by Martin Walker
The winemakers of Bergerac have some wonderful plans for this summer, so snip this article out of the paper, stick it on the fridge door and prepare to sip, taste, buy and realise just how much fun can be had while learning more about the wines that provide the best quality for the price in France.
On May 31 and June 1 is the Vinata, a two-day festival of wine and music in Bergerac itself. Because the Maison des Vins, the headquarters of Bergerac wine, is under renovation, the event will be centred at the place Barbacane on the southern side of the old bridge and will kick off at 11 am with tastings and a gourmet market, musical parades and a concert in the evenings.
On 7-8 June is the La Claque Festival at Château Monplaisir, overlapping the annual ‘folie’ of the village of Monbazillac itself, with tastings of the classic sweet dessert wines along with a food market, music and wines by the glass. There will be lots of dry whites and plain red Bergerac wine, too.
On June 9, I’ll be in Monbazillac, where the annual fete looks like being really special this year, without even counting the usual concert, ball and fireworks in the Château Monbazillac courtyard. During the day, they will be offering Monba Plage, a space to explore inventive cocktails based on Monbazillac wines. Next door you will find Tradi-Zillac, where there will be the more traditional cheese and foie gras to go with the wine. And most intriguing of all will be Monb’Asie’Ac, or Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese food designed to accompany the wine.
Things really get going in July, with Saussignac en fête on 5-6th, and on the 6-7th is ‘Summer in the Montravel’ at the Château de Montaigne, which is also an opportunity to visit the austere study of the great essayist on the Périgord, a man whose writings Shakespeare read. Don’t miss the brass band ‘In Vino Veritas’ on the Sunday evening.
It’s not widely known but Montaigne spent some time as a prisoner in the Bastille, when the Catholic League arrested him during the Wars of Religion on suspicion of being an agent for his Protestant friend Henri of Navarre. He went on to become King Henri IV, and famously said ‘Paris is worth a mass’ as he ended the religious wars and introduced religious tolerance with the Edict of Nantes.
Montaigne was finally released from the Bastille after the intervention of Queen Catherine de Medici, and returned to his solace amid his books and his wines in the Montravel. He’s a personal icon of mine for his wisdom about many things, but in particular about wine. He told us that we have to drink ordinary wines because otherwise we’ll never appreciate the great ones. And he also observed, “You don’t drink wine, you kiss it and it gives you back a caress.”
On August 3, the Vins de Bergerac as a whole are en fête at the port of Bergerac (from 18h), a chance to taste your way through the extraordinary range of wines. Bear in mind that for a relatively small area, the Bergerac is unique in the range of 13 appellations of different types of wines on offer. There is the lordly Pécharmant, the velvety Montravel, the dessert wines of Monbazillac and Saussignac, the lovely summer apéritif wines of the Rosette, and the various reds and whites of the Bergerac and the Côtes de Bergerac.
There are wonderful evenings planned on July 18, 31, and August 1, 14, 15 and 28 and 29 at Château Lestevenie, one of my favourites, where Humphrey and Sue Temperley organise pop-up restaurant dinners overlooking one of the best views in the region. I went last year and the food is terrific. Dinner is 30 euros per head, and you buy wine at the usual bargain prices. Reservations are strongly advised (www.chateau-lestevenie.com).
Two of the best-known summer events are: the Casse-croute in the vineyard at David Fourtout’s Les Verdots, every Tuesday and Friday at 11 am for 6 euros; and at Château Bélingard on July 11 and 25, and August 8 and 22, the famous evening apéros, just 9 euros for a healthy plateful. Reservations required via their websites.
On August 11, head for the Château de Duras in the valley of the Dropt where the wines of Duras are en fête, 150 different wines being offered, along with food stalls and a really spectacular light show inside the château courtyard. And on August 17, it’s Rosette Night at the port of Bergerac, a chance to sample the handful of vineyards who have lately revived this traditional and slightly sweet white wine.
On September 6 is the highlight wine event of the year, at one of my favourite vineyards – the grand annual jazz concert at Château de Tiregand in Pécharmant, with one of the best choices of food you will find at such events. The wine is the pride of Bergerac and speaks for itself, the jazz is great and the château grounds a lovely place to spend the evening.
One final recommendation, although it’s not in the vineyards. Every Monday evening from July 15 to August 19, the Jardins d’Eyrignac, just east of Sarlat, are holding their white picnics. Dress in white, enjoy the most magical gardens, the cocktail bar, the music and dancing and the fireworks. It is an evening to remember.
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.