Have you ever been asked to do something out of the blue your gut pulls you towards? Something that makes you turn inward and think? A “wow, OK, this is not what I had planned for” kind of deep thought? Adventure, wine, the unknown pass through your mind. Yet, you don’t pause; there is no doubt in your mind, you listen to your gut and say yes.
That’s how I ended up just outside of Monestier (pronounced Mon-ess-tea-ey), a very small village 1 hour and 40 minutes east of Bordeaux by car. Being small, the train doesn’t go there. You take the train to Sainte-Foy-La-Grand (a 1 hour ride) then transportation is essential. The place I stayed was 14 kilometers up a winding road from Sainte-Foy.
What? How? I received a message from a newer friend Lorraine who quickly needed to find someone to care for her farmhouse, garden, and adorable kitty Nikko. That was Friday, Sunday afternoon I was there.
Mark and I both lived in small towns (Aspen, Colorado and Bonners Ferry, Idaho) but never remotely nor anywhere as quiet and peaceful as Monestier. The closest place to purchase food was a small store, open periodically in Loubès-Bernac (about 5k). Saint-Foy was the place to shop. I was thrilled Lorraine gave me her car keys and said “Go explore!”
That initial evening, after dropping Lorraine at the train, I found myself very alone on her porch with Nikko. That “Wow, OK” thought came back to me along with “What am I doing here?” I sat there a few hours thinking, watching and listening. Those thoughts didn’t surface again during my 4-weeks.
Waking just before sunrise the next day with coffee in hand, I grabbed Nikko and headed for the garden. Gardens are a place of solitude- life, growth, and aromas. I could spend hours lazing around in them. Many mornings were spent that way, Nikko lazing with me and playing with bugs. I discovered Nasturtiums and Stinging Nettles.
The next discovery was a bicycle. For me, cycling is the equivalent of sleeping in late for others. I rode to most surrounding towns, the castle, and past Plum Village. Glorious riding on quiet roads surrounded by vineyards (and sunflowers) as far as you can see!
Mark made it there a few weekends, dinners were spent on the porch watching and listening (and keeping an eye on Nikko).
House sitting in the country presented plums. Six trees of a European prune plum ripening and falling to the ground. Although worms found them too, I collected enough for two and a half pints of jam and a galette.
This area is part of the Bergerac AOC (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée), neighboring Bordeaux and the Côtes de Duras. Within this AOC are sub-appellations, all within striking distance of le petit farm house:
- Bergerac Sec
- Bergerac Rosé
- Bergerac Rouge
- Côtes de Bergerac Blanc (with demi-sec/half sweet, moelleux/sweet and doux/very sweet)
- Côtes de Bergerac Rouge
- Côtes de Montravel
Red wines are primarily based on the grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec (also known as “Cot”), while the whites are Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Other grape varieties show up to a lessor extent.
The Côtes de Bergerac contains a multitude of wineries. I spent significant time at a few and recommend them for anyone visiting this area.
Chateau Lestevenie was launched by Sue and Humphrey Temperley. Humphrey has a science background and farmed in the West Country of England. He is a wealth of information about vineyard management. They pursue many eco-friendly practices, managing the estate as organically as possible given French laws haven’t been updated in years and preclude certain positive actions.
Located barely five minutes from Monestier in Gageac Rouillac, they are one of the four communes* within the Bergerac AOC permitted to make Saussignac AOC wines, and they make a stellar Vin Liquoreux. This is a late harvest wine made from grapes affected by noble rot (Botrytis cinerea). Fall morning mist and warm afternoons allow Botrytis to develop on predominantly Semillon grapes in certain parts of this area. Interesting to note Saussignac Vin Liquoreux is the only sweet wine produced in France that forbids the addition of sugar or “chaptalization” under its AOC rules.
Their wines are astonishingly affordable and enjoyable. I luckily attended their last “pop-up” wine dinner, a warm and breathtaking end of the season evening.
Just 5 kilometers from Monestier, Chateau Feely is in Saussignac AOC. I visited a few times and recently went back with Lorraine to help harvest grapes. South Africans Caro and Sean left intense jobs to follow their dream. Eleven years later their property is biodynamic, they have a “gite” (vacation rental) which just won the Best of Wine Tourism Gold in Bordeaux, and are producing quality wines. Caro wrote two entertaining books sharing their wine journey, the third to be released this fall. She offers educational wine tours and is extremely knowledgeable about organic and biodynamic vineyard and winery practices.
Winding down another road that makes one think you’re in a forest you come upon The Naked Vigneron. While this chateau is in the Bordeaux AOC, it snuggles right up to the Bergerac AOC. A similar story, Amanda and Dave purchased and rehabilitated the property. This is where we were awed by historical wine making cool stuff.
As Mark and I tasted through their wines we were struck by the peaceful surroundings and Dave’s laid back style, inviting us to have another taste! One of our favorite wines of the summer was The Naked Vigneron 2015 Rosé. Raspberry in color with red berries and bright fresh forest aromas, it was like a crisp, zingy day on the palate.
My time in the country was glorious; Mark felt the same, albeit spending just a handful of nights. From the hunt in the corn field behind the house to flush out the Boar, to being without a car for a week, I savored it all (including chasing Nikko through the corn field).
Life is, after all, about savoring the harvest.
For those interested, Monestier is situated south of the Loire Valley and north of the Pyrennees. It’s between Saint Emilion and Monbazillac, and 20 kilometers from the larger town of Bergerac in the beautiful Dordogne river valley where hiking and cycling is plenty, history is everywhere, and regional foods thrive (foie gras, truffles, chestnuts, honey, walnuts and more).
We’re OK, probably just Lynn is hoping to go truffle hunting this winter any takers?!?
Bergerac AOC Wine Facts:
- 57% of the production is red, 39% white, of which 18% is sec (dry white), 13% moelleux (sweet) and 8% is very sweet (liquoreux).
- Because sweet wines don’t sell in great volumes, wineries in the AOC known for sweet wines (e.g., Saussignac and Monbazillac) produce dry wine too. This is the case in most sweet wine producing areas as cash flow is essential to keep doors open.
- A variety of soils populate the area which is dominated by limestone and clay.
- A cornucopia of dry white wines can be found, with a high quality-to-cost ration.
*What is a commune?