Bergerac and St Emilion- Easter 2008

When the 29 members and partners arrived at the attractive Manoir du Grand Vignoble just outside Bergerac it seemed as if our gods, Jupiter Pluvius and Bacchus (or should it have been St Médard and St. Vincent of Saragossa?) had once again smiled upon us. The sun was shining and the wine was good. For the aperitif reception instead of the customary fizz the local semi-sweet wine, Rosette, was served; a wine new to most. The very good regional dinner was accompanied by wines from various Bergerac appellations – St Emilion could wait!

Then came morning. Jupiter Pluvius and St Médard had deserted us. The weather was foul. Would the guardians of wine, Bacchus and the good St. Vincent still be with us?

We found out after the journey to Le Clos d’Yvigne, the domaine of the remarkable Patricia Atkinson, an Englishwoman who, with her husband, set out to “live the dream” in a tumbledown property in the early 90s. After a short time her husband became ill and returned to the. UK. Speaking no French and knowing nothing about wine she set about earning a living from her four and a half hectares of vines. When her French neighbours saw her willingness to work hard – driving the tractor, pruning the vines etc. – they pitched in with advice and help. In spite of her first red wine turning to vinegar she persevered to become one of the most respected winemakers in the area, with a greatly enlarged property as well as two very good gites. The full range of her wines were appreciated - especially the Saussignac. We drove off through the rain to Ste. Foy-la-Grande for lunch and then to Le Moulin Caresse  in the Montravel appellation. Perhaps because of the weather, or perhaps because of the contrast with Patricia Atkinson some people were less impressed by the wines which were greatly liked by others.

The next day was equally rainy. The journey to St Emilion was long, and some confusion over which Chateau Corbin we were heading for made it seem longer but the journey was worth it. Annabel Cruse-Bardinet has transformed a run down Chateau. Vineyard and winery into one of the better Grand Cru Classés of St. Emilion .With vineyards in close proximity to Cheval Blanc and less than a mile from Petrus she has the terroir. She also has the skill and determination to make fine wine. There were few vintages to taste but what there were were excellent. Her second wine XX (vingt , a pun on vin) was better than many first wines. Lunchtime in St Emilion was just that. The weather did not encourage exploration of this World Heritage Site so it was off to Chateau Fonroque, a biodynamic domaine making slightly more austere wine but with a purity and typicity which emphasises the value of their methods. The visit was conducted by the charming and knowledgeable Caroline Gardais.

To end a busy day there was a double visit to two wineries belonging to the Capdemourlin family- Château Capdemourlin and Chateau Balestard la Tonnelle. Thierry Capdemourlin – elegant, flamboyant, enthusiastic about both the wines and what he has done to beautify the Balestard la Tonnelle property- he was rightly proud of the wines and the centuries that it had been made by his family. Exhausted a drive through the rain back to the Manoir.

Friday – more rain. A short journey to Chateau Terre Vieille in the Pecharmant Appellation. Unfortunately the affable monsieur Morand-Monteil was at a wine fair near Paris, but his wife, Dolores conducted the tasting and the visit. The winery is some distance from the tasting room and we had hoped to walk through the vines to the tasting but it was much too wet so our admirable and patient driver David, drove us round. Vines have been grown on the site for at least a thousand years and in the tasting room there are display cases of hundreds of prehistoric tools, arrowheads and axeheads which have been unearthed in the vineyard. Pecharmant is a tough wine, made for long keeping. We tasted a range of vintages and a large amount was bought. Bergerac for lunch and sightseeing.

Once more the weather was more appropriate for the former than for the latter but there was a chance to see parts of the attractive old town. It was to be another busy afternoon and the first stop was at the Domaine de Coutancie, a few miles outside the town. While making Bergerac Rouge and a sparkling wine Nicole Maury’s pride and joy is her Rosette. The appellation was dying (there is not much more than a handful of producers) but thanks to the efforts of madame Maury’s late father and particularly of Nicole herself here has been a revival which continued. In spite of the rain we were made most welcome. We were shown the splendid, if rather rain-soaked view and then taken to a larege barn-like room at the side of the Chai for the tasting. Nicole’s mother had made Foie Gras “toasts” and a special cake to go with the Rosette and there was a party-like atmosphere until the group left for the final visit of the day to Château les Marnières at St Nexans. Christophe Geneste makes a full range of Bergerac and Côtes de Bergerac and most especially some excellent Monbazillac. Although he has perfectly serviceable English he had recruited his brother in law, a vegetable farmer to assist with the tasting, which was held at the edge of the winery, with the rain whipping through the open doors. Nevertheless the wines were appreciated and many a case found its way to the bus.

Saturday and the gods smile on us through the early morning mist on the hotel’s lake and later the through bright sunshine over the Dordogne as we crossed it on the way to the Château de Belingard, a large, elegant property at Pomport. We were greeted by the effervescent and humorous Sylvie, wife of the proprietor Comte Laurent de Bosredon. The Count had been in England on wine business so it was left to Sylvie to relate the history of Belingard (Celtic for “Garden of the Gods”). There is even an ancient Celtic stone sacrificial chair which was unearthed in the grounds. She pointed out the nearby hill which was the site of the first battle of the Hundred Years War and was a fount of historical and apocryphal information. In a cloud of dust and a Mercedes Monsieur le Comte arrived to take over the visit with wit, charm and enthusiasm, giving a master-class in the art of wine-making. The tasting ,too, was memorable, not only for the wines but the way it was laid out around the large tasting room, each person with his or her own crachoure, two glasses which were charged by an assistant while the Bosredons introduced the wines. These included a variety of Bergeracs, some superb Monbazillac and the unique Lyvresse – a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc fermented to dry. The sun continued to shine and it was a happy return to St Julien-de-Crempse.

It has become a tradition that these tours end with a special meal on the last evening. This year it was at the superb Tour des Vents at the Moulin de Malfourat, high above the valley with spectacular viewsin all directions.. The dinner prepare by chef-patronne Marie Rougier was on of the best we have had in the ten years of DWS touring.

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