Martin Walker's Wine Notes
It is not often that the attractions of a vineyard include a couple of pedal boats, ready to be floated in the property’s own lake. Nor do many Bergerac vineyards have a 15th century chateau built on the ruins of its 12th century predecessor. Even fewer have the unusual distinction of having been owned by two English breweries.
Welcome to Chateau de Fayolle, under vigorous new management by Frank and Riki Campbell, two high-energy Americans and, Wow, do they move fast. They bought the place less than two years ago and are now putting the finishing touches to a sumptuous new tasting room they built themselves. It boasts its own café that will offer light lunches, salads with cheese and charcuterie, both indoors and on a new terrace that is being laid as you read this. Sip away and watch the kids play dodgems with the pedal boats on the lake below.
The circular and marble-topped tasting area has tiny lights set into the counter so you can get a good look at the colour, individual sinks to rinse your glass for the next wine to try. Most impressive to me was the proposed four tasting schedules.
You can taste a vertical flight of their white wines from different years from oldest to youngest, or a flight of reds in the same way. You can have a testing of nouveautés, the new wines they are offering. Then there is the crème de la crème tasting of only their best wines, of which their prestige white, Bois du Sanglier, goes straight into oak barrels, and the barrel then gets sent back to the tonnelier.
The idea of using a new barrel (and they can cost from 700 to 1200 euros each) to make wine for only one year is a new one on me. Frank reckons this adds just over a euro to the price of each bottle of wine and he thinks the cost is worth it to produce a wine that will be distinctive. Made from 85 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 15 percent Sémillon, this Bois du Sanglier is glorious, wonderfully fresh in the mouth and then slowly releasing its rich, almost buttery, flavours that linger long in the mouth. At 13 euros, it’s a bargain.
Then there’s the Sang du Sanglier, the prestige red wine, all Merlot, three years in oak barrels, also 13 euros a bottle, and it won a silver medal at the Paris concours. The standard red, at 9.50 euros a bottle, also won a silver medal at the same concours, and it is a very good wine for the price, mainly Merlot with 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and ten percent Cabernet Franc.
So we have the ‘woods of the wild boar’ in white wine, the ‘blood of the wild boar’ in red wine, there is also the young Marcassin of wild boar in the semi-sweet moelleux. Why all the wild boar references, and their images on the labels and wild boar silhouettes at the entrance to the estate? Down in the far west of the Saussignac, close to the Gironde border, this is certainly boar country but it’s really because of the beer. Ringwood brewery, the first of the English beer-making owners, had a boar on the labels of their bottle and the image stuck.
To call this wine semi-sweet is unfair; I have tasted Monbazillacs that were less of a dessert wine. And their full-bodied Saussignac dessert wine is very good indeed. But if there are any left, buy a bottle of their 2008 Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux, which is sensational. (They were going to throw it out, thinking that it had to be too old. Then they tasted it.) And do not miss their bargain corner, where some of their old white and rosé wines are on sale at half price.
On a limestone plateau stuffed with flint, and their vineyards mostly facing south and south-west, they have a lovely terroir. A glance back though many years of the Hachette wine guides finds repeated praise and stars awarded for the wines, gold medals at Lyon and Bordeaux and from Gilbert and Gallard. This has been a very good vineyard for many years. They also have as their oenologue the renowned Daniel Hecquet of Chateau Puy-Servain, one of the great winemakers in the Montravel.
The new owners are determined to make it a top vineyard, while fulfilling their own long-held dream of living in France and making fine wines. Originally from South Carolina, Frank worked for many years for the Eaton Corporation, and spent the last ten years in Switzerland as head of the European and Mid-East operations of this power management company. Riki used the time to study French and spend three years getting her diploma at the Swiss wine school at Changins. They moved to the Saussignac in 2019, after viewing a hundred different vineyard properties across France.
Once they saw Chateau de Fayolle and tasted the wines, that was it. Frank loved the chateau and its history, the wonderful ancient pigeonnier in the park, the landscape of the plateau and the slopes leading down to the two lakes on their property on nearly 150 acres. Riki thought these were the wines she wanted to make and they agreed that with the new tasting room and cafe, the lake and the pedal boats, they could make it a tourist destination, while also making first class organic wines. They are now in year two of the three-year certification process, with no herbicides used for the past ten years and no pesticides since 2018.
Ends (but note PS)
PS - In my article last month on Chardonnays in the Bergerac, I neglected to mention the stunning Adagio produced by Chateau les Eyssards, a vineyard which has a basset hound. Pascal Cuisset not only makes great wine (as does his daughter, with her Mano a Mano) but he is also the tuba-playing star of the brass band, In Vino Veritas. His vineyard’s Facebook page is like a diary of wine-making through the year - strongly recommended.