I can’t say the last time was that I read an actual physical book for pleasure until recently. These 2 books, Grape Expectations and Saving Our Skins by Caro Feely, a wife, mother to 2 daughters, wine educator, tour guide, organic farmer and speaker on wine and ecology are must-reads whether you are a wine person or not! She lives in Saussignac in the Dordogne, France on the farm where these books are set and a place I visited last year.
Studying wine I have definitely accumulated a lot of books. So when it comes to a pleasure read, wine is not the first thing that comes to mind. Grape Expectations, is almost a self-help book, it is so inspirational. Feely and her husband, Sean, with their 2 very young girls picked up, bought a run-down vineyard and house in Saussignac and moved from a city, corporate life in Ireland to this farm to follow their dream in 2005. The book is entertaining and Feely is quite adept at drawing you into their story, a real story about taking risks in order to survive. She is quite candid about the stresses they encounter in trying to start a life in France. The book is part travelogue on the beauty of the setting and the incredible food of the region, it is an intimate story on going into farming, wine farming and the challenges that it brings, particularly, when their farming focus is sustainable and organic. I found myself being drawn into her stories and rooting for she and her family to succeed. Really anyone will find this book fascinating because Feely is a good writer and she hooks you on the story. You will finish the book and find yourself uplifted which is a good thing these days and you will be energized to take on tasks you might have been dreading and very definitely to be inspired to visit this corner of France.
Her second book has a bit more of a “winey” feel. She structures the sections around the biodynamic cycle of root, leaf, flower and fruit. As makes sense since the Feelys have started to gleam the knowledge of speaking french as well as making wine, there is more wine knowledge in Saving Our Skins. The title is a pun on, an arrangement she made with an amazing female entrepreneur, Naomi Whittel, who founded a nutrition company, Reservage to purchase the remaining grapes skins. Whittel wanted to source organic grape skins for the resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grape skins. Yet again this is an incredible story of entrepreneurism on the Feely’s part to making a sustainable grape farm financially sustainable. Whittel if you google her or research her company is its own success story.Yet again, Feely’s descriptions take you directly to Saussignac and I can attest the cheese and wine tasting that she describes in her book was as yummy and probably more delicious in person! This time the family visits Alsace, California and Burgundy and you are taken behind wine doors but at the same time the practicalities like not killing themselves driving in a fierce snowstorm to Alsace are part of the story as well. Feely ,also, goes into the challenges of eeking out a living and turning it into thriving while at the same time taking care of her daughters and not forgetting about her relationship with her husband, the winemaker.
If you find yourself in southwest France their farm is a must-visit and Feely has won sustainable tourism awards for it. In brief this is the area of France where Chateau Feely is located.
Saussignac is about an 1 1/2 hour drive from Bordeaux and 45 minute drive from Saint Emilion. When I visited I took the train from Bordeaux to Saussignac and then the train to Saint Emilion. Saussignac is part of a group of wine communes that are part of the Dordogne départment which corresponds to the ancient region of Le Périgord. Le Périgord was comprised of 4 tribes that divided the region, Périgord Vert (a very green area), Périgord Blanc (limestone plateaux), Périgord Noir (woods oak and pine and foie gras), Périgord Poupre (purple, a wine region with its headquarters in Bergerac). Feely told me when I visited that any town name that ends in an “ac” has roman origins.
The Dordogne/Périgord has been called the land of 1000 castles. Saussignac is right next to Bergerac in the vicinity of the Dordogne river. When I made my first trip to the region I bicycled mostly through the Perigord Noir and visited castles like Chateau de la Roque.
This castle is about an hour east of Saussignac. The Dordogne is the land of castles and foie gras and cheese and wine. On my guided bicycling excursion it was like being on a scavenger hunt because we went from Roman ruin to duck farm to castle. It was a bit of deja vu when I got off the train at Saussignac since I had been to the area so many years before that.
Saussignac is next to the larger AOC of the wine area Bergerac.
The region is known for growing Bordeaux varieties being so close to the Bordeaux region. The Saussignac AOC is for liquoreux wines made from any or all of the grapes, Sémillon, Muscadelle, Sauvignon and RS (residual sugar) must be more than 4.5% and wines must achieve at least 12% alcohol. Reading Feely’s books she describes the painstaking process of meeting AOC requirements particularly when you are a new comer. Most of their wines though are dry red, dry white and a rose all organic, biodynamic and fit into the now trendy category of “natural wines”.
The wine and food pairing was fun and so delicious!! The cheese was gooey and flavorful, the smoked duck breast and salmon just so good (Feely is picky and a pro about sourcing her cheese and meats) all overlooking their beautiful vineyards and this was the wintertime.
I think organic, sustainable farmers should take note of what the Feely’s have done. They offer guesthouses where you can stay on their property. She offers tours and Chateau Feely holds the prestigious ‘Best of Wine Tourism’ Gold award for Accommodation on a wine estate for 2017 and the prestigious ‘Best of Wine Tourism’ Gold award and sustainable tourism for 2013.
Their wines truly represent a sense of place. They don’t fine and use minimum to no sulfur. In a world where 2ooo cases is a small production. Chateau Feely produces 220 cases of Grace, a cabernet/merlot blend, which is their top red at the moment and is a blend of 2010, 2012 and 2013. A bottle of Grace is the wine sitting on my counter at home.
If you are deciding on a vacation or if you are on a wine business trip and in the area, I highly recommend stopping in Saussignac. You will not be disappointed. If you are Irish, since the Feely’s previously lived in Ireland, their wines are in limited supply there. It is a beautiful and bountiful corner of France. In her book, Feely states that Saussignac has one of the highest concentrations of organic wine growers among all the appellations in France. I hope to get back to Bordeaux, Saint Emilion, the Dordogne and Chateau Feely in Saussignac again. At least I have a bottle of their terroir in my wine closet!