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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The Wines of Bergerac – Describing a taste

by Martin Walker

One of the biggest problems with wine is people like me who try to write about it. Almost anything to do with the human senses is very difficult to put into words. How do you define the delicacy of a mother’s touch, the intimacy of a lover’s caress, or the kindness of a stranger’s helping hand?

And wine affects so many different senses which interact with one another. Obviously wine affects most our sense of smell and taste. But it also involves our sight. If you doubt this, there is an interesting experiment: see how often you can tell the difference between a red, white or rose wine once you are blindfolded. The colour of a wine in a glass, whether pale or golden, light red or deep burgundy, subtly affects our expectation of its taste.

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The Wines of Bergerac – What’s in a grape?

by Martin Walker

A reader of this column recently sent a message to the website for my novels,, to ask if I could offer a simple guide to the different kinds of grape that are used in the Bergerac. So here goes.

Almost all Bordeaux and Bergerac red wines are based on a blend of two grapes, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sometimes different winemakers will add some Cabernet Franc or some Malbec, which is known locally as côt. This is a very old grape, served at the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, and it is the basis of the dark red wines of Cahors.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Organic wines

by Martin Walker

This is a nervous time for winemakers, scanning the skies and weather forecasts for these last weeks before the harvest. After a very wet May and June and a hot, dry summer they now hope for some late decent rains before dry weather for picking the grapes. Above all they pray for none of the hail storms that can devastate an entire vineyard in minutes. It is always a gamble, to pick a little early and avoid the risk of hail, or to hang on for those extra few days for the full ripening.

But many of them in the Bergerac will be facing another dilemma, whether or not to join the growing local trend towards organic wines. There are now more than 2,000 organic vineyards in the world and over 900 are in France, but that still accounts for only four in every hundred French vineyards. Along with Alsace, the Bergerac has the most of all the French regions and more and more of our local winemakers see it as a useful and beneficial way of making the Bergerac distinct.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Night markets

by Martin Walker

The night markets of the Dordogne region began around a decade ago and have become highly popular and an instant tradition. They also offer an opportunity to explore the region and to discover a whole variety of lesser-known local wines. What’s more, the food and the music can be terrific.

The first of these evening markets took place in the hilltop village of Audrix, between Le Bugue and St-Cyprien, in the shadow of the 12th century church. Initially, only people from the local commune and their relatives were supposed to set up stalls to offer their food and drink. The event was so intimate that the village mayor would cook omelettes on a portable gas stove and if they ran out of chairs, you nipped into the church and borrowed theirs.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Creating mixers

by Martin Walker

This is the time of year to enjoy something cool and refreshing in the open air. But it’s also a time to be judicious in your drinking. Summer in the Périgord is warm and the temptation to drink simply because you are thirsty can be hard to resist. And particularly if you or your guests are driving, that can become tricky.

The solution is to mix your drinks. For our family, this is the time when we tend to drink spritzers, white or rosé wine mixed with fizzy water or ginger ale, or sparkling wine mixed with fruit juice. Orange juice is always popular, but after many experiments, we enjoy it with apple juice, mango juice and in one inspired moment rhubarb juice which adds a very refreshing tang.

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The Wines of Bergerac – 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.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Pairing wine with Spring lamb

by Martin Walker

Spring is here and that means lamb with tender new vegetables, a meal that deserves a fine wine to accompany and enhance the food. But if like me and most other Brits you were brought up with the classic Sunday lunch of a leg of lamb with mint sauce, of chopped mint leaves mixed with sugar and malt vinegar, you might have trouble finding the right wine.

But there is a solution. Caro and Sean Feely of Terroir Feely in Saussignac make a magnificent red wine called Grace (around 17 euros at the vineyard) which I find has just the merest suspicion of mint along with the more typical flavours of spices and pepper. And it goes very well with lamb, British-style.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Marketing Bergerac wines abroad

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.

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