Meet the... Wine maker

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Meet the... Wine maker

We bought Chateau La Tour de Chollet in 2006 jointly with Kirstie's parents who now spend part of every year helping us on the vineyard
The two bedroom house cost €500,000 (£442,500) and only had two bedrooms, but we have converted it into a seven-bedroom home over four years, part of which we hire out as a self-contained apartment for B&B guests.

The 18th-century vineyard hadn't produced wine properly for 30 years so we had to start from scratch
We demolished the ancient concrete press and bought a high tech new one and applied for official organic status. The previous owner had sold the grapes directly to the local cooperative with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

Having previously both worked in IT, we worked on a vineyard in Cahors for a year to see if we wanted to run a vineyard and to get valuable experience
Producing wine is a technical business but we learnt fast and the hardest part of the whole business is dealing with French bureaucracy and all the form-filling.

The older farmers nearby regarded our “organic philosophy” with bemusement
We planted flowers between the vines to encourage insects, and they thought this was a rather odd thing to do but generally they have been really helpful and we were received very positively.

During harvest our typical day starts at 5am and can last until midnight so it's certainly hard work

At this time – typically mid- September until October – we pick grapes during the morning, with the help of locals, friends and family, and then we process the grapes after lunch, washing and picking them and starting the wine-making process.

Our wines have now won awards and we sell about 30 per cent of it to the French

Our output is now around 15,000 bottles a year. We produce whites, rosé and reds, the latter of which are currently most popular. Our two reds are two distinct styles: a fruity, young number for drinking now; and an oak-aged classic Bordeaux ideal for laying down. At about £10.99 a bottle, we sell it through our website and also to walk-in buyers.

As well as making our own wine we organize wine tastings, tours and local walks a part of the growing trend for wine tourism

Tourists can volunteer to work for a day on the vines and get a taste of life as an oenologist. So far it's been difficult to make any meaningful money so it's been a question of ticking over, however we are growing into a profitable business which I hope our sons might continue.

Our two boys have had a start in life that I hope will open many doors for them

Ben, five, and Jacques, four, are bilingual and when not attending the local school have plenty of space to run around – it's a huge garden for them!

Harvest time aside, life in France is nice and relaxed and there are few negatives to contend with

The climate is so much better, there's less traffic, the education is good, we're closer to nature and the people just seem generally happier.


A Place In The Sun