Caro, our friend and near neighbour in the Dordogne area of SW France has been writing about wine, and especially about building a biodynamic winery for some years.
Caro Feely, Co-Proprietor, Chateau Feely, Saussignac SW France
Two of her books: Grape Expectations and Saving our Skins tell the engaging account of sheer hard work and determination that Caro, her husband Sean and their daughters continually invest in their winery.
This year, Caro takes the plunge and enters the Wine Writing Competition 2022 in the category of Regenerative Agriculture sponsored by the acclaimed wine writer Jancis Robinson. Caro’s article is one of the 31 published essays and one of the 20 shortlisted essays from writers around the world. A great accomplishment!
Here it is: Regeneration – Changing our thinking by Caro Feely
I recommend reading this. Caro describes regenerative as “…transforming our thinking from extractive, how much volume of wine and financial value can we generate, to how many benefits can we create, for nature, for us, for the wider community. It is thinking circular rather than linear.”
The regeneration of land impacted by the Feely farming practices has resulted in one visible impact of increased biodiversity that we see: increased numbers of beautiful wild orchids.
Pyramid orchids in the garden
Jancis Robinson gives an overall comment about all the essay entries in this category of regeneration: …”Having read them all, we are happy to say that we have come away feeling inspired by and confident in the strides that are being made in the fields of regenerative viticulture and sustainable winemaking.”
Congratulations to Caro for her inspiring article and also to Jancis Robinson and her team for initiating this global essay competitive process and encouraging wine writers.
After so much time dreaming of holidays during lockdowns, here’s a wonderful opportunity to engage with the wine community in Sigoulès, near Bergerac in SW France by signing up for the summer event on July 24th of the Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. A parade, a lunch and much fellowship awaits when you step outside your comfort zone and into a wonderful traditional event.
Taste Vin – Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, SW France near Bergerac.
Check out the Confrerie website for all the details, menu and registration.
facebook: confrérie du raisin d’or
Summer festival Confrerie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès July 24
This year in summer 2021, the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in the Bergerac Wine Region in SW France was innovative in fulfilling its mandate of promoting local winemakers.
Instead of hosting its annual Confrerie wine event attended by Confrerie members from across France, it creatively switched to participating in the local Festival for Winemakers of Sigoulès-Flaugeac. The Confrérie hosted a wine tasting event of local wines in which the public voted for the wines of their choice. Great Idea!
Awards were then given by the Commandeur Guy Bergeron, representing the Confrérie, to the winners in the 5 wine categories of Red, Rose, Dry White, Sweet White, and Late Harvest Liquoreux. All 19 winemakers who participated in the public tasting were thanked for their participation.
And the five winners were…
Rouge/Red wine: Stephanie et Philippe Barré-Perier in Saint Pierre D’Eyraud
Rosé/ Pink: Jean Philippe Cathal, Domaine Petit Marsalet, St. Laurent des Vignes
Blanc Moelleur/Sweet White: Durand Frères, Château Haut Lamouthe, Lamonzie St Martin
Blanc Liquoreux/ Late Harvest Liquoreux: Stéphane Dumoulin, Chateau le Cluzeau, Sigoulés-Flaugeac
Congratulations to the winners of the people’s votes!
All these community names are very familiar to me and I am so pleased to acknowledge the work and effort that went into this event.
Given the COVID restrictions in place, the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès, under the leadership of the Commandeur and the support of the members, continues to be active in the community upholding its role as part of the UNESCO World Heritage recognition of Confréries in France as a fundamental aspect of French Gastronomie.
Today, I saw the Heartman as I was walking along the seawall in Vancouver.
Floral love art by the Heartman, West Vancouver
The Heartman, as we call him, creates beautiful arrangements of flower petals on the earth or grass, always in the shape of a heart. He radiates calm and peace and his delightful work inevitably brings a smile or a photo opportunity moment to passers-by.
This heart symbol seems particularly appropriate as we all do our best to: “Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Safe”; the affirmation that British Columbians have taken to heart, literally, coined by Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer of British Columbia.
The focus on compassion and safety is reflected in the approaches to winery visits this summer where social distancing and safety are paramount for visitors to be encouraged to venture into winery tastings.
The key message for people planning to visit wineries during their summer holidays, whether here in BC or in other wine growing areas, is to anticipate the need to make an appointment for a wine tasting. For now, drop in wine tastings are a thing of the past. Additionally, the numbers of people tasting at any one time is sharply reduced, so check out how many people can be in the tasting party. And, ask about the guidelines on spitting wine at the tasting area: some wineries provide a disposable spit cup, so a good idea to clarify this before the tasting begins!
Each winery creates their own wine tasting procedures as long as they keep to the guidelines around social distancing and sanitation. This affects where the wine tastings take place, indoors or increasingly in outdoor spaces. A point of enquiry is the definition of social distancing. Here in British Columbia, we are operating with a 2 metre social distance. In France, the social distance is 1 metre. Figure out what that distance looks like, so you can conform to the expectation or leave more space. Its important everywhere to know the guidelines, so you can: “respecter la distance de 1 mètre” or 2 metres, whichever is relevant.
Winery visitors can expect highly professional levels of sanitation for everything from counter tops to wine stemware to pour spouts on wine bottles with visitors being discouraged from touching bottles of wine for sale, unless buying them!
I visited the websites of two award wining wineries I know well in SW France to see what is on offer in these Covid times. Both these wineries have 5 stars with Trip Advisor for their winery visits.
Sue and Humphrey Temperley, proprietors of Château Lestevenie
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie, Gageac et Rouillac, Dordogne.
Chateau Lestevenie has clear instructions on their home page about phoning to arrange wine tastings. They indicate that wine tastings are strictly by appointment to one household group per time in order to maintain social distancing. Chateau Lestevenie is a beautiful countryside winery offering a wonderful visit and opportunity to learn with Humphrey and Sue Temperley and admire the work they have also done to promote the flora and fauna on their property.
These comments above assume that the winery visit will be in person. A growing element in wine tourism now is the advent of the virtual wine tour and tasting.
Caro Feely, Co-Proprietor, Chateau Feely, Saussignac SW France
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
Another local winery in the Dordogne is Chateau Feely where Caro Feely has been busy launching a range of virtual experiences to enable people to experience Chateau Feely from anywhere.
Caro says: “We have been working flat out days, nights, weekends to get these new products developed and the response has been great. We had started developing ideas for online courses as part of our wine school the last couple of years and the coronavirus offered the push and the ‘time space’ we needed to get the first products done.”
Caro has produced several videos on their website describing the biodynamic vineyard of Caro and her husband, Sean, including a one minute video produced about their new Virtual Discovery Wine Course.
‘Down the road’ from these country wineries, in Ste Emilion and the areas around Bordeaux another approach to wine tasting takes place. This year, many of the most famous chateaux in the wine world are conducting their wine tastings with merchants using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft teams etc. Samples of wines are shipped to the merchants in advance and then the tastings take place virtually with the chateaux technical directors discussing the wines and answering enquires from the merchants. This is how the 2019 en primeur wine sale to merchants is taking place for many chateaux. The good news is that it appears 2019 was a year producing a high quality vintage.
Economically speaking 2020 looks like a tough year for winemakers. At the en primeur level of wine sales, many chateaux are discounting their 2019 vintage prices to encourage sales. Inevitably, this price challenge will ripple down through the industry and affect all the wine-makers.
In the time of Covid, let’s be kind to our wine-makers and support them through an unforgettable year, which is bringing many challenges as well as opportunities for change.
This is day 14 of the 14-day self-quarantine period in Vancouver, British Columbia following our return here earlier in the month. We now continue with the self-isolation and social distancing practices in place here in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada.
Lots of activities to fill our time in self quarantine or self isolation.
Other people we know are in various stages of their mandatory self–quarantine following their return to Canada from travels overseas and it’s interesting how we are all dealing with this time on our hands.
The pursuits are across the spectrum from creative activities like painting, playing piano or other instruments, sewing/needlework, gardening, baking, which seems very popular!, and exercising; to stimulating the little grey cells with language learning, reading, studying, writing; plus catching up on all those projects and chores we have put off for as long as possible; and to communicating with family, friends, colleagues past and present, members of groups and clubs. This adds up to lots of communicating and especially face-to-face talking going on via various media, which is wonderful and comforting.
Perhaps this ‘reaching out to others’ may well be the biggest communication trend as we support friends, family, neighbours and strangers stay safe and healthy.
So where does wine fit into this equation?
For wine-lovers, having a glass of wine in hand when connecting with people over the airwaves to say hello and exchange news is a great way to salute and toast each other.
Imagine my delight last week when my quarterly supply of wine from Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia was delivered as part of my wine club membership. After carefully sanitizing the box, removing the wine bottles and wiping them down, they were safely stored away (and the box sorted for recycling). In addition, Meyer Family Vineyards gave us a gift of two Riedel Pinot Noir glasses in gratitude for our 3-year wine club membership. (Meyer Family Vineyards are now offering various delivery/curbside pick up options identified on their website)
Perfect gift, perfect timing!
A glass of Meyer 2018 Pinot Noir in my new Riedel Pinot Noir glass! Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, B.C.
For a Zoom call with friends, I opened a bottle of Meyer 2018 Pinot Noir Okanagan Valley and enjoyed a glass in my new Pinot Noir Riedel while chatting with friends.
Small pleasures in difficult times help lift our heart and spirits!
Spare a thought for wine makers and vineyard owners around the world. Many of them are small family owned businesses and will acutely feel the economic uncertainty of the current situation. Most of them are also adapting to getting the wine to the consumer even if the consumer can’t get to them.
An example of this came into my email today from Chateau Lestevenie, a small family owned vineyard in the community of Gageac et Rouillac in the Dordogne in SW France. Sue and Humphrey Temperley, who I have written about before, identify the delivery arrangements they are able to make under the current lock down business rules for both their clients in France and also in the UK. All the details are on their website.
The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie, Gageac et Rouillac, Dordogne.
We can help our favourite wineries, wherever we live, get through these challenging times by checking out their wine delivery options and purchasing on-line where we can.
People are amazing at demonstrating their resilience and adaptability in times of crisis. I have great respect for First Responders, medical staff, and people working in many sectors and industries to help find solutions and to those people supporting the vulnerable among our communities. A big thank you!
In closing, here’s an encouraging last comment from Sue and Humphrey at Chateau Lestevenie:
“We wish all our customers the very best at this stressful time. It is hard being separated from family and friends. Despite all the human trauma, of course; the vines are in bud, the birds are nesting and the hares are dashing about. It does give hope. “
Stay safe and healthy…and reach out!
References: Meyer Family Vineyards www.mfvwines.com
Do you have vacation plans in the Dordogne this summer? If you have your sun hat, comfortable walking shoes and a bottle or two of water, then the above agenda of walks in the Dordogne has your name on it!
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
Each summer, the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès organizes walks through the bee-buzzing, bird-singing rolling countryside of the Dordogne, always ending with a wine tasting. The starting point is the village of Sigoulès.
Other local opportunities to enjoy casual, friendly wine tasting events take place each Monday evening in the nearby village of Saussignac. Apéro Vigneron offers wine tasting and al fresco food in the village main square.
These are memorable vacation opportunities to meet local wine makers and taste their selections of Bergerac Region wines in casual, village environments, far from work-a-day city crowds.
Sunflowers saluting the sun
The flag of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès
The low barrel ceiling of the cellar area of the old Château in Saussignac in South West France is home to the 2018 New Wine presentation by local winemakers.
This cartoon says: drinking directly from the barrel, I’m reducing the impact of packaging on the environment!
We walk beside the dark stone exterior wall of the Château, using a powerful torch to prevent us slipping into muddy pot holes or against large rocks or tree roots. We open the outer door and are greeted by a burst of yellow light and the sound of cheerful chatter as we step down onto the old stone-flagged floor of this cavernous area.
An informal gathering of over 100 people of all ages, from grandparents to grandchildren, is here to sample some new wines. It’s a casual opportunity to meet neighbours and friends in this small village nestled in the vineyards of the Bergerac Wine Region near the town of Bergerac on the Dordogne River.
Samples of 2018 new wines from Château Grinou
Stretched along the middle length of the long, narrow room are picnic tables, the sort that get stacked in village halls for events, joined end to end to accommodate the community meal this evening. It’s organized as an “Auberge Espagnole” which for the uninitiated is a gathering in which every person or family bring their own food, drink and utensils and generally share what they bring. It’s basically Bring Your Own and Clear Up Afterwards! A fantastic, civilized and practical way for communities to socialize and share a meal together. After all, food, and in this case wine, is at the heart of most convivial community initiatives all over the world. So forewarned is forearmed: if you see a poster for an “Auberge Espagnole”, don’t try to reserve a room, start cooking and pack up your picnic basket!
Circulating around the room, we talk to three local winemakers who offered some of their new wines for tasting:
Gabriel Grinou from Château Grinou in nearby Monestier
Sue and Humphrey Temperley from Château Lestevenie, also in Monestier
Olivier Roche from Château Le Tap in Saussignac
Each winemaker mentioned that 2018 has been a challenging year due to the weather and the mildew. There was a wet spring followed by a hot summer that turned into the hottest summer in France since 1947. Mildew is a fungal disease that can affect the grapes and needs to be managed very carefully throughout the growing season and around harvesting time. For farmers such as these, who practise organic or near organic farming methods, there are bigger challenges dealing with mildew, as there are fewer options for fighting diseases.
in spite of the inherent challenges in farming, which vary year to year, the winemakers are overall positive about the 2018 harvest with better grapes and higher yield in general than in 2017, which was a very difficult year. I certainly see smiling faces among the group!
What we tasted:
Sue and Humphrey Temperley from award-winning Château Lestevenie offered their 2018 Bergerac Rosé. A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon providing strawberry flavour with a hint of spice, Humphrey says ”…their best ever”. In the photo below, the bottle is empty! And as Sue says, “…unfortunately, you can’t see the amazing colour”. You can check out their website at: http://www.chateau-lestevenie.com
Sue and Humphrey Temperley, proprietors of Château Lestevenie
Olivier Roche from Château Le Tap, certified organic in 2010, offered his 2018 Bergerac White Sec. Consistently a good quality wine, this is our “go to” white wine. Olivier and Mireille Roche also offer gîte accommodation at their vineyard for wine tasting holidays! http://www.chateauletap.fr
Olivier Roche, proprietor of Château LeTap
Gabriel Grinou from certified organic vineyard Château Grinou generously offered a basket of new wines for tasting. The team of father and two sons are known for their high quality wines. I tasted several from the wine basket and found their new and still developing red to be sunny and rich with lots of potential. http://www.chateaugrinou.com
Gabriel Cuisset, co-proprietor with his brother and father of Château Grinou
Farming and wine making are challenging endeavours at the best of times. We greatly enjoyed the Soirée Vigneronne organized by the Cafe Associatif in Saussignac and wish all the winemakers a successful New Year with their New Wines.
In closing our last post for this year, we extend best wishes to all for a healthy, happy and peaceful New Year! See you in 2019.
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.
Château Feely owned by Caro and Sean Feely
Marnie Fudge is co-proprietor of Cuisine and Château Culinary Centre
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.
Bergerac Wine Region showing Saussignac and Sigoulès
The Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès
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.
Château Feely chateaufeely.com
Cuisine and Chateau cuisineandchateau.com
Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoules confrerieduraisindor.com
The vine leaves in SW France look beautiful at this time of year. Most days when I walk beside the vineyards, I photograph the vines and marvel at the changing nuanced colours of the leaves; gold, scarlet, bronze, green, and by extension at the changing colours of the landscape.
Autumn vine leaves, Saussignac
Autumn vine leaves
I never tire of looking at the view; the winding road disappearing into the distance, the tall, ghostly coloured water tower on the hilltop and the sprinkling of farmhouses. The straight lines of vines marching up and down the undulating landscape which fascinate and remind me of David Hockney’s colourful paintings of the Yorkshire dales.
The Vineyard landscape
More Vineyard Landscape
There is even a friendly cat of no fixed address that parades each day in front of the local cemetery. I call him the Cemetery Cat.
The Cemetary Cat
At the same time as we enjoy the autumn sunshine highlighting the local beauty and warming us as we walk about, the local newspaper, Sud Ouest, is raising the alarm bells about the effects of climate change in the area, in particular the reduced rainfall.
Each day on the back page of the paper, there is a table showing the minimum and maximum temperatures in southwest France on the same day over the long term: 15, 30 and 50 years. The figures indicate that it appears that it is the minimum temperatures that have been affected; in other words the weather does not get as cold now as it did 50 years ago in this area. The newspaper also provides local 2017 climate statistics showing sunshine days are up and rainfall levels are down. 2017 is described as a dry and sunny year. The weather forecast for the next 15 days also indicates less rain than “usual” for this time of year.
The Sud Ouest local newspaper for Bergerac and Sarlat areas has a headline on Monday, November 13, 2017 that reads: Va-t-il falloir faire la danse de la pluie? In other words, “Will we have to do the rain dance?”
Certainly, some vine growers, aware of climate warming, are becoming concerned about the reduced level of precipitation at key moments in the vine production of grapes. In July this year, for example, there was 50% of the usual rainfall for the month.
The newspaper references individuals in the winemaking community who are saying its necessary to start the discussion and debate about vine irrigation in France, where it is essentially prohibited due to the multiple authorizations necessary to irrigate vines and with few exceptions for specific reasons, e.g. newly planted vines.
Currently, when there is lack of water, the stressed vines search for water in the ground below by sending down deep roots.
Vine irrigation is a sensitive topic. Some wine makers are concerned that irrigation will negatively affect or reduce the bountiful impact of vineyard ‘terroir “and lower the quality of the wines. Many believe that marginally stressing the vines helps to produce superior fruit. Some consider that France should allow vine irrigation as elsewhere in the world, where vine irrigation is well established. Others are concerned that irrigation will lead to increased production and affect the wine market and prices. Additionally, irrigation in periods of reduced precipitation will place demands on water management in the area, another consideration.
There is no question that the topic of vine irrigation in France will be on the table for discussion and debate going forward. This is an important discussion to follow in the wine world.
In the bigger picture, the reduced level of precipitation and increased temperatures affect more than the vineyards and wine making.
So, what to do?
Back to the newspaper’s question about rain dancing. Getting out the rain dancing shoes may be a good idea. It’s certainly one approach. However, I interpret the suggestion of rain dancing as code for the fact there is no easy answer to these questions. What’s interesting is that the local paper has taken the initiative to present a two-page article about the reduced rainfall this year. It has specifically commented on the impact on the wine industry, which is a major economic driver for the area.
Beneath the beauty of the area and the elegance of the wines are challenging issues to be addressed. Fortunately, there are imaginative, informed and creative wine makers in the area considering these issues and over time undoubtedly driving change in winemaking practices to accommodate environmental impacts.
Rain dancing? Perhaps, but to a new or different melody.
Sud Ouest Newspaper, November 13, 2017 Bergerac and Sarlat edition.
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
References from elizabethsvines archive:
elizabethsvines November 2016. Wines from my blog: wine tasting event at The University Women’s Club of Vancouver at Hycroft.
Inspector Bruno Courreges, gourmand, wine lover and local chief of police lives in the Périgord, SW France in the small town of St Denis, where he knows everyone and their secrets. He enjoys a peaceful life with his vegetable garden, horse, ducks and hens and defends the local community, its people and traditions against threats that menace the traditional way of life.
Inspector Bruno also has a weakness for intelligent, independent minded women.
Without question, then, he would be supportive of the women winemakers of Bergerac.
While I, and I am sure many others, would greatly enjoy meeting Inspector Bruno, there will be no such opportunity as he is the fictional creation of Martin Walker. For myself, I feel I have become acquainted with Inspector Bruno from reading the novels.
Inspector Bruno mystery series by Martin Walker
I have met Martin at a couple of wine events in the Dordogne. After reading the following article in a local Dordogne English language newspaper, The Bugle, I decided to write to him and ask if I could reproduce his article about women wine makers of Bergerac on my website. He has graciously agreed to this and I am very pleased to include his article below.
‘The Bugle, June 2016
The women winemakers of Bergerac by Martin Walker
Along with the Universities of Bordeaux, Padua and Melbourne, the Davis campus in California is one of the world’s great wine schools and last year for the first time, half of the graduates were women. And our own Bergerac region is remarkable for the number of women making terrific wines.
Not all of them are French. The legendary Patricia Atkinson of Clos d’Yvigne may have retired but the wines she made are still being produced by her successors. Le Rouge et Le Noir may be the best known, a classic blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon but I also enjoy the wine she called le Prince, a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. And her book, The Ripening Sun, is strongly recommended as one brave woman’s account of a triumphant and often lonely struggle to make prize-winning wines from scratch.
Not far from her vineyard at Gageac-et Rouillac near Saussignac is Chateau K, where the Norwegian Katharina Mowinckel may have given up her dream of becoming a world-class horsewoman, but now makes first-rate organic wines. The original name of the Chateau was Fougueyrat, but knowing that Scandinavia would be an important market, she decided that Chateau K would be easier to pronounce. And the Chateau K wines she makes are very good indeed, as you might expect from this lovely corner of the Bergerac. Her cheaper wines, called simply K, are also good value.
My friend Sylvie Chevallier produces lovely wines at Les Hauts de Caillevel, prize-winning Monbazillacs, charming wines and very serious red wines indeed. I was honoured to be on a jury where we were able to recognize the quality of her wines and then I had the pleasure of getting to know her when we were both promoting Bergerac food and wine in Switzerland, when the traveling Lascaux museum was on show in Geneva. And now Sylvie has been elected the apolitical chair of the tourism committee of our regional council, a fine choice. I just hope it leaves her sufficient time to continue producing her splendid wines. And like more and more Bergerac wines these day, they are bio-organic certified. She calls herself ‘a peasant winemaker’ but her wines are noble indeed.
Brigitte Soulier at Chateau la Robertie makes wines so good they are served at the Vieux Logis restaurant in Tremolat, my own favourite place to eat. Her Monbazillacs are a treat but I have a great fondness for her red wines, which add a little Cot (the old Perigord name for Malbec) to the usual Cabernet-Merlot blend.
If you have not yet visited Caro Feely at Saussignac, you should. Caro runs wine courses and lunches and with her husband Sean makes very fines wines indeed. If you get hold of their red wine called Grace, treasure it for a few years. But also enjoy the view from their home over the Dordogne valley all the way to Bergerac.
Chateau Feely, home of Caro Feely, one of the women wine makers of Bergerac
I had the pleasure one evening at Sean and Caro’s home of meeting their neighbor, Isabelle Daulhiac, who with her husband Thierry make some of the best value Bergerac Sec white wines that I know. I cannot possibly leave out Nathalie Barde of Chateau le Raz or Sylvie Deffarge Danger of Chateau Moulin Caresse (a name that perfectly describes the smoothness of her red wines) but I am running out of space.
And then there is our local TV superstar, Gaelle Reynou-Gravier of the Domaine de Perreau at St-Michel-de-Montaigne, in the Montravel district of Bergerac. She is the model for Gaelle Dumesnil in the latest version of Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Einre) French TV series. In the latest episode, she is the inspiration for the role of the childhood sweetheart of one of the stars of the series. But the real stars are her two special wines, a wonderfully deep red called Desir Carmin and an enchanting Desir d’Aurore, which I consider the best Chardonnay wine produced in the Bergerac.
I should add that she is more than lovely enough to play the role herself, but having a wife over thirty years and two daughters, I have been thoroughly schooled in the dangers of being a sexist. But each of the women I have cited is as lovely and delightful as the wines she makes, and I offer up my thanks to le Bon Dieu that such magnificent women made such splendid wines.’
A note about Martin Walker, author of this article:
Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac. Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International. He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.
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
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
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
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.
We are in the in-between zone, that time between Christmas and the New Year: recovering from the wonderful festive time and not yet in the grip of New Year resolutions. Sometimes, these few days can provide an opportunity to catch up on outstanding items. For now, it’s a time for reflection.
This includes reflecting on elizabethsvines. I look back at my 10 published postings over the year. My aim is always to write about wine in the context of art, music, literature, science, recipes for cooking, history, restaurants and about wine as an expression of culture, as in the Confréries in France.
In 2015, my wine repertoire includes the Bergerac Wine Region in SW France, a specific British Columbia wine and references to particular South African wine, to Champagne, Port and hot punches (aka the Dickensian Smoking Bishop). It’s a personal focus.
Here are a few updates related to wine stories I have written about in 2015.
JAK Meyer of Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls in British Columbia has mentioned to me that their Pinot Noir is now available in 169 stores across the United Kingdom with Marks and Spencer, the food retailer. This is an exciting development for this British Columbia winery. Last February, I wrote about their wine in: “ From Terroir to Table: Meyer Family Vineyards wines from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia to Mayfair in one leap”.
Klein Constantia Vin de Constance and Warre’s Port which I wrote about last January in “The Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past (with a toast to Charles Dickens)”, were featured in the menu for the October 20th State Dinner at Buckingham Palace for the President of China, Xi Jinping. More specifically, the Palace menu includes Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2008 and Warre’s Vintage Port 1977.
In April, when I wrote, “Bergerac Wine Region – Chateau Le Tap addresses customer interests”, I jokingly referred to Bertie Wooster of P G Wodehouse fame and his apparent love of “half bots” of wine and commented on a noticeable consumer interest in smaller bottles of wine. This consumer interest was brought home to me again the other day in a supermarket in Paphos, Cyprus when I saw on display a large selection of wine being sold in small wine bottles between 187 ml to 200 ml.
Small bottles of wine meet consumer interests – Paphos , Cyprus
I hope you have found the 2015 posts informative, interesting, perhaps entertaining. I am always interested to know.
In the spirit of Robbie Burns 1788 poem, Auld Lang Syne, let’s raise a cup of kindness. Best wishes for 2016.
We are having coffee with a friend in Vancouver; sitting outside at our regular haunt putting the world to rights as usual. Our friend comments, “ Well, you know the big thing nowadays for organizations is “reaching out”. We talk about this “reaching out” and what it means or implies: communicating, engaging with interested parties.
Later on, I reflect on “reaching out” and my thoughts turn to the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in South West France and the efforts that they make to reach out to many groups in the course of their activities during the year.
I wrote about the history and current role of Confréries in France and in particular about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in the July 2014 article on my website. In summary, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products.
UNESCO has recognized the gastronomic heritage of France as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition.
Tourism plays a major role in the French economy and the Confréries, with their links to the past and involvement with the gastronomy of the area are usually associated with a tourism organization in the vicinity.
In some ways, this feels like a lot of words on a page and high-level policy. On the ground, what is the value proposition? It’s about promoting the local area, culture, food and wine to residents and visitors. Aside from the annual major event for each Confrérie called the Chapitre, and attending the Chapitres of other Confrèries, local events are organized that reach out to others.
The magic of the work of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès of which I am so fortunate to be a member, albeit from a distance much of the time, comes alive for me in particular ways.
One way is in walking with people who take part in the summer time Confrérie organized hikes, which focus on the discovery of the local countryside. I pass the time of day with other hikers: why do they come? What’s it all about for them?
Hiking in the Dordogne with the Confrérie
Consistently, the response is that they love the countryside, the opportunity to explore the area with other people with similar interests. They appreciate the fellowship offered by the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. Often they are people who live in Bergerac, the local main town, and sometimes they have recently retired there after a career in Paris or overseas. They want to connect with the soil, the trees, the birds, the mushrooms, the wild flowers; these things are important to them.
Hiking with the Confrérie
At the end of each hike, there is an opportunity to enjoy refreshment with others. On offer is a glass of local wine or juice and a savoury biscuit. Un pot d’amitié, a cup of friendship, to which participants are invited to donate a small amount to cover costs. All this is organized and brought to the assembly point by members of the Confrérie.
At the end of the hike: enjoying a cup of friendship
This is the magic of the countryside and fellowship.
Another expression of this magic is attending concerts organized by the Confrérie in local mediaeval churches.
How good can it get to listen to talented musicians in this kind of setting?
One example from this summer is a concert held at the church in Sigoulès featuring a flautist and guitarist playing music from both sides of the Pyrénées. These musical pieces are by composers who originated from different regions of the French and Spanish Pyrénées: Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Georges Bizet, Pablo de Sarasate, and Isaac Albeniz. These are some of my favourite composers. Afterwards, we stand and chat in the shade of the plane trees and enjoy un pot d’amitié – a glass of wine from a Sigoules winemaker.
Concert with the Confrérie
Another example is a concert of young talented musicians from the Conservatoire de Bergerac. In this instance, two young guitarists. On the programme, which I have shown here, I circled the pieces I particularly enjoyed. At the end of the performance, as an encore, they played a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s famous song: “Isn’t She Lovely”. I loved the repetoire, the imagination and the skill of these two young people.
Concert with two guitarists
Afterwards, there is an opportunity to meet other concertgoers and enjoy a cup of friendship again: wine or juice with a slice of ham and cheese cake offered by Confrérie volunteers. We stand, smile and chat in the warm, early evening sunshine outside the church at Puyguilhem in the Commune of Thenac from where it is possible to see in the distance where the 100 years began and in another direction where it ended.
This is the magic of time and place, music and fellowship.
Who does all this reaching out? Committed members of the Confrérie who give countless hours of their time to promoting this region of France that they love and value, to engaging with local residents and visitors and to using their skills and talents in the interests of others.
For me, all this effort is about getting to the heart of matters in ways that people value. This is “reaching out” at its best. As our friend in Vancouver suggests, reaching out is a big thing.
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.
The heat wave in South West France, with temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40 degrees C, has thankfully cooled. Sunflowers continue to salute the sun and lavender hedges are buzzing with the sound of many bees and other pollinators doing their work.
Sunflowers saluting the sun
Trimming the vines
In the vineyards it’s work as usual. The tractors are in the fields by 5.00 am getting a start on the work before it gets too hot. Vine trimming is complete and new vines are planted where the vignerons are making changes to their vineyards.
Amid all the flurry of vineyard work, there is still time to enjoy music and wine! More particularly jazz, performed at a wine chateau, in the barn or chai as it is called here, where the wine is made.
The Jazz En Chais, Cru 2015, a series of 5 jazz concerts held in the Pourpre Perigord area of South West France from March to November is very popular and offers live music, wine tasting at the host wine chateau as well as a farmer’s market where people can buy food and eat in situ before the concert.
Jazz en Chais concert: Chateau Court les Muts
Chateau Court Les Muts
Our most recent Jazz en Chais concert was held at Chateau Court Les Muts situated about 20 minutes from Bergerac and set in the gently rolling countryside of rural Dordogne, surrounded by the chateau’s own vineyards. The wines of this Chateau are highly regarded in the area.
First of all, we enjoy a glass of Chateau Court Les Muts ‘L’Oracle’, their premier red wine: 50% Malbec, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, all black fruits, violets, chocolate and touch of white pepper. Then, we find our seats in the chais and settle down to listen to the Serge Delaite Trio play a concert called Comme Bach… in which the classical music of Bach is harmonized with jazz classics by Duke Ellington, Bart Haward and others and played with talent, style and energy. These concerts are a well attended and popular expression of South West France wine culture.
Being a fan of such music as Fly Me to The Moon, the Jazz En Chais series of live music partnered with high quality wines of the region ticks all the boxes for me for an enjoyable summer evening
References: Les Jazz en Chais concerts, Cru 2015. www.jazzpourpre.com
Chateau Court Les Muts, www.court-les-muts.com. See also their vine jewellery made on site.
We are sitting outside in the warm early evening. We hear music and talking coming from a nearby cherry tree. First of all we think people working in the vineyard opposite have the radio on. A little later that evening we are told that the music and chat show discussions are emanating from the radio placed in the tree as it is the only way to keep the starlings from robbing the tree of all its ripening fruit. From then onwards we call this the singing cherry tree.
A couple of days later, we are rewarded for our patience in listening to heated debates coming from the heart of the tree with this box of ruby red cherries.
I decide this number of cherries calls for more than eating them as they are. Making the French custard cake Clafoutisi seems an appropriate baking choice.
From the oven, Cherry clafoutis
I search the Internet for clafoutis recipes and choose the Allrecipes.com recipe for Brandied Cherry Clafoutis To date, I have made three; each one better than the last and all “successful”. This particular recipe identifies canned cherries but I use fresh, pitted ones from the singing cherry tree. A couple of other variations based on ingredients on hand: I marinate the cherries in Armagnac and instead of allspice use a mixture of nutmeg and ginger.
To verify that I am not straying too far from a French approach to making clafoutis, I consult a book from my late Mother, herself an accomplished cook: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholie and Julia Child. This Pengiun Handbook was published in 1961 and my Mother’s copy is dated November 22, 1966.
Here is what these ladies said about fruit flans or Clafoutis: ” The Clafouti (also spelled with a final ‘s’ in both singular and plural) which is traditional in the Limousin (region) during the cherry season is peasant cooking for family meals, and about as simple a dessert to make as you can imagine: a pancake batter poured over fruit in a fireproof dish, then baked in the oven. It looks like a tart, and is usually eaten warm”.
This baking choice looks better and better.
The Allrecipes.com recipe lists this general comment: ” Clafouti is a traditional French dessert with brandied cherries baked with a custard topping creating a warm and sweet dessert that goes well with a cup of tea”.
This is where we part company as I see clafoutis as an ideal lunchtime dessert, served if appropriate for the occasion with a vin liquoreux. A local choice would be a wine from the Bergerac wine region: a vin liquoreux which would be either a Monbazillac AOC or Saussignac AOC late harvest wine.
Vin Liquoreux, Saussignac AOC from Chateau Lestevenie
In this instance, I pair the Brandied Cherry Clafouti with a 2003 Chateau Lestevenie Saussignac AOC Vin Liquoreux. Chateau Lestevenie is in Gageac Rouillac, one of the four communes permitted to make Saussignac AOC wines. The fruit aromas and flavours together with the honeyed ripeness of this fully mature wine complements the cherry, vanilla, baked custard of the clafoutis.
Vin Liquoreux: Chateau Lestevenie
To position both Monbazillac and Saussignac vins liquoreux in the wine lexicon, think broadly in Sauternes terms. These are late harvest wines made from grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea or noble rot. The predominantly Semillon grapes are picked late in the season when the grapes have been touched by the morning Autumn mists and the afternoon sunshine. A major distinction between Saussignac vin liquoreux and other sweet wines, is that this is the only sweet wine produced in France that forbids the addition of sugar or “chaptalization” under its AOC rules. It’s the Semillon grapes which allow the wine to age well.
Pairing cherries from the singing cherry tree and wine from a local winemaker is a way to celebrate the summer culture of SW France.
allrecipes.com: Brandied Cherry Clafouti
Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholie, Julia Child, Published by Penguin Books in 1966
Jancis Robinson; Oxford Companion to Wine re Monbazillac wine
I have been musing for some time about the size of bottle in which wine is sold. There are more options for buying wine in a wine bar or restaurant: new technology like wine on tap and different size glasses of wine, yet there appear to be fewer options to buy smaller volumes in a wine store. That appears to be the case in Vancouver at any rate.
If we want to enjoy one or maybe two glasses of wine at home, we are faced with opening a regular sized 750 ml bottle and then trying to keep the remainder fresh for a couple of days, sometimes using tools like the vacuum pump. Most likely we forget about it and then end up pouring it into my special “left-over-wine-for-cooking” bottle. I am thinking about checking out the availability of half bottles of wine.
My mental antennae are on alert for smaller bottles when we eat lunch at Chez Alain, a favourite restaurant for Sunday lunch in Issigeac, a medieval village in the Dordogne, SW France. At five tables around us on this particular Sunday, I count five smaller sized bottles of Chateau Le Tap organic white wine; it’s their Bergerac Sec; a Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle blend.
Chateau Le Tap, Bergerac Sec, 750 and 500 ml bottles
We talk to the restaurant staff and they tell us that these 500 ml bottles of Chateau Le Tap wine are popular, particularly for two people having lunch or dinner. This makes perfect sense to me and I am determined to visit Olivier Roches, the Proprietor at Chateau Le Tap.
Chateau Le Tap, a family run winery in the Bergerac Wine Region, is located at the edge of Saussignac, a small, rural village south of the Dordogne River. Olivier and his wife Mireille and their children have lived there since 2001. They are part of a long established winemaking family from the Pécharmant appellation wine making area of the Périgord Poupre.
Château Le Tap in its rural setting, Dordogne
After the usual pleasantries and introductory chitchat, I ask Olivier about the 500 ml bottles. He tells me he sells these mainly to restaurants. He has been bottling his Bergerac Sec white wine in the 500 ml size for about 10 years. As he also makes Saussignac appellation late harvest wine, which is mainly sold in 500 ml bottles, he has the capacity to also bottle his Bergerac Sec wine in the same fashion. He says that while the regular size 750 ml bottle of wine is the norm, there is definitely a market for the smaller size bottles as people increasingly pay attention to their wine drinking habits.
As I am visiting Olivier Roches and his winery, it is interesting to explore Chateau Le Tap wine production in general. Chateau Le Tap was certified as Bio, an organic producer, in 2007. Echoing the comments of all the wine-makers I have met, Olivier Roches’s focus is always to improve quality. In pursuit of this goal, this year he is restructuring his vineyards. He tells me his approach to wine making is practical and guided by scientific principles. He sells his wines mainly in other parts of France and to several Northern European countries as well as to local clients. Guests at his two well-appointed Gites on the property can also buy wine and enjoy it on their doorstep.
Beyond this Bergerac Sec Blanc that I like with its aromatic, long and fresh taste, I sample other offerings in the Chateau Le Tap suite of wines. Another white wine is the Bergerac Sec Cuvée 3G, named for his three sons/garçons. This 2011 wine is an interesting blend of Sauvignon Gris (10%), Semillon (20%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%) and Muscadelle (30%). The description on the website is silent on the remaining 10% of the blend. This wine won the Médaille D’Or Concours des Vignerons Indépendants de France 2013 and the Selection Guide Hachette 2014, clear recognition of Olivier Roches’s wine making skills.
Olivier’s top of the line red is the Cuvée JulieJolie named for his daughter. With 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this has the hallmarks of blackcurrant and cherry, soft tannins and all the subtleties of a good quality wine. Chateau le Tap do not at present market their red wines in smaller bottles.
If my observation of the Chez Alain customer interest in enjoying lunch with a smaller bottle of wine is anything to go by, it seems to me that Chateau le Tap is meeting customer interests at the restaurant with their 500 ml offering of white wine.
As I leave Chateau Le Tap and think about what I have learnt, I remind myself that a book I have just finished reading has further stimulated my interest in smaller bottles. The story, “Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” is the author Sebastian Faulks’s homage to P.G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975), the English humourist and prolific writer. Wodehouse’s books about the funny, fantastic, fictional antics of Bertie Wooster and the famous Jeeves, his Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman, set in pre-World War II English upper class society have amused generations of readers.
The Bertie Wooster character in Sebastian Faulks’s tribute book makes various references to food and particularly wine, including “something chilled and white”, “having a nice half bottle of something from the cellar”, together with references to claret, possibly his preferred wine choice and several references to a half bottle or a “half bot.” My favourite Bertie W. wine and food description in the book reads like this:
“. the half bot. was a loosely recorked red of a most fruity provenance; the solids included a wedge of veal and ham pie that could have jammed open the west doors of Salisbury Cathedral”.
Salisbury Cathedral, which houses one of the four originals of the 13th century Magna Carta, is in my hometown of Salisbury, Wiltshire.
Salisbury Cathedral, West Front
Being born and bred in Salisbury, my imagination is certainly stimulated by Bertie Wooster’s reference to the wedge of veal and ham pie.
All humour aside, it’s interesting to note that in the fictionalized world of Bertie Wooster in the early 20th century, that a half bottle of wine was commonplace.
To follow up on my earlier thought of checking availability of smaller or half bottles of wine, I set off one morning in Vancouver on a fact finding mission. Limited in scope, I visit two wine stores. A BC Liquor Store and an independent wine store. The BC Liquor Store is one of the 195 retail stores in the (British Columbia) BC Liquor Distribution Branch network operated across the Province of British Columbia. The other store is privately owned and operated.
In the BC Liquor Store, I am advised that the few half bottles in stock are displayed near the cash register along with small bottles of spirits and liqueurs. The selection is six red wines from different countries and four whites, including a prosecco. In the independent wine store, a varied and larger stock of half bottles is prominently arranged together at the front of the shop under a sign indicating Half Bottles, creating an eye catching display. In discussing these wines with the sales person, who mentions that people buy the half bottles both to limit wine consumption and also to try new wines, we agree that buying half bottles is for drinking fairly soon, as the wine ageing process is accelerated in smaller bottles.
It’s funny how disparate thoughts can pull together. My interest in finding out about the availability of smaller bottles of wine was piqued by our experience at the Restaurant Chez Alain, the work of Olivier Roches at Chateau Le Tap and the humour created by fictional BertieWooster and Jeeves, followed by some Vancouver-based fact finding.
Inspired by this information, I’m off to choose a couple of “half bots.” We’ll see how we get on. I think Bertie Wooster would approve.
Chez Alain, Issigeac: See trip advisor. Phone: +33 5 53 68 06 03
July is the month of summer celebrations, including in this corner of south west France. Advertising notices drop into my email inbox about wine promotions, new books – including Saving our Skins, the latest book by Caro Feely who I mentioned in my last posting, – firework exhibitions, theatre productions, jazz concerts. It’s all there on offer over the summer months. Organizers work double time to attract and welcome tourists and local residents to their events.
In the village of Sigoulès in the Dordogne volunteer members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès prepare for their annual major event over the July 19 /20 weekend to coincide with the area wine festival. The wine fair and tastings are on Saturday July 19th, the parade of all the visiting Confréries and the annual general assembly or Chapitre on Sunday, July 20th..
A complementary series of guided walks and concerts organized by the Confrerie take place in the area during July and August. Adding to the excitement in the area this summer is that the Tour de France Stage 20 passes through the Dordogne and Bergerac the following weekend.
Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d’Or event
The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products. The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès particularly focuses on the wines of the area.
The origin of these confréries dates back to the Middle Ages to the 12th and 13th centuries when occupational groupings were more likely called companies/corporations or guilds. Possibly the most famous of these early organizations was the “La Jurade de Saint Emilion”, created in 1199 and responsible for controlling many aspects of the wine industry in Saint Emilion (Bordeaux).
Similar organizations of apprentices and masters existed until the time of the French Revolution when they were declared illegal in 1791 in the spirit of the free movement of labour.
In the 20th Century, there has been a resurgence of local organizations or confréries which, by reinstating traditional pageantry, costume and ritual are celebrating the gastronomic heritage in the many different regions of France. Their existence has increased since the 1960’s with the development of tourism. The Confrérie Saint Emilionnaise took the name of “Jurade” in honour of the earlier organization when it was recreated in 1948.
Confréries are generally linked to a tourism bureau, the local mayor’s office, local festival and/or agricultural initiatives as part of a broader promotional imperative. Not only are the confréries linked locally, they are also aligned regionally and nationally.
For example, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès partners locally with the wine fair organization and local wine-maker communities: Foire aux Vins de Sigoulès and the Communauté de Communes des Coteaux de Sigoulès; regionally it is a member of the Chancelleries des Confréries d’Aquitaine, plus the Union des Confréries du Périgord and nationally is a member of the Conseil Français des Confréries.
The Confrérie organizations
Sometimes, confréries twin with other confréries. By way of illustration, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is twinned with the Confrérie du Pâté de Périgueux. I wrote about the pâté competition I attended last November in an earlier posting. Many different types of food and gastronomy are represented in the world of confréries: strawberries, cherries, pink garlic, fish, grilled food, mushrooms and so on.
The gastronomic heritage of France is so highly valued that it has been recognized by UNESCO as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition. The Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) identification is promoted by UNESCO as a counterpart to the World Heritage designation which focuses mainly on tangible aspects of culture.
The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines the intangible cultural heritage or living heritage as:
“The practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith, that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage…”
A subtext of confrérie activities includes promoting economic opportunity in the areas through links to tourism. At the international level, some members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès recently facilitated and conducted a series of events with local wines for Cuisine et Chateau, a Canadian organization from Calgary, Alberta which brings groups of visitors to the area each year for a week of culinary and wine experiences.
Marnie Fudge, co-proprietor of Cuisine et Chateau mentioned to me that their experience was “fabulous” and they valued the professionalism and expertise of the Confrérie members they dealt with during their visit. As Canada works towards finalizing the details of its trade agreement with the European Union, it feels like we are making a small contribution to that effort!
A comment about the word confrérie whose literal translation is brotherhood. In a 21st century context, I translate this to mean a group of men and women who associate with each other in a congenial way for a common purpose. A confrère in French means colleague which underscores this broader interpretation. Collegiality and congeniality in support of cultural heritage are core confrérie values.
This all sounds quite serious, whereas the confréries and their events are also about the joyful celebration of culture with food, wine, music, pageantry and fellowship.
The colourful parade of confréries
This joyful celebration will be the cornerstone of the events in Sigoulès over the July 19 and 20th weekend and all the other events organized by the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès and community partners in July and August.
The confrérie events, whether this one in Sigoulès or similar events elsewhere in France are a wonderful way to learn more about the culture and history of France, local gastronomic products and, importantly, meet local people. I have attended several wonderful confrérie events where I’ve met delightful people.
The band accompanies the parade
Last year, I was delighted to be invited to join the Confrerie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès in the role of Ambassadrice, one of two from Canada at present. The Ambassador initiative includes Confrérie members in other regions of France as well as other countries including Australia and Canada.
My blog is about how wine opens the door to history, culture,food,science… For me, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of those doors.
Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac
I arrive at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue to talk to the co-proprietor, Caro Feely about their winemaking and wine tourism business. On my way here, walking down the country lane towards their farm past the Saussignac Cemetery, dignified yet colourful with the many pots of commemorative flowers, I reflect upon the niche that Caro and Sean have carved for themselves in the highly competitive wine making business.
Sean and Caro have been in Saussignac, a small village in the Bergerac wine region in the Dordogne since 2005. That was the year they changed their life and moved from corporate lives in Ireland to become wine makers in the Dordogne. Their initiation to their new life is a compelling read in Caro’s book: Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France. It’s a page turning book and the reason for my sense of awe when I meet this low-key yet dynamic couple.
Autumn view from Terroir Feely
Always intrigued by the process through which people create major life changes, I read Caro’s book with this sense of enquiry in mind. Caro and Sean embarked upon a new lifestyle of considerable uncertainty: no wine-making experience when they started, language barriers, the burden of French bureaucracy, two small daughters to raise and a host of other challenges. Yet, they had personal qualities of perseverance, adaptability, optimism and drive together with experience in marketing and financial management. These personal attributes and competencies have stood them in good stead. On top of this, their passion for the life-style, the land and region, and organic, sustainable and now biodynamic farming has fueled their energy to make it all happen.
Learning to make good wine wasn’t enough to succeed. Caro has said that the transition to their new life was “beyond hard”. They soon realized that they needed to diversify in order to survive financially. This in turn led to the creation of French Wine Adventures with wine courses; wine walks with vineyard lunches, the Harvest Weekend, and the building of their ecological accommodation at the vineyard. Their brand new swimming pool opens this season. In other words, they have created a biodynamic virtuous circle of wine making and wine tourism.
Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue is a Certified Biodynamic farm of approximately 10 hectares under vines. Demeter, the internationally recognized biodynamic certifying body, certified Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue as biodynamic in 2011 following their organic certification from Ecocert in 2009. In addition, The Great Wine Capitals Network recognized Terroir Feely as the Regional Winner for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices in 2013. Their wines are also gaining recognition for quality.
Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award
I ask Caro what draws people to visit them at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue. She doesn’t hesitate to respond:
“ We are passionate about what we do and we create a personal experience for people. We share common interests with our visitors. We are eco-friendly; we make certified biodynamic wines; we have ecological buildings. People come to enjoy the vineyard and participate in our Harvest Weekend which is the first weekend in October.”
We talk about wine farming practices and their evolution from organic to biodynamic status in 2011.
Caro explains that it takes 3 years to convert to biodynamic status. Farming practices are introduced in which the vineyard is cultivated as part of a whole farm system. It involves making and using preparations for the soil and plants from plant and manure materials as well as caring for the vines and the soil according to the biodynamic calendar which suggests times to sow, harvest, prune in synch with phases of the moon. She tells me that since they have been following the strict biodynamic approaches that more orchids have appeared on the farm as well as greater biodiversity. She also believes these practices have benefitted their wines!
Caro says that until she saw the difference biodynamic practices made to their farm, she thought that biodynamics sounded like “dancing with the fairies”. To gain a better understanding myself, I subsequently looked up various sources and websites including: Demeter, various Rudolf Steiner sites, Berry Bros and Rudd Wine Merchants. There is a lot of material about the subject.
In brief, biodynamic agriculture originates in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and agronomist who lived from 1861 – 1926. He gave a famous agricultural series of lectures in 1924, which predate most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual philosophy called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic and the spiritual dimensions in nature. One of Rudolf Steiner’s greatest admirers was Maria Thun (1922 – 2012) who created an annual biodynamic gardening calendar that Caro refers to on the Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue website.
The name Rudolf Steiner was familiar to me because of his influence in education. Waldorf Schools which originated from his humanistic approaches to education are in evidence today in about 60 countries.
From a viticulture perspective, biodynamics views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic by Demeter, the vine-grower must use the 9 biodynamic preparations described by Rudolf Steiner. These are all preparations made from plants or manure and applied to the plants and soil.
Biodynamics in viticulture is growing and is practiced by farmers in several countries including France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Canada and the US. While organic and biodynamic farming doesn’t guarantee great wine, it appears that there is a tendency for wines made with these farming practices to be more highly scored by consumers with respect to expressions of terroir, balance and more vibrant tastes. Tasters indicate that biodynamic wines are more floral in flavour.
In general, there is a continuum of farming approaches progressing away from industrial practices that rely on chemicals towards using fewer chemical interventions and introducing more sustainable practices leading to organic and biodynamic approaches. Farming interventions are regulated in the EU, as elsewhere, including the use of mineral substances like copper and sulphur which are permitted in all approaches to wine farming along the continuum– it’s a question of degree.
Literature about biodynamic wine making refers to Certified Biodynamic wine making and also to wine makers who practice “broadly biodynamic” farming approaches. This implies that they subscribe to and follow many of the biodynamic practices yet do not pursue the biodynamic certification. From our observation visiting many wine makers, this translates into the ever-increasing attention to improved agricultural practices, which is positive for the land, the farmers themselves and the consumer. Caro and Sean have gone that step further in following the rigorous standards for their farm to be Certified Biodynamic.
Caro tells me that; “ …the Bergerac Wine Region has the highest number of organic wine producers in France after Alsace.”
All to say that the dialogue around farming practices is increasing and the interest in biodynamics is growing. In a competitive wine world, it’s worth noting that over the past 10 years there has been significant growth in the sales of biodynamic wines as consumers shift their interest to biodynamic and sustainable practices.
It’s 9 years since Caro and Sean made their major lifestyle and career leap of faith into wine making in the Dordogne. Since 2007, they have been practising biodynamic wine making, achieving their certification in 2011. I have tasted their wines several times over the years and I particularly like their Sauvignon Blanc, “Sincérité”.
Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation
Caro and Sean have been generous with their time talking to me about their vineyard adventures to date. I close my notebook and say my goodbyes. It’s time to let Caro and Sean get back to their work.
December weather in the Dordogne is often sunny yet cold. White frosts cover the ground and spiders’ webs freeze on the vines. It’s Jack Frost’s favourite time of year.
A largely 19th century mythological figure in literature with roots in Anglo-Saxon and Norse winter customs, Jack Frost is the personification of frost and cold weather. This generally friendly sprite is a regular winter visitor to the Dordogne valley vineyards.
Fog creating an ethereal landscape
It’s chilly and fog often covers the Dordogne river valley in the mornings. Sometimes it rolls up the hills creating an ethereal landscape. Later in the morning, the sun usually bursts through on the higher ground and the blue sky returns.
With the harvest completed, the hard work of pruning begins in earnest and will last through January. When we see a car parked at the edge of a vineyard we know we’ll see a lone figure working his way along the rows of vines checking each vine carefully.
By now the vines themselves have lost most of their leaves. They are taking a well deserved rest. I hope my readers will be able to do the same over the holiday season.
In the next post, I’ll write about champagne – the great festive drink – and our recent visits to several notable champagne houses.
In the meantime, best wishes for Merry Christmas/ Joyeux Noel/Happy Holidays.
It’s a cold and bright, sunny day in the Dordogne; cozy coat and sunglasses weather. A great day to be outdoors! Walking alongside the local vineyards I think about a recent visit to Chateau Lestevenie in Monestier, a small country commune not far from Bergerac.
We were invited by Sue and Humphrey Temperley, the proprietors of Chateau Lestevenie to taste some of their wines in progress. This means tasting wines in their incomplete state as the wines work their way through the fermentation and ageing process. These tastings enable the wine-maker to make adjustments as the wines develop. Regular tastings are also part of a larger regulated process of quality control in which wine samples must be sent for monthly laboratory analysis.
For us, a visit to Chateau Lestevenie is all about wine farming. Perhaps it’s because Humphrey is an experienced farmer from the West Country of England who has brought his farming know-how and knowledge and understanding of chemistry to wine farming and wine making. Maybe it’s because working the land and supporting the resident wildlife is an important aspect of Humphrey and Sue’s farming approach here.
Humphrey’s wine making philosophy is that he blends and makes wine for his own palate and yet appreciates the input of others to the process. He says: “Making wine is a mixture of art and science. It’s a bit like cooking – you have to keep tasting what you are making.”
We start with tasting their 2013 Bergerac White Sec, 100% Sauvignon Blanc which has finished the fermentation process and is cloudy from being on the lees (yeast). It’s some time before it will be filtered and bottled. Even in its unfinished state, the aromatic characteristics are evident and we can taste the future potential in this wine.
Bergerac White (Sauvignon Blanc) in process (before filtering)
An intriguing aspect of tasting wines in progress is that we have the opportunity to see the large volume of dead yeast left from the fermentation process. The Bergerac White Moelleux that we taste has just been moved from the fermentation tank. The Moelleux is a sweeter Bergerac white wine which is predominantly Semillon, with some Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc. Strict hygiene practices are followed and Humphrey is getting ready to clean out the inside of the tank. He is going to wait until Sue is in the chai (winery) so there is someone there in case of emergency. It can be dangerous work which involves getting inside the tank.
The inside of the fermentation tank after the Moelleux white wine fermentation is complete.
Humphrey’s enthusiasm for wine making is catching. As we stand in the chai, part of an old quarry, our wine glasses are ready for each tasting. We sniff, swirl and swallow/spit our way through this year’s production of white, rose and red wines, giving our impressions as we proceed.
The conversation soon turns to the wildlife on the farm. After all, the hare is the symbol for Chateau Lestevenie. Humphrey and Sue belong to an informal group called Wildlife Friendly Vineyards. Part of their practices include the careful timing and minimal spraying of the vines so as to protect the insect pollinators – so essential to setting the fruit on the vines. The surrounding woodlands of mainly oak and chestnut trees are also being managed to restore a mixed age tree population. A mixed age approach brings different height and breadth of trees which in turn allows more sunshine and nutrients resulting in healthier woodlands to support wildlife.
The Hare at Chateau Lestevenie
The Dordogne is well known for the well established walks through the vineyards and countryside and attracts many visitors. Wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the region and wine tour companies bring visitors to Chateau Lestevenie to learn about wine making and enjoy a tasting. Humphrey is a natural and knowledgeable educator and enjoys introducing visitors to the wine making process.
Sue also writes an informative blog about the vineyard on their website. Her post: “Year in the vineyards at Chateau Lestevenie” gives a good overview of the calendar of wine making activities.
The focus here is on making good wine through skilful and eco-friendly wine production and farming practices. An example is the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Bergerac AOC Merlot Cabernet. About a month ago, Humphrey asked us to taste this and our notes include the following:
“On the palate: full, rich flavours, quite balanced, rounded, blackberry aromas, some spice and some vegetal. Medium acidity, tannins and alcohol. Good depth of flavours and body. Some sharpness on the length/after taste which will most likely round out with more ageing. Conclusion: Ready to drink with decanting. Will benefit from further ageing. Good quality with lots of potential. Similar to a Pécharmant AOC we had tasted recently. Very good value.”
Chateau Lestevenie 2010 Bergerac Merlot Cabernet
We tasted the 2010 Chateau Lestevenie Merlot Cabernet again this week. Our view is that it is a very good wine with the depth and concentration that we appreciate in Bergerac wines.
The wine in progress tastings clearly benefit good wine making and we enjoyed the experience.
Armistice Day, 2013 with Les Anciens/ennes Combattants/es (Veterans)
On November 11, Armistice Day, we, like thousands of others across France stand solemnly in front of the War Memorial in our village. We listen to the comments of the mayor and other dignitaries as well as a representative of youth as they retell the dates of battles, of invasions and of the loss of youth during the two World Wars. At this ceremony, one of the British attendees reads the immortalized 1915 poem, ” In Flanders Field” written by the Canadian physician, Major John McCrae, 2nd in command 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. We recognize the words of the poem as they are read:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…….
Here, when the national anthems are played, the music starts with the British National Anthem, God Save the Queen and ends with the French National Anthem, the Marseillaise. Sadly, no-one sings the words now but I am sure many do so internally. I sing under my breath, feel a rush of emotion and a sudden clearing of the throat. Both British and French war veterans, les anciens/ennes combatants/tes, dignified with their medals, stand apart from the rest of us as an honoured group.
Everyone in attendance wears either the red poppy of the British Red Cross or the cornflower; Le Bleuet – since 1920 the official French symbol which recognizes those who died for France. Some people wear both. These two floral symbols originate from the First World War when the red poppies and blue cornflowers continued to grow on the northern French battlefields in land devastated by shell bombardments.
The Poppy and Le Bleuet – Remembrance Symbols
This year it was a cool, blue sky day and the national and regimental flags fluttered in the breeze. After about 40 minutes, the secular ceremony was over and the mayor invited all present to enjoy a Vin D’Honneur in the Salle Des Fetes – the social events room for the village.
This practice of a Vin D’Honneur always seems so civilized. We enter the Salle des Fêtes and see the mayor and councillors serving wine to the village community. It’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together and also talk to the mayor and councillors informally if they wish.
Wine and soft drinks are poured and this day the white wine is a 2011 Bergerac Sec Fleur de Cuvée Blanche from Chateau Les Plaguettes where Serge Gazziola, a well known wine maker in the area, is the proprietor. This is an award winning Sauvignon Blanc, pale yellow in colour, aromatic and very refreshing.
Wine is such a flexible beverage. It’s present at most events where people gather together whether to celebrate or commemorate, as on this occasion of Remembrance Day.
Chateau Les Plaguettes 2011 Fleur de Cuvée Blanche
Driving through the Dordogne on a sunny November day highlights the autumn colours of the vines: varying shades of gold, russet and brown which signal the twilight of the wine season for the year.
This day we are driving to Périgueux to attend a gathering of Confréries at the pâté de Périgueux competition.
The winter market in Périgueux November to March and the notice of the pâté competition
When we arrive the judges are busy tasting the pâtés and forming their opinions. Its tense work and important for the pâté makers of the area. The results are delivered at a ceremony in the market square later in the morning.
The serious business of judging pâtés in Périgueux
In the meantime, the Confréries, the local voluntary organizations with historic origins that promote the region and its gastronomic products such as wines, cheeses, pâtés, strawberries parade through the streets in the old town of Périgueux They are preceded by musicians and folk dancers who entertain people going about their regular shopping in the markets.
Folk dancing in Périgueux
After the results of the competition are announced in the market square there is a tasting of the pâtés accompanied by white wine. This is a 2012 Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts.
Chateau Court-Les-Mûts – the white wine served with the pâte
We know the red wines from this winemaker but aren’t so familiar with the whites. The fruit aromas of this lightly sweet wine make it an excellent complement to the pâtés.
After the ceremony in the square, we are fortunate to attend a lunch which highlights the gifts of the terrain including pâté, foie gras, mushrooms and truffles.
My favourite dish was the starter of Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce. The small amount of foie gras in the middle of the pâté was balanced by the pastry and the sauce.
Pâté de Périgueux en Croûte served warm with a truffle sauce
A late harvest Monbazillac wine was on offer. The late harvest wines are frequently paired with foie gras. However, this day we enjoyed the Pécharmant red wine: Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure, Jour de Fruit. A robust, full balanced wine it was a good counterpoint to the richness of the pâté and foie gras.
The Pécharmant AOC area is to the north east of Bergerac. It is a small area known for iron elements in the terrain. Only red wines are produced under this AOC. Predominantly Merlot with Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pécharmant AOC wines are known as robust, well structured and approachable.
This day in Périguex was a tremendous opportunity to participate in a very special French gastronomic event that gave great pleasure to everyone going about their Saturday shopping in this historic town.
Chateau Ladesvignes sits on a plateau high above the Dordogne Valley on the D7 road, the wine route between Pomport and Monbazillac and 10 to 15 minutes from the centre of Bergerac.
Chateau Ladesvignes and the view beyond
As we turn into the courtyard directly off the D7, the first thing we notice is the stone archway inscribed with the name Chateau Ladesvignes and the great cedar tree beyond. The tree is a natural magnet and we are soon standing beneath its outstretched limbs gazing at the panorama that unfolds beneath and beyond us of fields, farms, vines, cattle, hamlets, villages and the spires and rooftops of Bergerac. The tree stands above old fortified walls surrounding the property on one side and we discover that many of the winery buildings are probably 15th century; no one knows for sure. We linger a few minutes to take in the expansive view and breathe in the history of the place.
The view of the Dordogne Valley from beneath cedar tree at Chateau Ladesvignes
We’re here to meet Véronique Monbouché, wife and co-proprietor with her husband Michel. Mme. Monbouché tells us she and her husband acquired 35 hectares in 1989 and subsequently took over other family vineyards to farm the 60 hectares that they cultivate today. Being fourth generation winemakers, they hope their two children will carry on the family tradition one day.
Entering the wine tasting room, Mme. Monbouché guides us through a tasting of their wines. It’s a warm day and we particularly enjoy their everyday white Bergerac Blanc Sec. It is fresh, delicious, made mainly from Sauvignon Blanc grapes and is competitively priced. We enjoy the range of wines we taste and notice that many of them have won awards.
Tasting wine at Chateau Ladesvignes
Chateau Ladesvignes Bergerac Blanc Sec
I particularly appreciate their tri-fold brochure. For each of their wines there is a photograph of a bottle of the wine with a brief tasting description. Also included are recommendations for serving temperatures and wine ageing, as well as the prices and ordering details. The medals and awards are noted. The information is practical, helpful and easy to read. It is a well designed marketing tool.
We ask Mme. Monbouché about wine tourism at the Chateau and she disarmingly tells us that marketing is not their strong suit! Our impression is that the wine sells itself through quality and value.
Véronique Monbouché explains that the main market for their wines is France and especially the restaurants in Bergerac and the vicinity. Similar to the other wineries in the area, they sell their wines to Northern Europe, mainly Belgium, Holland and the United Kingdom. While we are there cases of wine are being loaded on a large truck for delivery to Belgium. Chateau Ladesvignes is represented in Québec where their award winning Monbazillac dessert wine is available.
Chateau Ladesvignes is a perfect place to visit if touring the Bergerac area. It is easy to locate off the main road to Marmande. In addition to the quality of the wines and the tasting experience, there is the added bonus of the panoramic view of Bergerac and the Dordogne Valley from the shade of the grand old cedar tree.
The physical approach to the wineries we visit usually gives us a clue to the nature of our impending experience. It’s like opening a book, reading the first page and forming an opinion as to whether this is a story we will enjoy. We had no doubts we would enjoy our visit as we approached Chateau Tour des Gendres.
The route gives us the first clue: the road there is off the beaten track, an upside-down sign points the way through the treed and hedgerow lanes and a narrow driveway between farm buildings beckons us as though through an archway to the winery which opens up before us. As we drive into the winery courtyard through this narrow entrance we feel a great sense of calm and tranquility in this magic circle of house, chai, tasting room and offices, tucked away in the countryside. If a unicorn had suddenly appeared it would not have come as a surprise!
The charm of Chateau Tour des Gendres
Chateau Tour des Gendres is owned by the de Conti family, two brothers, a cousin and their wives, and has been in operation at three different family properties from 1981. Yet wine has been made on this land for at least 800 years. Luc de Conti, the wine maker and a co-proprietor, greeted us warmly and immediately invited us to walk among the vines. As he says, the vines are the heart of their operation. Monsieur de Conti is articulate and passionate about his vines and generous in the time he spent with us. Influential in the Bergerac wine region, he is a past President of the Syndicat des Vins in Bergerac. As we stood among the neat rows of vines, Luc explained the Chateau Tour des Gendres farming and winemaking ethos which is to work in harmony with nature.
Rows of vines at Chateau Tour des Gendres where organic practices are followed
Demonstrating vine management at Chateau Tour des Gendres
Tour des Gendres is an organic winery operation and was certified “Bio” by AGROCERT (Agricultural Products Certification) in 2005. The decision to pursue the organic route to wine making is health related and started in 1994. Luc explained they do not use any chemicals in the vineyard. They use very small amounts of the substances, such as sulphites, which are allowed under the organic wine making regulations. Luc and his team prefer to use emulsions in the vineyard made from plants such as nettles, horsetail and heather. Luc described how birds from the neighbouring oak forests are also part of their arsenal against certain insects in the vineyard. He showed us how the vines are pruned to limit the number of buds and hence manage the yield per vine to support the high quality of their wines.
After time among the vines, Luc invited us to the tasting room to sample the Tour des Gendres Appellation D’Origine Controlée (AOC) Bergerac wines. We tasted 7 wines in total: 4 white wines and 3 reds. The wines are blended from their own grapes in accordance with the AOC guidelines. Luc also makes a couple of single varietal wines: a cabernet sauvignon and a muscadelle. Since these two wines do not conform to the AOC guidelines, he bottles these in the distinctive sloping shoulder Burgundy style bottles to differentiate them from the AOC Bergerac wines.
Chateau Tour des Gendres – Tasting Room
Always interested in the marketing of wines, we asked about the market for the Tour des Gendres wines. As we have heard in other wineries, Holland and Belgium are key markets. Interestingly, Québec represents a significant overseas market for their wines and three of them are listed on the Société Alcohol Québec (SAQ) website: Cuvée des Conti (white), Gloire de Mon Père (red) and Moulin des Dames (white). The Cuvée des Conti white wine is particularly popular in Québec where the predominantly Semillon blend of this wine (Semillon 70%, Sauvignon Blanc(20%, Muscadelle 10%) is favoured to accompany food.
Tasting the Cuvée des Conti at Chateau Tour des Gendres
The main white wine grape varieties grown in SW France are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. These are the significant varieties permitted in AOC Bergerac Sec wines and the AOC wines must be blended from at least two of the permitted grape varieties. What creates the subtleties and differences in the wines are the varying percentages of grape varieties used by wine makers. These might further vary year by year depending upon weather, geology, harvest conditions and other ‘terroir’ elements.
In this tasting, we particularly paid attention to the discernable difference that a shift in varietal percentages in this classic Bergerac white wine can make. A Sauvigon Blanc focus may provide more of a sipping wine or a Vin de Plaisir. Whereas the Semillon focus of the Cuvée des Conti gives the wine a combination of a honeyed texture and complex flavours and this is what supports its suitability to accompany food as opposed to being a sipping wine.
We experienced an illustrative food pairing first hand a few days later when we had lunch at the Restaurant Chez Alain in the historic market village of Issigeac following a visit to Issigeac’s popular Sunday morning market. The Cuvée des Conti is on the Restaurant Chez Alain wine list. We selected it to accompany a chicken dish and were immediate converts to this Semillon style of Bergerac white wine with food.
Enjoying the Cuvée des Conti at Restaurant Chez Alain in Issigeac
Not only is Luc de Conti a good teacher about wines and wine making, he is also whole-heartedly committed to natural wine making methods. The excellent range of Tour des Gendres wines live up to the family’s vision of wine making on three distinct geological properties in a style that exemplifies fruit, balance, strength and freshness. The press reviews and awards consistently recognize the quality of the de Conti wines and Luc de Conti’s wine making skills which were acknowledged by his nomination as Wine Maker of the Year in the region in 2012.
As our visit to Chateau Tour des Gendres drew to a close, we thanked Luc de Conti for his time and kindness in explaining so much to us and promised to return. We drove away reflecting upon the new insights about winemaking gained from our experience in this tranquil place.
The tall and imposing Tasting Room is the first thing we noticed as we drove along the high plateau driveway to Vignobles des Verdots in the community of Conne de Labarde, south east of Bergerac and not far from the Bergerac Regional Airport. The building is contemporary yet monumental in style and makes a bold statement of optimism and confidence that mirrors the same characteristics of wine-maker and proprietor David Fourtout, named Winemaker of the Year 2012 in the Bergerac Wine Region.
Tasting Room and cellars: Vignobles des Verdots
As we made our introductions and agreed in which language we would conduct our conversation and tour (English this time), we were conscious that the forecourt of Vignobles des Verdots was a hive of activity. A large truck arrived to pick up cases of wine and deliver them in Belgium, a couple drove up in their estate car to collect wine to drive home to the Netherlands and so it went on. This led to a discussion about the markets for the Verdots wine and David said that they sell their wine in 20 countries: 50% is sold in France and 50% is sold internationally with Belgium, Holland and Germany being key markets as well as the Scandinavian countries. We asked about sales to Canada: Vignobles des Verdots is sold in Quebec through SAQ, the Quebec Liquor Control Board; the buyers for the Ontario Liquor Control Board had visited the day before but sadly it has been a long time since any wine has been sold in British Columbia.
David started our tour in the cellars beneath the Tasting Room and we descended to the large, cavernous area to see where the wines are aged in oak barrels. This cellar has exposure to the surrounding limestone rock through large openings that have been cut into the concrete on all sides of the cellar. The openings in the wall are backlit and the rock surface is both visible and touchable. There is also a large opening cut into the floor, covered by a metal grid, showing the underground Verdots stream that continues on under the vineyard and nourishes the vines. The water is crystal clear and fast flowing over yellow-gold sand. We had an immediate sensation of being part of the earth, rock and ‘terroir’ of the place.
Cellar at Vignobles des Verdots
Cutaway in cellar floor to show underground stream at Vignobles des Verdots
We then had a tour of the winery or ‘Chai’ and were shown the investments that the Fourtout family has made in the purchase of various winemaking equipment as part of a process of continuous quality improvement. These investments are in addition to the recent construction of the Tasting Room and cellars.
David Fourtout talked to us about his philosophy and approach to winemaking. He practices organic styles of winemaking. He prefers to remain flexible in his approach and use interventions according to the needs of the vines. Similar to the message we have heard in other wineries in the area, David emphasized that the use of sulphites, a natural wine preservative, has been much reduced at Vignobles des Verdots.
Geologically and climatically, the area is simllar to Saint Emilion with respect to the soil but has more of a continental climate with colder weather in winter, hotter weather in the summer but less rain.
We are always interested in the marketing and promotion of wines and found that David Fourtout is committed to these functions and, with others, takes a leadership role in the advancement of the Bergerac wines. He is currently leading a committee in the Bergerac Wine Region to look at the promotion of their wines including recommending changes to the appellation controlee regulations. There is an initiative to advocate changing the name of the Cotes de Bergerac appellation to Grand Cru de Bergerac to be reflective of the quality of these levels of wines. It will be interesting to follow this and see what unfolds.
There is a virtuous circle of wine tourism practised at Vignobles des Verdots: from the five euro summer vineyard brunches and the significant farm gate wine sales in July and August to the B & B accommodation in one of the towers of the Tasting Room, there is a lot of promotional activity. All the family gets involved: his wife and his parents who also live on the property help out with the Tasting Room activity. His Father was the power behind the Tasting Room construction.
Talking about the Tasting Room…. we had a comprehensive tasting of the suite of Verdots wines. They make wines under 6 different appellations: AOC Cotes de Bergerac Rouge and AOC Bergerac Rouge, AOC Bergerac Rosé, AOC Bergerac Blanc Sec, AOC Sweet Cotes de Bergerac and AOC Monbazillac. These are blended wines from the estate and the red wines consist of predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; the whites are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle; the sweet whites are from Semillon and Muscadelle; the Rosé is made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon by ‘bleeding’ off the juice during the fermentation process; and finally, the Monbazillac or liquoreux wine is made by blending Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that have been hand picked taking only those grapes which have been affected by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea also known as Noble Rot. The different wines together with tasting notes are well documented on the informative Vignobles des Verdots website noted below.
Tasting room at Vignobles des Verdots
In addition to making wine according to 6 appellations, the Verdots wines are made in 4 different levels: Clos des Verdots, Chateau Les Tours des Verdots, Grand Vins les Verdots and Le Vin Selon David Fourtout. All the wines are of a high quality. For Canadian readers, the Chateau les Tours des Verdots Blanc is available through the Quebec liquor stores.
For us, the Grand Vin “Les Verdots Selon David Fourtout” was the most delicious: balanced, complex, textured and fruit forward. It has all the flavours and depth we enjoy in a Bergerac style red which, dare we say it, seems to us to be of similar quality and style but better value than its Bordeaux cousins.
Grand Vin les Verdots by David Fourtout, owner and wine-maker
As we prepared to leave and say our goodbyes and thanks for an interesting and informative visit, several people arrived all at once to taste wines. David called over to his Mother to come and help. At its heart, this is still a family farm growing grapes and making wine over four generations with its focus firmly on the future.
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
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
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
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 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)
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.
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