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.
Our much anticipated tour of some of England’s vineyards stemmed from our growing fondness for wines from this part of the world and our quest to know and understand more about wine in general. We discovered that we have so many wine estates on our door step and as such, hoped that we would come away with a deeper awareness for what English wine is.
So after some careful planning and armed with our copy of Wine Tourism UK, 2011 Edition and A guide to the Wines of England & Wales and of course, a detailed schedule that Ruth had put together, we set off on our first tour of vineyards.
In order for us to really capture the essence of English wine, we felt that it was important to include terroir and by this we not only meant the actual place where the grapes are grown and the wine is made but also the surrounding area to that wine: that is the towns; villages; sights; sounds; countryside; local attractions; foods; other beverages and of course, the people. Sometimes, we feel that in order to really capture the essence of a wine, we need to also explore non-wine pursuits and as such, these will often include a drop or two of the stuff anyway. It never ceases to amaze us how versatile a great wine is!
For this trip, we decided that we would concentrate on wine estates in the Kent and Sussex regions, by doing so this would enable us to stay in one place with regards to our accommodation. We found ourselves a nice holiday cottage situated in the Kentish village of Tenterden. An ideal location for vineyard exploration.
We were given a warm welcome by the owners of Barden Cottage, who had left out a box of chocolates and a bottle of Mateus Rose … it would have been rude of us not to.
Our first evening we chose to walk into Tenterden and sample some of their local ales. The real wine trek would commence the following day.
We would like to present a snapshot of the wine estates we visited and highlight some of the wines that we particularly enjoyed (a complete list of all wines tasted can be found in our “Tasting Notes” section – this is currently under construction). Included in this snapshot are also some of that regions’ attractions, which we hope will express a sense of place.
This Estate promotes itself as “Kent’s oldest vineyard” dating back to 1969 and produces white, red and sparkling wines made from various varieties including Ortega, Reichensteiner, Dornfelder, Gamay and Pinot Noir. They also produce their own ciders.
There is a tasting area and well stocked shop. There are regular vineyard tours but you are also free to wander the vineyards unescorted, which we did taking with us a refreshing bottle of their estate made apple juice. Lunch was enjoyed at one the the picnic tables situated next to the vineyard.
The wine we most enjoyed was:
Gribble Bridge Rose 2011: Dornfelder & Acolon – lots of strawberries and cream with a hint of raspberry
In close proximity is The Kent & East Sussex Railway as well as The National Trust property of Sissinghurst. We took the opportunity to visit both.
We called upon Sissinghurst first. This was the home of the writer Vita Sackville-West, of which her family remain as tenants working with The National Trust. A recent TV series on Sissinghurst depicted this.
A great place to spend the day or just for a few hours as we did. The sun shone whilst walking through the wonderfully maintained gardens. Views afforded of the Kent countryside from the tower leave a lasting impression.
We then headed back to Tenterden to take in the Kent & East Sussex Railway. However, on this journey, we must have taken a wrong turning somewhere, though we were pleased that we did as we spotted a hand written sign at the side of the road advertising wine for sale. Curious as to who might be selling wine and where from, we decided to make a U-turn and take a look.
We pulled into the drive of what appeared to be a residential cottage and knocked at the door.
Soon afterwards, we were greeted by a man who informed us that he was the owner producer of the wines for sale and introduced himself as Laurence Williams of The Harbourne Vineyard. He explained that he and his family have been making wines here since 1979. Varieties grown ranged from traditional English types such as Ortega, Bacchus, Seyval Blanc as well as Pinot Meunier and Blauer Portugieser.
Laurence was very charming and happy to open a bottle or two of his wines whilst chatting about his wine making processes as well as life in general, where we did find ourselves getting a bit philosophical at times, which must have been down to the wine!
We came away with a bottle of his: Harbourne Orgtega Dry 2007, 11.5% and unchaptalised – Hedgerow with crisp acidity and floral notes, finished with a soft creamy mouthfeel
Afterwards, we retraced our tracks and found the right road back into Tenterden, where we called into The Kent & East Sussex Railway.
This railway, once part of the Southern Railways network, has always had a rural existence with Bodiam Castle as its backdrop. It played host to the many seasonal hop-pickers who used to travel to Kent each year by train from the surrounding towns and cities, now its main source of income is tourism. It is soon to regain more of its original length by rejoining back up with the nearby Rother Valley Railway, whose volunteers are relaying miles of track in order for this to be achieved. If you want very old vintage steam trains set within the rolling Kent countryside then this is a must.
Join us next as we take a ride to Bolney and Ridgeview Wine Estates …