac-tourisme.com

Historical background:  www.bbc.co.uk/history

Various references including:   Maison des Vins de Bergerac:  www.vins-bergerac.fr

View of Bergerac in the distance and local  vineyards

View of Bergerac in the distance and local vineyards

The Dordogne River

The Dordogne River