The wines of Bergerac: non-AOC wines

We have been so accustomed to look for the phrase appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) on a wine label, to signify that it comes from a recognized wine area, that we often overlook good wines without it. In fact, many growers who could use the AOC mark choose not to do so because the requirements can be burdensome. Winemakers in an AOC district are limited to the types of grapes than can be used, how much wine may be produced per hectare and so on. And then there are the good wines that come from outside the 300 or so AOC areas in France.

About a quarter of French wine production is listed as vin de pays and is entitled to carry the letters IGP on the label for Indication Géographique Protégée. There is yet another category below this, vin de France, which tends, with some exceptions, to be cheap plonk. We have several IGP wines in this region, including some from well-known vineyards that also produce AOC wines, like Château de la Jaubertie and Château Tirecul La Gravière, for each of whom I have a deep respect.

Tirecul’s Monbazillac was the first Bergerac wine to get the maximum 100 points in a Robert Parker tasting. And if you come across a wine called Le Haut Païs made by Vignerons de Sigoulès, it is very much worth trying. They make a red and a white, and I find them to be a cut above most bottles of generic Bordeaux or Bergerac, although much of this wine goes for export to Holland and Germany (where I came across it on a book tour).

Other winemakers are reviving vineyards that recall the centuries before the phylloxera plague struck in the 1860s, when the Périgord and Dordogne regions were major wine producers. Then came the new wonder crop of tobacco and the tradition of wine production was almost lost – almost, but not quite. Individual farmers continued to grow vines for their own household and the skills remained.

I have long enjoyed the wines of Domaine de la Vitrolle in the Vézère valley between Limeuil and Le Bugue. I was initially attracted by the château itself, the secret HQ of the Resistance in World War Two and for some crucial months around D-Day in 1944, it was the base of André Malraux and ‘Captain Jack’ Poirier. They have been making wine there for three decades and in recent years the English winemaker John Anderson has produced some fine sparkling wines and very drinkable reds and whites. For less than 5 euros a bottle, his Demoiselle de Limeuil are very good value. (They also grow excellent apples and have some stylish gîtes available for rental.)

The other day, a friend in Bordeaux served at dinner a bottle of a wine I had not known before, a Périgord wine called Le Petit Manoir. Once back in the Périgord, I made a beeline for the vineyard, between St-Cyprien and Le Bugue. It is close to the home at Péchalifour of my chum Edouard Ayrou, the legendary truffle expert, whose guided tours of his truffle lands are strongly recommended. On the D35 road from Le Bugue to St-Cyprien, just before the turn-off to Meyrals, look for the sign to Péchalifour and Domaine de la Voie Blanche and you come to the vineyard, where Natalie Dalbavie can arrange tastings (between October and April). She and her husband Marc are self-taught winemakers who were inspired by finding the remains of a 2,000-year-old winery on their land. They are great believers in organic wines and even tried using horses to work the vines. They also use giant terracotta jars to age their wine, just as their predecessors did in Roman times. Natalie reckons that one year in terracotta gives as much ageing as two years in oak barrels – but she loses 13% a year through evaporation. They make two wines at this vineyard, Les Joualles and Le Petit Manoir, where the terroir is clay and limestone. Les Joualles comes from an old Occitan term for the traditional practice of growing rows of vines amid apples and other fruit trees.

The wine I had tasted in Bordeaux was a 2012 Petit Manoir made of Merlot, which is now sold out. So I tried the 2014, which because of the vagaries of that year’s weather is made entirely from Cabernet Franc. It is very good indeed, and at 23 euros it is worth laying down for three years or more. They have a second vineyard about twenty miles to the north-west at La Bachellerie, further up the Vézère valley, with a mineralrich terroir terraced with river pebbles where they make red and white wines named La Source. These are serious wines, between 12 and 16 euros a bottle, and I bought several of a very remarkable red that was made without sulfites.

There is a pleasing sense of history about drinking these wines made in a vineyard that dates back to Roman times, and where the wine is grown and made in the age-old way. And there could be no better proof that the AOC label need not be a pre-requisite for making very good and distinctive wines..

■ Credit/Source:  Martin Walker, The Bugle

Martin Walker is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac.  He and his wife 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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French Winemakers Concerned Over ‘Chateau’ Change

Photo credit: ALAMY

“French winemakers are concerned their US competitors may be given permission to use the symbolic “chateau” label on bottles exported to Europe, destroying the meaning of the term.
French winemakers concerned over ‘chateau’ change.

A committee of representatives from the Bordeaux region were among the first to denounce the initiative, which they claim would confuse French consumers, and ruin the tradition of chateau wine production.

In France, wine labelled “chateau” is associated with a product entirely made from grapes grown on a “terroir” – a specific patch of land- giving it a unique identity and flavour.

But a new proposal by the European Commission, to be addressed later this month, would allow American wines made with a mixture of grapes purchased from different growers, to use the title as well.

A committee of representatives from the Bordeaux region were among the first to denounce the initiative, which they claim would confuse French consumers, and ruin the tradition of chateau wine production.

Representatives, who base much of their sales on the use of coveted chateau titles in their region, are to meet on Monday in an attempt to push the French government to veto the initiative.

“There is a great danger that the notion of the chateau will disappear in France … the consumer is going to feel lost,” said Laurent Gapenne, president of an organisation that guarantees wine labels represent their geographic origin and quality in the Gironde region, which includes Bordeaux.

Speaking to Le Parisien newspaper, Mr Gapenne added that the “chateau” label accounts for up to four fifths of sales for winemakers across France, because it represents “a reference of quality” for consumers.

“It is unthinkable that the European Commission, which is supposed to defend our interests, approves of this measure,” he said. “In the United States it’s different, they use the term chateau to create a brand name like Coca Cola or Nike.”

Mr Gapenne said the proposal was made as part of an “exchange” that would allow European wine producers to rely more on the American labelling system, which traditionally highlights grape variety, rather than where the fruit was grown.

He said that if Stéphane Le Foll, the French agriculture minister, refuses to fight the measure, wine producers could seek legal action.

French winemakers also fear that if the move is successful it could spread to other countries, and spike competition with American wines.

“Today the importation of American wines in France is marginal. That could change with this opening,” said Mr Gapenne.

Bernard Farges, vice president of the Federation of Great Wines of Bordeaux, said: “Such an authorisation could create a precedent for the ensemble of the terms synonymous with winemaking,” such as ‘cru’ (vintage) and ‘domain,’ among others.”

EU representatives in charge of the measure could not be reached for comment. The European Commission’s Common Organization of Agricultural Markets will preside over the discussion of the measure later this month.”

Source: The Telegraph.co.uk, written by Devorah Lauter, Paris