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.
Serge is a compact, well-dressed man with grey hair, a twinkling smile and an air of calm efficiency. And he is not just a remarkable wine-maker but also a gifted businessman. From that start in the red 2CV on the road to Dusseldorf, he has built up over the past four decades a small empire, Vignobles Famille Dubard, which now sells around a million bottles a year. It boasts vineyards in the Côtes de Bordeaux, in Lalande de Pomerol and in St Emilion as well as the original Château Laulerie.
It was a bottle of the Château Laulerie Merlot that first interested me in the Dubard wines, and I noted that they won a gold medal at the big Paris concours last year. Then a good friend whose opinions I respect advised me to try their Pécharmant which while very good was hard to find. It was not available at my customary Julien de Savignac in Le Bugue but it is sold from Chai Papin in Sarlat and from the roadside cave by the roundabout between Creysse and Bergerac.
Best, of course, is to visit the vineyard. The name is odd and baffles Serge. Literally it means something like the hill of stuffings. Its fifteen hectares of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are planted with 5,000 vines per hectare. The vineyard stands in a wooded park on the lower slope of the Pécharmant ridge where it runs down into the north-eastern suburbs of Bergerac. It is odd to stand outside the tasting room, enjoying the look of the park and not see another house and yet you are just a mile from the heart of Bergerac. Indeed, it is so close to town that the directions we were given told us to turn at the big Leclerc supermarket.
Beside the chai and tasting room is a handsome old manor house, which is run as a well-furnished gîte and B & B. TripAdvsior lists it as a ‘Best of Dordogne’ and the Daily Telegraph named it one of the best wine-tourism spots in France.
Each of the four varieties of grape Serge grows go into his Pécharmant in equal proportions, which I think is unique. He uses inox (aluminium) vats for his white and rosé wines but prefers cement for his reds, although the cleaning is more difficult. Then the red wines go into oak barrels for twelve months. The 2016 spent eighteen months in oak, which means it will be drinking at its best after three years rather than the usual five years.
It is a very good wine indeed at 10 euros fifty a bottle. But then we tasted his Elixir, the top of the range which he makes only in special years. The 2015, at just under 19 euros is exceptional, velvety and profound but also somehow friendly and cheerful with a charming touch of sweetness in the aftertaste. The Malbec makes it very dark in colour but the first impression on the nose is the cherry and blackberry of the Merlot. The two Cabernets give the wine a lovely, sinewy structure in the mouth.
Like all the wonderful Pécharmant wines, there is a mineral touch to the wine that comes from the region’s unique subterranean layer of tran, a clay rich in ferrous oxide (or iron). And remember that in the first classification of French wines, from 1816, Pécharmant was ranked alongside the Latours and Lafites of Pauillac as one of the great wines of France.
We drank the Elixir with a boeuf Périgourdin (think bourguignon but with Bergerac wine instead of Burgundy) that had been cooking very slowly over three days and served with new potatoes. The Pécharmant was a perfect accompaniment and went well with the cheese that followed. It would go splendidly with all red meats, game or duck and I’ll be getting some more for the wild boar and venison when the hunting season starts in autumn. Serge is so proud of his Elixir that he rang us a few days later to ask how we’d enjoyed it. Sensational, we told him.
I’ll also be visiting Château Laulerie this summer to make a thorough exploration of their wines and I’m intrigued by the Lalande de Pomerol. But sad to relate, Serge is cutting down on his work as he approaches the age of seventy and Les Farcies du Pech, manor house, vineyard, park, chai and all is up for sale, priced at 2.3 million euros.
Serge hopes that he might arrange to stay on as winemaker for a few more years but the lesson is to follow our example and buy his wines while stocks last.
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.