16 October 2015 by Jessica Boston
Five vineyards to visit in France
If you don’t know much about wine and don’t speak very good French the idea of following one of those tempting roadside signs offering wine tasting and tours at local vineyards might seem a bit intimidating.
Of course in most cases you’ll get a warm welcome and language won’t be a barrier to trying and buying some great value wines right at their source, so go on, be brave!
If you’re still not convinced and would rather dip your toes in the world of French wine with a guarantee of a friendly, English-speaking winemaker we’ve got the answer! Here are five producers who provide the perfect vineyard experience for any visitor from wine expert to enthusiastic novice.
Chateau Lestevenie, Gageac-et-Rouillac, Dordogne
Chateau Lestevenie is a beautiful, family-run vineyard that offers tours, wine tasting and the opportunity to buy their wines all year round. September and October are particularly interesting times to visit as you’ll get to see the grape harvest.
The vineyard produces rose, red and white wines from a mix of grape varieties. The 40 hectares of grape vines are carefully managed to encourage wildlife and include older vines over 65 years old as well as new growth to create the right balance of flavours for their award winning wines.
Sue and Humphrey own and run Chateau Lestevenie and they are both passionate about their wines and the landscape they come from. During the tour you’ll find out lots of fascinating details about how the wine is made and see real processes taking place in the growing, harvest, processing and fermentation of the wines depending on the time of year.
Humphrey is dedicated to protecting and supporting local wildlife and wild plants and his tour also shows you the beautiful wild flowers and rare orchids that thrive in meadows amongst the vines thanks to his gentle approach to farming here.
The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and you can spend a few hours discovering the vineyard and tasting wines. If it’s rainy waterproofs and umbrellas are provided, if you turn up unannounced you’ll be welcomed in, if you have children with you they’ll be entertained by Beano the dog and have a chance to meet the chickens and stroke the horses – everyone is made to feel at home!
These lovely hosts offer an insight into the nuances of growing the different grape varieties and the intentions behind the wine flavours as you enjoy a tasting. They enjoy sharing their knowledge and the wines they are so proud of with their visitors. You’ll arrive a guest and leave as a friend (just be sure to take a case of wine or two with you so you can reminisce about this gorgeous place when you’re back in grey old England!).
Domaine O’Vineyards, Carcassonne
Domaine O’Vineyards is named for the O’Connell family who founded the vineyard here in 2004. Joe and Liz and their son Ryan work hard tending the 17 hectares of vines. They use a unique fusion of New World techniques and attitudes and Old World wisdom and character from the 25 year old vines growing here to craft the perfect wines.
The tour and wine tasting experience at Domaine O’Vineyards is completed by wonderful meals cooked by Liz using local ingredients to create dishes that perfectly complement the wines they make here.
Enjoy a tour of the vineyards, production facilities and cellars as Joe explains how the wines are made and gives an insight into his ten years at Domaine O’Vineyards. Taste the wines and enjoy delicious homemade hors d’oeuvres as you experience wine tasting American style! No standing on ceremony here – you’ll meet people from all over the world and bond over a love of good food and good wine.
The convivial hosts have won TripAdvisor certificates of excellence year after year and you can see why! The hours just slip away as you discover the vineyards, the beautiful views, the different grapes and wine making processes, and enjoy great company and exceptional food and wine over a leisurely meal.
Be warned the wine tasting is pleasantly generous at O’Vineyards so taking a taxi is highly recommended to get the most from your visit.
Chateau Feely, Perigueux, Dordogne
Originally from South Africa, the Feely family moved to France around ten years ago bringing with them a passion for wine passed down from Sean’s grandfather. They used their experience to redevelop this vineyard using organic and biodynamic farming techniques that get the best from the vines and protect local nature and wildlife too.
Choose from a range of tours and tastings from an hour to a full day of hands-on winemaking under the friendly tutorage of Sean and Caro. Tour the vineyard and learn about organic winemaking at its best before settling down to taste the wines paired with a meal or cheese selection. You’ll learn invaluable things about matching wine and food that will impress your friends and enhance your restaurant experiences forevermore!
Caro Feely is an animated and knowledgeable host who has written a book about their journey as winemakers called “Grape Expectations”, well worth a read to get the full story of their wine adventure.
Her passion for biodynamics and organic farming are persuasive and convincing both in words and in the evidence of the abundant wild flowers and nature living harmoniously alongside the thriving vines.
Caro is also a fount of knowledge on the history of winemaking here and is keen to preserve old traditions as well as developing the new ones that allow the Feelys to continue sustainably farming to produce their exceptional quality wines.
Chateau Siaurac has been producing wine since the 18th Century and provides an immersive experience for any visitor.
You’ll be greeted by the owners Paul Goldschmidt and his wife Aline who will take you on a tour of the vineyards explaining the grape varieties, farming methods and production processes. Next you’ll go into the Chateau for a delicious lunch made from local ingredients sourced at the market and paired with matched wines to taste.
Chateau Siaurac offers something for everyone from experts to amateur wine enthusiasts, even children are welcome! They can enjoy a treasure hunt in the Chateau garden, a smell challenge during the wine tasting and are even offered a glass of non-alcoholic Merlot grape juice!
Paul and Aline invite you to get involved with the winemaking process. Depending on the season you might get a lesson in vine pruning or a chance to be involved in the grape harvest.
Paul is a convivial host with a larger than life personality and a willing sidekick in the form of his little dog who has an impressive range of tricks up his sleeve! Aline (Baronne Guichard) offers passion as a vintner and an exquisite skill in producing classic French food, adding elegance and refinement to your visit.
Being welcomed into the home of the vineyard owners is a very special experience and the hosts provide a mix of professionalism and fun that will leave you informed and entertained. The wines are also excellent and the Pomerol is a bargain compared to that of their near neighbour Chateau Petrus.
Domaine Treloer Vineyard and Winery, Perpignan, Languedoc-Rousillion
The Domaine Treloer vineyard and winery is a dream born of a nightmare. Jonathan and Rachel Treloar bought this 10 hectare wine estate after seeing the devastation in New York at 9/11. They were working within 500m of the Twin Towers when the disaster unfolded and it had a dramatic effect on the way they wanted to live their lives.
Jonathan became a qualified Viticulturist while living in Rachel’s native New Zealand, and he uses the best of New World winemaking with the fantastic French terroir to produce some of the best-regarded wines in the region.
The artisan approach here means Jonathan and Rachel are extremely hands on, doing much of the work involved in growing healthy vines and turning the grapes into wine themselves. This gives them a deep understanding of every stage of production making for a fascinating tour full of insights and demonstrations that bring the process to life.
The wines are made as naturally as possible with mature vines carefully tended without chemicals, and processed gently by hand without additives or preservatives.
The tours at Domaine Treloar culminate with a wine tasting accompanied by a tasty selection of tapas dishes. There are crisp white wines, a signature red and sweet dessert Muscat de Rivesalts offering the full spectrum of wine flavours and styles.
Jonathan’s enthusiasm and passion for wine making is obvious, and the pride this couple have in what they have achieved here is plain to see. It’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and a great introduction to wine from someone who really knows his stuff!
Don’t forget to buy some wine to take home too – you won’t find this quality at these prices in the shops, and because it’s a boutique operation supplies are always limited.