Monday, 27 October 2014

Bordeaux 3 - Chateau Feely, Haut Garrigue, Winemaker for a Day

We were up at 6am and on our way to the tram before 7am. Today we were going to Feely Wine, Haut Garrigue at  Saussignac to learn all about wine making and then make our own blend and bottle, cork and label it

We wrestled with the tram ticket machine eventually working it out and got our tickets and go it on the C tram to the Saint Jean railway station. Once there again it was a battle with a ticket machine - this time the machine defeated us so we found the ticket office and got our tickets there, good job we gave ourselves plenty of time!

Saussignac Chateau through the Vineyards
The train set off on time at 8am and as we glided east through the Bordeaux suburbs we munched on our delicious breakfast croissants. Soon we were passing acres of vineyards and famous station names such as St Emilion. After just over an hour we arrived at Gardonne, where we were getting off and being met by Caro Feely who was running our tour.

She was a warm, effervescent, chatty woman who was very organised. She and her husband Sean are from South Africa via Dublin, they are both have Irish Ancestry. They gave up high powered jobs about ten years ago to follow their dream of having their own vineyard in France. There were many trials and tribulations, well documented in Caro's book Grape Expectations about their early days in France. I had read the book and found knowing something about the background to this vineyard really added to the experience.

Haut Garrigue
Merlot Grapes on the Vine

The organic and bio-dynamic vineyard was only a few kilometers from Gardonne and Saussignac and its lovely chateau was just a short distance across the vineyard. Haut Garrigue was a delightful white farmhouse with bright blue shutters, surrounded by vineyards and had a fantastic view down across the valley, the Dordogne River shimmered in the distance. There also was a beautiful newly built gite that you can stay in, a tasting room and the working areas of a winery.

Caro Uncorking Wine in the Tasting Room

There were twelve people from various countries, the UK, US, Japan and France. Caro started by telling a bit about organic and bio-dynamic wine making as we wandered through the vineyards. Some of the stories she told us about pesticides etc used in some vineyards was plain scary. We sampled various types of grapes straight off the vines (totally safe as there were no pesticide used) and it was fascinating just how different tastes they had. It was very pleasant wandering around the vineyard, Caro took us at a leisurely pace so we did not feel at all rushed. The initially rather overcast weather broke out into a beautiful warm and sunny day, perfect! Walking around the vineyards took me back many, many years to when I was 21 and went grape picking in a place not that far from here, Bize-Minervois. It was a small, traditional village, no one spoke English and in the weeks I was there my French improved vastly. The actual work in the vineyards was relentless, hot and back breaking. We worked non-stop from 7-11, had a break during the hottest time of day and then another four hours work from 2-6. We could not stop for a minute, otherwise "Vite, vite" was shouted by the overseers. Pay was good, and we also had a litre of wine a day as part of our payment! I think it is the hardest I've ever worked, but it was an amazing experience. And here I was again decades later wandering round a vineyard, but in much easier circumstances!

The Menu
After the walk we went into the tasting room, neatly set out for us with glistening glasses and buckets to spit the wine we were tasting in (I've forgotten the proper name.) However Debbi and I did not use the buckets we were going to enjoy every drop of the wine! We tried a few white and red wines made at Haut Garrigue, I really liked the white ones which surprised me as I'm not that into white wine. Caro told us more about their vineyard and wine making, she was very good at this and made it fascinating to listen to and her enthusiasm was infectious.

By 12 noon we were feeling the effects of the wine a bit, after all we'd been up since 6am and only had a croissant since, so we were ready for lunch. Rather than write what we had down I've added the photo of the menu above. These items, beautifully presented, were served with unlimited delicious bread and salad and more wine. The pairing of food and wine was fascinating, anyone who knows me
knows I don't like blue cheeses. Roquefort was served along with the Feely Saussignac dessert white (the latter is something I had not had before) and I loved the combination, the cheese tasted so different, the saltiness came through more strongly and the "mouldy" taste (which is what I don't like about those cheeses) was very much in the background. I loved the cheese and the dessert wine when served together. This was my second wine revelation of this holiday! Caro left us to take our time over lunch, we took our time and chatted to the other people there, who were friendly, some having travel lifestyles which I could only dream of.

At around 2pm, some of the people left and those of us who were on the Winemaker for the Day tour stayed on to make our own blend of wine. Caro, well organised as ever, gave us aprons that we could keep along with three bottles of wine to blend according to our own taste. We had fun tasting and mixing the wine, Debbi bottled, I did the labels and we both had a go with the manual corking machine to cork our individual bottles. Finally we chose copper foil caps and that was it, we'd created
Our Wines!
our own bottles of wine, Chateau Susanna and Chateau Voisey (the latter sounding very good as it's a French name!)

Around 4pm we got ready to leave, we'd had a a wonderful day. We'd learned so much, had fun and blended our own wine. It was also a very relaxing day, nothing was rushed which was lovely, we were really able to take in the whole ambiance of the place. It had been hard for Sean and Caro in the early days, but having visited Haut Garrigue I can see why they fought to succeed, it is truly an enchanted place. A stay at the gite much be fabulous! Their wines and tours have won awards and they are well deserved. You can see the full list of their tours French Wine Adventures.

Sean drove us to the airport and we had a 20 minute wait for the train back to Bordeaux. It was incredibly quiet at the station, there is a peace about this area. The train back was busy, Some people were speaking English opposite us and I heard the man mention my home city, it's a small world!

We got home about 6pm. We didn't go out, instead we had some nibbles and the wine we had blended (we could not take the wine home as we had cabin luggage only) and of course, celebrate Debbi's official 50th birthday. We had a lovely relaxing evening and we both agreed our own wine was absolutely delicious! It was a good way to end our short, but busy trip to Bordeaux.

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