When it’s OK to drink from the bowl

by Steve Martindale

Every region of France has its local customs and the Dordogne is no exception. One you may have seen out and about, and which some say is the reason behind the impressive longevity of the area’s inhabitants, is to pour a splash of red wine into your empty soup bowl before picking it up, swilling it around and draining the contents, or more concisely, faire chabrol.

The tradition originates in this department, and although your grandmother may have always told you never to drink from the bowl, the opposite is the case with this old ritual. Whilst some say chabrol and others chabrot, most agree that the expression means “boire comme une chabrette” – to drink like a goat.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Atmospherics and alcohol

by Martin Walker

The more we learn about the 2018 vintage, the more extraordinary it appears. The wet spring and early summer, with constant threats of mildew, was a real challenge not just for the eventual harvest but above all for the growing trend towards organic wines.

Wet weather means mildew and there are two main ways to tackle it. The first and most common is to spray with copper sulphate, but use too much and the vineyard can lose its organic certification. The other solution is to trim the young leaves, which are most vulnerable to mildew. On a small vineyard, this is possible but very labour-intensive. On larger ones it is almost impossible.

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The Wines of Bergerac – The challenges of the 2018 vintage

by Martin Walker

This has been a strange year for the climate in the Bergerac wine region. The prolonged rains throughout the spring gave way to an unusually long summer marked by intense heat. At times, it felt almost as bad as the notorious canicule year of 2003, followed by the delightful Indian summer that stretched on well into October.

One of my neighbours, the son of a peasant, likes to quote the old adage – année de foin, année de rien. It means that a year that gives an abundant harvest of hay will produce little else and this was a very good year for hay. For most of my acquaintances, it was also a disappointing year for vegetables, particularly tomatoes.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Grape varieties – the more the merrier?

by Martin Walker

The Bergerac wine region is currently being rocked and increasingly transformed by three separate revolutions. The first is the steady shift towards organic wines. The second is the quiet rebellion against the strictures of the appellation contrôlée system which regulate the varieties of grapes permitted. The third is climate change, which is accelerating the first two movements.

The experts at the Maison des Vins in Bergerac reckon that their region has now nosed ahead of Alsace as the most organic region in France, and the Saussignac district is poised to be the first all-organic appellation in the country. But there is a catch. Organic does not quite mean what it says. Under European Union rules, wines can be described as being made from organic grapes, which means grown without chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Climate change

by Martin Walker

Donald Trump may no longer believe in climate change but after this long, hot summer, I suspect that most of us in this part of the world are now convinced that it’s really happening, even if we differ on the degree to which human activity is responsible. After all, anyone who visits Lascaux and the other painted caves knows that this region went through dramatic climate swings ten and twenty thousand years ago.

But more and more, I hear from winemakers in the Bergerac that they are worried what this means for them. Most of the concerns focus on the future viability of Merlot, an iconic grape in the Bergerac and in the Bordeaux region. All wines in these two appellations are required to include Merlot. Château Pétrus in the Pomerol, one of the great wines, is made entirely from this grape.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Blending tradition with innovation

by Martin Walker

With spectacular views across the Dordogne valley, the vineyard of Moulin Caresse is worth a visit even without the very fine wine that the Deffarge family has been making there since 1749. And the wines are classic examples of Montravel which means they are about as close as you can get to drinking Saint-Émilion while remaining within the appellation of the Bergerac region. Although Saint-Émilion is 20 kilometres away, the terroir is identical.

The vineyard’s name, according to the châtelaine Sylvie Deffarge, comes from the local windmill and the way the west wind from the Bay of Biscay caresses the moulin as it blows across this plateau, perched some eighty metres above the valley below.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Clos du Breil

by Martin Walker

Yann Vergniaud’s blue eyes blaze fiercely as he pounds a fist into his other hand and declares: “I keep on saying that we have to stop whipping ourselves in the Bergerac and whining that we’re the poor cousins of Bordeaux. We can make great wines here and we need to believe in ourselves and our potential.”

It is striking to come across such spirit and self-confidence, above all in a young man who is one of the most adventurous and innovative winemakers in the Bergerac. He is also one of those most attuned to the impact of climate change and the need of the vineyards to adapt to what is becoming a dryer climate with grim implications for Merlot, traditionally one of the main grapes of the region.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Rosette

by Martin Walker

These long summer evenings are just right for a drink you’ll find only in the Bergerac. It almost died out but it’s making a comeback. Welcome to the Rosette revolution.

Ask most people in the wine business about Rosette and they’ll assume you’re talking about one of the American-European hybrid grape varieties that Albert Seibel developed in the late 19th century to save the French wine industry from the scourge of phylloxera. Seibel, trained as a physician, grafted European grape varieties onto the stems of American grapes that had a natural resistance.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Summer markets and fetes

by Martin Walker

The winemakers of Bergerac are determined that we shall all have an enjoyable summer, with a huge range of fun activities on offer. So feel free to stick this column onto the fridge door and get ready to party.

22 June at Château Court les Mûts, at Razac-de-Saussignac, dinner, wine and music from Les Tire-Bouchons quartet, composed of two guitars, sax and double bass. A farmers’ market opens to buy food at 7 pm, with wine-tasting at 8 pm and the music starts at 9 pm. This is your chance to try their wine called Mains et Pieds, one of the very few these days whose grapes have been trodden by human feet.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Vignobles Dubard

by Martin Walker

Back in 1977, a young graduate from the Bordeaux wine school climbed into his red deux-chevaux with some samples of his wine in the back and drove the 1,100 kilometres to Dusseldorf. He was heading for Jack’s Wine Depot, then as now one of the biggest wine outlets in Germany. Armed with some of his bottles of Château Laulerie from Montravel and a corkscrew, he talked his way inside, offered a tasting and left some hours later with a contract for his entire production.

“It was a wonderful moment that propelled us at once into new hopes, new possibilities, the chance to finance our future,” Serge Dubard says in the tasting room of Château les Farcies du Pech, the excellent Pécharmant he makes at his vineyard just outside Bergerac.

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