by Martin Walker
We are fortunate in the Bergerac that our local wines are not well known in the international market. That means more is available for us and the prices we pay in this region are significantly lower than those for the better-known wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
But it is sad for our local winemakers who deserve to be far better and more widely known. It is not an easy life with a great deal of hard work, steep labour costs and they are constantly at the mercy of variable weather.
Although we would all hate to see Bergerac becoming fashionable in China, with prices shooting up and château after château being bought by investors from Shanghai (which has happened in Bordeaux, with less than happy results), our Bergerac vignerons deserve to have access to wider markets.
I travel a great deal, for pleasure and for book tours, and I always look out for Bergerac wines in foreign countries. In Britain I can find the outstanding local wines like Château Tiregand at some specialist wine shops, like Spirited Wines on the Fulham Road in London. And since Muriel Chatel was born and raised in the Bergerac, her Borough Wines chain in London offers a lovely white from La Tour des Vents.
In the chain stores I can find Bergerac wine at Majestic, usually Clos d’Yvigne. Waitrose sells a generic wine called La Chandelle, a red made from Merlot grapes and a white from Sauvignon Blanc. Both are very pleasant wines and good value. Sainsbury offers a Grande Réserve Bergerac white for a very reasonable GBP 5.50, made from a highly agreeable Sémillon-Sauvignon blend.
Marks and Spencer is the outstanding exception. They sell the splendid Château de la Jaubertie white wine for ten quid a bottle, the delightful Primo de Conti and Clos d’Yvigne and Château Mayne de Beauregard for a little more. (There is usually a discount of 20% when you buy a case of twelve bottles). Unless I’m driving back to Britain with wine in the boot, it’s M&S I visit to feed my Bergerac addiction.
Château Feely in Saussignac also has a Europe-wide delivery service. Now that the wines of Duras are linked to Bergerac, the Château du Grand Mayne deserves a mention not for its very good wines but for its marketing, with deliveries to the UK and their arrangement with Franglais wine store in Calais for people to order in advance and pick up cases before crossing to Britain.
But Bergerac is hardly well known in the British market, where it is overwhelmed by the well-organised marketing of Australian, South African and South American producers. One major reason for this is that the big supermarkets tend to buy in large quantities (and to drive a very hard bargain on price) and very few Bergerac vineyards can supply thousands of bottles while also serving their traditional customers in France.
In the US, I have found only Château Bélingard at the nationwide Total wine chain, and it is only available in a handful of stores. Trader Joe’s, a chain of up-market food and wine, stocks no Bergerac. My favourite wine store in Washington, where we lived for many years, Calvert and Woodley, stocks the excellent Montravel, Château Puy Servain, for just under $10. It is also stocked by the splendid Wine House of San Francisco.
Puy Servain is owned by Daniel Hecquet, a tireless marketer of his own wines who visits Hong Kong and China every year and has built a decent trade there. And when the travelling Lascaux cave exhibition was launched in Chicago three years ago, his very special wine, named Sorge, was served at the celebration dinner. He only makes it in years of particularly fine vintages.
In Germany, thanks to the tireless efforts and annual sales trips of the owner, Jean-Marie Huré, you can find Château Tourmentine in several specialist wine stores. It is the wine that German bookstores usually serve when I do readings. And I always enjoy doing a reading at the excellent Topaz restaurant in Bremen. The owner, Catherine Holle, has a house near Bergerac and knows the wines of the region very well indeed. Her wine list is a treasure.
In short, it is usually the personal connections and drive of individual vineyards that count, reinforced by the hard work of the team at Vins de Bergerac who do their best with a budget that’s just a fraction of the 12 million euros budget that Australian wine spent on marketing in 2013.
We produce around 400,000 hectolitres of wine in the Bergerac each year, which is more than fifty million bottles. I suppose we could drink it all ourselves but it would be good for everyone if we could share it more widely.
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 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.