The winter chill has now arrived as the plants and flowers in the garden lose their leaves and petals fall from the last of the flowers. Dark nights have drawn in and it’s not just the plants going into hibernation mode, as we hurry home from work to snuggle up in our warm toasty houses.
One day the other week, my mum called me and told me about a bumblebee that was wandering around her garden. I was as surprised as her to hear that a bee could still be alive above ground in December, shouldn’t they be hibernating now? We agreed she had most likely landed en route to her hive but may have grown disoriented as she grew weaker, sadly at the end of her short life. My mum placed the bee under a tree at the top of the garden, sheltered and hopefully at peace.
The following day the phone rang and it was my mum. She explained in amazement how the little bee had made its way all the way back down the garden, walking and walking and walking. After several days of this, Kelvyn and I went over to her house and witnessed this resilient bee for ourselves. She slowly crawled past us before turning back up the garden, it was fascinating to get so close and see the fur on her body and how her legs criss crossed pushing her forward. She certainly wasn’t ready for that great beehive in the sky it seemed.
It was wonderful to see how much the determination of this bee touched my mum. In fact, it touched me too, reminding me of the force of nature and the cycle of life.
It made me think of cycles in the vineyard and how the vines are all now shutting down for winter conserving their reserves ready to grow again next spring. On our adventures this year we have witnessed fresh new buds appearing on the vines in Portugal; bud flowering whilst tendrils sprouted out reaching up to the sun in Southern England; the changing colour of the grapes as they ripened before swelling, juices almost bursting through the skins, ready to pick at harvest time in South Africa and France. However, the last piece of the puzzle we haven’t yet experienced is winter dormancy but more importantly the work needed to help ensure the desired crop the following season, winter pruning.
We hope to get a first hand experience of this highly skilled work this winter and will write more about it when we do, so watch this space!
Have you helped winter prune? We would love to hear about your experiences.
Sadly the little bumblebee that my mum grew so fond of could manage no more and after a week quietly went to sleep under the tree where she was first placed by my mum. But as we know, more bees will appear next spring, just as the world’s vines will provide more grapes next season, and so the wondrous cycle of life will continue.
Guest Wines Tour de France
It was now time for us to stop and take root for a while amongst the vines at Château la Tour de Chollet in Bordeaux, where we would spend a month helping out with their harvest. We came across an advert in Decanter magazine, which invited interested readers to gain some experience of working on a vineyard in Bordeaux. We didn’t hesitate to contact them to enquire about what they could offer and only a few emails later, we had secured a month lending a hand at this family run chateau.
Our very own Tower!
Paul and Kirstie Rowbotham decided to change careers in 2003 and bravely gave up their jobs in the IT industry to move into the winemaking industry. After spending a year working on a vineyard in Cahors they decided that France was the place for them and started searching for their ideal location. They found Château la Tour de Chollet in 2006 after agreeing to go into their exciting new venture with Kirstie’s parents, Laurie and Linda. We learnt that Chollet is the name of the area and a neighbouring property and the ‘Tour’ in the name turned out to be our accommodation for the period we were there.
They were on a steep learning curve taking over a vineyard which previously sold its grapes to the local cooperative and deciding to convert all 20 acres to organic production but they have managed to do this successfully, building up a reputable business incorporating wine tourism as well as the production of a range of wines for which they have now received several awards, including commendments from IWC and Decanter. They sell their wines to various restaurants in England as well as to those who visit the vineyard for a tour or stay in the holiday accommodation.
It’s a lovely area to holiday in with plenty to see and do within driving distance and the Tower is well equipped with a lounge, kitchen, dining room and two bedrooms. Looking out your window everyday to row upon row of vines is quite spectacular and you can’t help but be seduced by the lifestyle there.
The vines surround the house and winery, which is known as the chai in French, and they grow Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, some of the vines are as old as 60 years of age. Their range of wines consist of two reds, one oaked and one unoaked, a rose, a dry white and a sweet white, which is no mean feat for a small producer.
The chateau itself is situated in the small commune of Les Leves et Thoumeyragues, only 10 minutes drive from Sainte-Foy-La-Grande. Ste-Foy sits neatly by the Dordogne river and is a characteristic fortified town, walking the streets you pass many very old looking timber buildings whose walls worryingly slope outwards above you almost arching across the street. The town has a welcoming feel and there was plenty of activity going on, in particular with sales of ‘cèpes’ on the roadside, wild mushrooms that were in some cases very large!
The local E.Leclerc supermarket proved to be a great place to shop not just for our daily staples but impressively for wine too! It was the ‘Foire aux Vins’ whilst we were there, which is one of the times of year supermarkets in France discount a large amount of wine and you can access many famous Chateaux second wines at very reasonable prices, a taste of what the top guns produce! We found a second wine by Chateau Talbot, Connetable, 2009 and 2010 for less than 20 euros but without the help of Bruno, the wine advisor on duty, we might not have found the other delights that we did. He was so passionate about wine and pointed out a number of good value finds and he also spoke brilliant English, which was even more helpful although we were getting by not too badly with Ruth’s French.
Bruno, our helpful wine advisor!
You can read about quite a different ‘Foire aux Vins’ experience that Ruth had recently in Roussillon here.
On our days off we explored the region as much as we could, eager to learn more about what makes Bordeaux so special. The differences in landscape and soils were quite noticeable between areas, such as the sandy clay found here.
On one such day, after a nice Sunday dinner, we ventured out for a walk around the vines bathed in the early evening sun, which gently settled on the horizon as if performing a grand finale for us. A hot air balloon floated by in the distance, horse riders passed by whilst out for their evening trot, we even disturbed a wild deer that ran across our path, which all made for what was almost an idyllic moment apart from the occasional gunfire that could be heard as it was now the hunting season. This commences directly after harvest has finished, where local boar, deer, hare and a particular speciality the palambra (a type of wood pigeon that migrates at this time of year) are the targets, various lookouts and traps are erected in the local woods in order to catch these birds on their migration, it seems to be quite an event on the annual hunting calendar but we could think of other ways to pass our time.
Our month quickly passed and on our final night we were treated to a curry with the Rowbotham family, needless to say one or two good Bordeaux wines were a fine accompaniment that helped wash it all down. This rounded off our Bordeaux experience as the following day we would be moving on to the Loire Valley.
However, before moving on, we have more tales to share of our Bordeaux experience and our next blogs will feature in a little more detail our time in the vineyard and winery as well as exploring some of those lesser known Bordeaux appellations.
This week sees the opening of the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Independants in Paris – an event that we have in the past enjoyed attending, combining this with a bit of a pre-Christmas Parisian break.
This year, we shall not be there as we are involved in the International Wine Challenge Southern Hemisphere 2014 Tranche 1 Competition in London (more on that soon).
However, we thought it fitting to highlight the fair in Paris as you can find many fabulous wines there (ensure that you have enough space for the many cases that you will, no doubt, purchase – as we always do!). This is a great way to stock up for Christmas and the New Year ahead of course!
It is also a great time to be in Paris (as if there is a time when not to be) as the festive celebrations are getting underway and to get in the mood, there’s no better way than to stroll down the Champs- Élysées, where a huge Christmas fair takes place ever year – you even get to see Santa!
Below are a selection of wines that we purchased from the fair which have put a certain spirit into our Christmas festivities:
Baur Charles, Cremant d Alsace Brut NV: Riesling – Good mousse and body, floral, citrus with a creamy edge – a nice alternative to Champagne
Baur Charles, Alsace Grand Cru, Pfersigberg 2008, 13.5%: Gewurtztraminer – Absolutely scrumptious! Gorgeous mouthfeel that included orange peel, blossom and roses entwining around your tongue!
Domaine de Fussiacus, Saint Veran 2010, 13% – Hints of Pineapple and crushed almond, good acidity
Gilles Bouton et fils, Saint Aubin Premier Cru, Les Champlots 2010, 13.5% – Lovely buttery mouthfeel with citrus tang
Chateau de L’ou, Cotes du Roussillon 2009, 14.2% – fresh summer fruits including strawberry and raspberry – an easy drinker!
Domaine de la Milliere, Chateauneuf du Pape 2006, 14.5% – Fruity, chocolate box fondant with balance and structure
Clos Trimoulet, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2006, 13%: Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon – Dark fruits, Blackcurrant, touch of Tabacco – We felt that this still had some way to go, even though we enjoyed drinking it
Kel’s experience lending a hand at Domaine Treloar in the Roussillon last year coincides with Ruth’s journey to the same Domaine a year later – this week in fact, so what better time to introduce this particular producer and tell you a bit about why we like their wines so much.
Jonathan Hesford and Rachel Treloar own and run this winery in a lovely corner of The Roussillon in the very south of France and make a range of wines to match.
Both gave up their New York City careers in the wake of the 9/11 event, living only blocks from the heart of the attack on the Twin Towers, they decided to change direction and head for a life making and selling their own wine. Initially moving to New Zealand, whereby Rachel can claim Maori Royalty in her blood, Jonathan spent time learning his trade with Neudorf Vineyards, becoming Assistant Winemaker, and qualifying at Lincoln University (NZ).
Moving to France in 2005, they found an old winery with parcels of mature vines in 2006, which is now established as Domaine Treloar and has enabled them to create for themselves the types of wines that they enjoy.
Domaine Treloar produces a complete range from white, rose, red and fortified. The wines have names that are representative of either the 9/11 events, Bruce Springsteen or Rachel’s Kiwi heritage, for example, their flagship red Tahi means “1” in Maori.
We have enjoyed all their wines with particular favourites:
La Terre Promise: Grenache Gris, Macabeu, Carignan Blanc – Medium bodied, dry white wine, well rounded and balanced with a fruity honeyed nuttiness (even a touch of wet stone) and mineral edge.
Three Peaks: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache – Lovely deep ruby colour, red and black fruits, strawberries and blackberries, violets and chocolate, hints of rosemary underpinned with smooth silky tannins.
Motus: Mourvedre – Dark sour cherries, raspberries and blackcurrants, dark chocolate, notes of black olive and white pepper. Well structured wine.
Muscat de Rivesaltes: Muscat à Petit Grains – Late harvest, sweet Muscat, dried fruit aromas of orange peel, apricot and honey, rich mouthfeel and a nuttiness to the finish.
Kel arrived last year just in time to lend a hand with picking the Mourvedre, as the harvest had arrived earlier than originally expected. On the other hand, this year it looks as though it will be a few weeks later! However, we are sure that Ruth will be kept busy.
Vineyard downtime last year was utilised by constructing decking for the gîte holiday accommodation and by all accounts is still looking good too.
Also last year, Jonathan was experimenting with a batch of Carignan grapes, of which Kel had a go with punching down the cap the good old fashioned way by … feet. This has now been bottled under the title of Le Maudit which translates as The Damned! Something that we are looking forward to trying.
If you want to know what wines from the Roussillon are all about, then Domaine Treloar would be a good way in which to be introduced, as we think that they are a great example of how to make fabulous wines from this part of the world.
No doubt Ruth shall have a tale or two to tell when she gets home, including an update on all those wonderful wines.