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.

Not far from her vineyard at Gageac-et-Rouillac near Saussignac is Château K, where the Norwegian Katharina Mowinckel may have given up her dream of becoming a world-class horsewoman, but now makes first-rate organic wines. The original name of the château was Fougueyrat, but knowing that Scandinavia would be an important market, she decided that Château K would be easier to pronounce. And the Château K wines she makes are very good indeed, as you might expect from this lovely corner of the Bergerac. Her cheaper wines, called simply K, are also good value.

My friend Sylvie Chevallier produces lovely wines at Les Hauts de Caillevel, prize-winning Monbazillacs, charming wines and very serious red wines indeed. I was honoured to be on a jury where we were able to recognise the quality of her wines and then I had the pleasure of getting to know her when we were both promoting Bergerac food and wine in Switzerland, when the traveling Lascaux museum was on show in Geneva. And now Sylvie has been elected the apolitical chair of the tourism committee of our regional council, a fine choice. I just hope it leaves her sufficient time to continue producing her splendid wines. And like more and more Bergerac wines these days, they are bio-organic certified. She calls herself ‘a peasant winemaker’ but her wines are noble indeed.

Brigitte Soulier at Château La Robertie makes wines so good they are served at the Vieux Logis restaurant in Trémolat, my own favourite place to eat. Her Monbazillacs are a treat but I have a great fondness for her red wines, which add a little Côt (the old Périgord name for Malbec) to the usual Cabernet-Merlot blend.

If you have not yet visited Caro Feely at Saussignac, you should. Caro runs wine courses and lunches and with her husband Sean makes very fine wines indeed. If you get hold of their red wine called Grace, treasure it for a few years. But also enjoy the view from their home over the Dordogne valley all the way to Bergerac.

I had the pleasure one evening at Sean and Caro’s home of meeting their neighbour, Isabelle Daulhiac, who with her husband Thierry make some of the best value Bergerac Sec white wines that I know. I cannot possibly leave out Nathalie Barde of Château Le Raz or Sylvie Deffarge Danger of Château Moulin Caresse (a name that perfectly describes the smoothness of her red wines) but I am running out of space.

And then there is our local TV superstar, Gaëlle Reynou-Gravier of the Domaine de Perreau at St-Michel-de-Montaigne, in the Montravel district of Bergerac. She is the model for Gaëlle Dumesnil in the latest version of Le Sang de la Vigne (Blood of the Vine) French TV series. In the latest episode, she is the inspiration for the role of the childhood sweetheart of one of the stars of the series. But the real stars are her two special wines, a wonderfully deep red called Désir carmin and an enchanting Désir d’aurore, which I consider the best Chardonnay wine produced in the Bergerac.

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.

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