Saturday, April 10, 2021

Vineyards of the south-west: AOC Corrèze - Vin de Paillé; Mille et une Pierres.

 

View of Branceilles through the vineyards.
View of Branceilles through the vineyards.

Located in the extreme south of Corrèze, the Branceilles vineyard was the first to be replanted in 1986. Branceilles' 8 winegrowers are united under the 1001 pierres (1001 stones) banner. 

Oak barrels in the cooperative cellar.
Oak barrels in the cooperative cellar.

Cultivating a total of 30 hectares with principally merlot, cabarnet and gamay to produce some 150.000 bottles of wine a year. The wine has been marketed since 1990, from their a cooperative chai.

Map of the vineyards and hikes.
Map of the vineyards and hikes.

We were told about half the production is certified ‘biological’ and noticed the difference whiles hiking around the vineyards, as some had strips of grass between the lines of vines and had clearly been sprayed to control the weeds under the vines. Whiles others had a combination of beans and grains grown in between the lines that was used to mulch the vines to both control the weeds and fertilise the soil.

Hiking through the vineyards.
Hiking through the vineyards.

Parking opposite the chai there are three walks: 2.8, 4.1 and 5.5 km, to explore the vineyards. 

Work in the vineyards.
Work in the vineyards.

After the hike a visit to the chai, with the oak storage barrels in the basement, sample (and buy) some of the wines. The straw wines are exceptional and the taste lingers for long.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Vineyards of the south-west: AOC Corrèze - Coteaux de la Vézère

 

Vineyards close to La Chartroulle.
Vineyards close to La Chartroulle.

Allassac was once famous for its vineyards until the phylloxéra epidemic arrived in 1876 . Though vineyards and livelihood disappeared, the centuries of cultivation had left their mark on the landscape. In the architecture of the wine merchant houses, with their presses and cellars. And in the terraces and wine cabanes still dotting the hillsides despite the new land-uses.

Slopes planted on terraces.
Slopes planted on terraces.

The vineyard
Coteaux du Saillant - Vézère has replanted 21 hectares of the schistose slate soil of Allassac, Donzenac and Voutezac with Chemin, Sauvignon-gris, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet-franc. They were the first to plant the fragile and delicate Chemin variety in the South-West wine area (more usually found in the Loire valley).

Certified biological cultivation.
Certified biological cultivation.

The modern approach is either biological or raisonnée cultivation. Raisonnée translates to integrated or sustainable agriculture. Compared to biological it’s a less emotional/dogmatic (more reasoned) break from the intensive agriculture. Keeping the soil covered to preserve the soil, limited artificial inputs, pruning, thinning , suckering and harvesting by hand. Though new parcels do now go straight into biological cultivation.

Bottling at the chai.
Bottling at the chai.

The chai uses modern metal tanks to produce wine from different grape varieties parcel by parcel. This allows the master wine maker to select particular qualities of the year, and create appropriate mixtures or varieties or wines of a single grape variety. Not using wooden barrels allows for the preservation of the ‘minerality’, in which the schistose slate soils contribute to the terroir.

Gamade wines on display.
Gamade wines on display.

The owner allows the public to hike over a trail and visit the vineyard unguided, best done walking down hill from the village of La Chartrouille towards Le Saillant. The views are spectacular and going this way has the added advantage of arriving at the chai for a little wine tasting afterward!


Chapel of Saillant

Chagall windows of the chapel.
Chagall windows of the chapel.
Le Saillant is the starting point for hiking trails exploring the Vézère gorges and the series of small hydro-electric dams. The village has a small chapel build between 1620 - 1624, during the restoration of 1978 the stained glass windows were replaced with a series created by the famous artist, Marc Chagall. In 1982 the stained glass windows of the nave were installed, making them the last works by Chagall realized during his life. The second series originally had a yellow colour scheme which has not resisted time, but the dark blue, green, red and the rose window remain vivid. The chapel of Saillant is one of only four chapels with
Chagall windows and was declared a national monument in 2008.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Vineyards of the south-west: AOC Cahors

 

Chateau in the vineyards.
Chateau in the vineyards.

Prestigious with centuries old tradition, cultivation was introduced under the roman empire, and the wine featured on the wedding banket table in 1152 when Alenore d'Aquitaine married the future king of England. But as emperor Domitien had done to protect Italian wines, in 1373 the Guyenne 'highland' wines (notably Cahors) received extra taxation to protect the Gironde wines (Bordeaux).

Map of the vineyards.
Map of the vineyards.

Production peaked in 1870 with 40-60.000 ha before phylloxera destroyed the vineyards. By 1947 the Malbec grape was reintroduced for Argentine stock to the community of Parnac. Although the appelation Cahors (AOC since 1971) only produces one type of wine, and the wine is centered around a single grape variety, there are distinct differences in soil and hence the terroir and characteristic of the wine. The Malbec grape; also known as Côt, locally known as Auxerrois or around the world just as Cahors (still popular in Russia, but today grown on the Crimea).


Picnicking  in the vineyard.
Picnicking in the vineyard.

The majority is grown on the old alluvial soils (up to 200,000 years old) of the terraces and relief above the river Lot, whereas there is also wine produced closer to the river where soils are still being deposited (or less than 20,000 years old), as well as higher up the slopes of the causse. Vines in the valley of the Lot produce more grapes that make a lighter vin de rivière; ready to drink in 2 to 3 years. The vines on the terraces produce the classic dark velvet Cahors wines that age over 4-5 years (the first three years on the barrel). The calcium rich red clay of the causse (500,000 to a million years old) produces a very strong wine so rich in tannins it takes about 10 years to lose its 'fire'. Cahors wines have a minimum 70% Malbec with some Merlot (for fruit, alcohol and rondeur), Tannat (to improve colour and aging).

Off the road to Albas.
Off the road to Albas.


By public transport
The vineyards are located outside the city of Cahors, and most tourists would drive their own car to visit the chateaux. Alternatively you can use bus line 913 (Cahors to Monsempron Libos) which leaves from the Cahors train station and passes: Douelle, Parbac, Luzech, Albas, Castelfranc, and Puy-l'Evêque. These places have vineyards located along the river, which makes for a nice hike if the weather allows. For the real enthusiasts there is a Departmental farm in Anlars-Juillac, an experimental/research farm that houses the mother plants of the Malbec variety.

Chateau de Cayx, Queen Margareth II of Denmark's holiday home
Chateau de Cayx, Queen Margareth II of Denmark's holiday home

Cruise on the Lot
There are 'full day cruises' on Fridays in July and August with lunch onboard, passing through locks and than transfer to a coach to visit the Chateau de Cayx, Queen Margareth II of Denmark's holiday home, tasting their wines and the option to visit her castle and gardens (that is, if the Queen's not in). Return to Cahors by bus, after a wonderful day. Reservations obligatory.

Vineyard on the Lot river.
Vineyard on the Lot river.

La Villa Cahors; Malbec in the city
Although there are plenty of restaurants, bars, terraces and shops where you can buy and sample Cahors wines around town. This visitor information and wine tasting center next to the tourist office invites the visitor to discover all about the wonderful wines of Cahors and their history. Run jointly by the Tourist Office and the Union of Cahors Wine Professionals it offers wine tasting and background information.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

La Vicomté de Turenne: Collonges-la-Rouge.

View through the 15th century gate.
View through the 15th century gate.

The village headquarters the french association of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, created by its mayor in the 1980's. The Rouge (red) in its name refers to the red sandstone that was used in the construction of the village. Formed millions of years ago the stone is found naturally to the north of the village. The deep red color, that becomes especially contrasting with the green hillsides after rain, is caused by the iron oxide within the stone.

Well preserved streetscapes in a deep red color.
Well preserved streetscapes in a deep red color.

A first church was build here in the 8th century and Collonges-la-Rouge developed into a prosperous little town with six 'chateaux' and became a renowned wine producer, till the Phylloxeria epidemic wiped out the vines in the 19th century. The village switched to the production of walnut and walnut oil. The population dwindled from almost 2000 in the 16th century, to just 500 hundred today.

Map of Collonges-la-Rouge.
Map of Collonges-la-Rouge.

During 1930's the architectural integrity of the village became protected and restored including the church, mansions, castles, houses and pilgrim’s hostels. As a result, it is possible today to walk through the 15th century defense wall gates and well preserved streetscapes in a deep red color.

Detail local artisan shop.
Detail local artisan shop.

A visit to the Saint Pierre church (3) will puzzle you with a wealth of symbolism and a quite unique 'double nave', that divided the church for use by the two different 'cults'. The green in the colored glass windows contrasts with the red walls, and a sky-well illuminates the center.

Halle with four banal.
Halle with four banal.

Walk through the village and admire the Castel de Maussac (1), Castel de Vassinhac (2), Halle and four banal (4), Maison Boutang du Peyrat (5), Castel de Benges (6), Maison de la Sirene (7), Manoir de Beauverie (8) and the Town hall (9) along the way.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

La Vicomté de Turenne: Turenne.

Table mountain of Turenne.
Table mountain of Turenne.

The table mountain of Turenne has been attractive for its natural defensive position, fortifications date back to the 8th century when it became the center of the Carolingian land of Tornés, over time giving birth to the Vicomté de Turenne

Map of Turenne.
Map of Turenne.

After the reformation Turenne became a protestant stronghold becoming a safe-haven for protestant artisans, continuing to enjoy a privileged position well into the 18th century, when it became the property of Louis XV and the catholic Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Pantaléon church (7) was reconstructed. 

Turenne seen from the castle.
Turenne seen from the castle.

After the revolution the castle and defence works were largely dismantled, leaving the round tower of Caesar (1) and square donjon (2) ornamenting the plateau, whiles scattering stones and ornaments are across the village. 

View from Caesar's tower.
View from Caesar's tower.

Walking around you will spot windows, doors, cornerstones and statues ornamenting unexpected places. The Capucines chapel (3) hosts exibitions in summer and has a metal viewpoint sticking over the 13th century defence wall. 

Port de la ville.
Port de la ville.

Walk through the port de la ville (4), find the cazemate du Virage (5) and the tour dite du Calvaire (6) parts of the 16th century defense works.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

La Vicomté de Turenne: Curemonte.

Skyline of Curemonte.
Skyline of Curemonte.

Hugging the rocky ridge line overlooking the Maumont and Sourdoire valleys, Curemonte was build on a strategic defensive position. Six towers dominate the skyline build by three lords united to defend the village. One of the lesser known ‘most beautiful villages’ of the Corrèze, with 7 noble houses, 3 castles, 3 churches, a market hall, fountains and other small heritage, this village is really worth a detour.

Map of Curemont.
Map of Curemont.

Most of the buildings visible today date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Towers, main buildings and the fortified enclosure of the castles of Saint Hilaire and Plas dominate. In the village, the Saint-Barthélemy church, patron saint of Curemonte, was built in the 12th century. 

Architectural detail of the castle.
Architectural detail of the castle.

Over time enlarged with a chapel, and a sacristy. In the 17th century, it was decorated with a painted wooden altarpiece which has recently been restored by the Friends of Curemonte into its original polychrome glory.

Local produce direct from the farm.
Local produce direct from the farm.

The rural exodus and First World War affected the village, bringing to population down from 1200 at the beginning of the 20th century, to only 216 inhabitants today. A walk through the village will reveal large architecture and interesting small heritage like the Grotto (1), Noble houses (2), St.Hilaire and de Plas castles (3) and the Saint Bartlelemy church (4). 

Summer in Curemonte.
Summer in Curemonte.

But the real attraction lies in looking back at the village, nested in the surrounding countryside, from the hiking trails. Every season has its charm, with poppies popping out in spring, autumn leaves, and gentile Limousin cattle year round.

Friday, February 26, 2021

La Vicomté de Turenne: Martel.

The market 'halle' of Martel
The market 'halle' of Martel.

Driving towards Martel through the barrenness of the causse, seeing a skyline emerge dominated by 7 towers is a clear indication you are approaching a historic place.

La Tour Tournemire
La Tour Tournemire

Martel” (french for ‘hammer’), was the name given to the great Charles Martel in the 700s. Legend has it the “savior of Europe” (and grandfather of Charlemagne), founded this garrison town, after defeating the Muslim forces that took over Aquitaine in 732, to block any future Islamic advance towards northern Europe.

Map of Martel
Map of Martel.

The Palais de la Raymondie (1) at the center of town houses a small museum largely dedicated to the Puy d’Issolud, a Celtic archaeological site (to the west) which has been identified as Uxellodunum, besieged by Julius Caesar in 51 BC, legendary last stand of the Gauls against Roman occupation.

Food served on the streets.
Food served on the streets.

And Martel hosted an Angevine (‘English’) tragedy. When Henry ‘the younger king of England’, took refuge and died here in 1183. So estranged and antagonized from his father, the count of Anjou (and Henry II ‘the elder king of England’) only arrived after his death was confirmed, thinking the scene had been a trap set by his son to catch him.

Doorway with roses
Doorway with roses

The small town is densely packed with history, a weekly farmers market is held in the historic ‘Halle’ (2) every Saturday. Rich in local produce, and seasonal truffles and mushrooms gathered from the surrounding forests and causse. Strolling through the small streets admire the Maison Fabri (3), Hotel de Briance (4), Maison de la Vidalie (5), Hotel de Mirandol (6), Saint-Maur church (7) and La Tour Tournemire (8).

Slow life...
Slow life...

Towards the south of the town you will find the train station from which a steam train plies a historic rail line constructed on the Dordogne river cliff side.

Vineyards of the south-west: AOC Corrèze - Vin de Paillé; Mille et une Pierres.

  View of Branceilles through the vineyards. Located in the extreme south of Corrèze, the Branceilles vineyard was the first to ...