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by Wendy Narby
Chateau Feely's award of the Gold Best Of Wine Tourism for Accommodation is a victory for the small guys. Many of the winners of these awards are the grand and prestigious Châteaux of Bordeaux, their awards are well deserved for the excellence of their service and prestigious offerings, but Chateau Feely is different.
Wine tourism is at its heart, hand in hand with a passionate and more serious message of eco-responsibility. The property is also in the Dordogne, to the east of the vineyards of Saint Emilion, in the lesser known Saussignac region of Bergerac. It's worth a trip to this beautiful area that benefits from similar soils to Saint Emilion and is perched on the rolling hillsides above the Dordogne River.
The Château is a one-stop shop for all things wine tourism: tasting, teaching, staying, touring - you name it, these people pull out all the stops to share their passion. 'They' are Sean and Caro, a very international couple. Caro is of Irish origin, her grandmother was French descended from one of the 14 merchant families who left France for Galway in the 1300s to import wine. Sean's grandfather was a wine maker in the Cape, which is where Sean and Caro met through a shared passion for wine. They left The Cape to live in Ireland and on a holiday to France fell in love with the vineyards of Bergerac - easy to do. They hatched a plan to move there and after five years of saving, they left their jobs in IT and Finance to rescue Chateau Freely from liquidation in 2005.
Château owners Sean and Caro Feely
Their objective was to bring back this historic vineyard, with cellars dating from 1737 and some walls dating as far back as 700 AD, to a healthy working vineyard.
Mission accomplished; through a lot of investment in time, money and effort, Chateau Feely is now an organic and biodynamic vineyard. Determined to make a difference, they have farmed organically from the get go. As of the vintage 2009 their wines are certified organic and certified biodynamic since 2011. They have succeeded in bringing a dream to reality.
Not only is the vineyard is farmed organically but eco sensitivity is integrated into all the activities on site, including the sustainable accommodation. The organic theme runs right through the property.
They have been welcoming guests to the property since 2007 and now have two self-catering options on the vineyard, each housing 4 guests: The Cottage and the Wine Lodge, a rather new world feeling right there in the name.
What does sustainable accommodation mean for them? Both properties are ecologically constructed using organic paint, natural wood fibre insulation (with poplar panelling on the ceilings). The Wine Cottage's thick stonewalls date back to the 1700's - that's traditional insulation!
Rainwater is captured from the roofs to use on the gardens and farm, electricity is economised by naturally drying linen and towels on a line, and there's a heat pump for water and the low energy under-floor heating. The eco-friendly design includes overhanging roofs in the wine lodge and tasting room for natural temperature management, light wells in the corridors to avoid using lights during the day with sensor controlled lights. Solar panels are planned for the barn roof - it's an on going process.
There's no doubt you are close to nature here and the stunning views across the organic vineyards from the terrace is a guarantee that there are no pesticides, herbicides or systemic fungicides in the air.
Guests are invited to contribute to the movement with ecological cleaning products provided, recycling compartments and instructions on how to contribute fruit & veg waste to the compost heap.
What goes around comes around. If you stay for a picnic or for lunch in the tasting room, you will taste organic, local products including veggies grown in and amongst the vines. Or you could just stroll into the herb garden or the orchard and help yourself.
But ecological doesn't have to be rustic - no hair shirts and sandals here! It's luxurious, with a 12m saltwater pool, allergy free cushions and organic duvets, pillows and sheets, wireless speakers, wifi and fully equipped kitchens.
Caro is a passionate advocate for eco friendly living and shares this passion with guests through education and writing. Guests staying in the gite were always asking for help understanding what is going on in the vineyards so she started giving classes on French wine and it grew from there. Now as a Certified WSET provider, she runs certification courses on the estate, wine tours, vineyard walks including offering free visits for school and college groups explaining how organic works and it's importance. The walking tours they offer are particularly popular as in Saussignac 60% of the growers are organic.
There are also wine and food pairing lunches, wine tours to neighbouring vineyards and even photography, painting and cooking classes - did they forget anything?
What does the future hold? Unsurprisingly they have plans including offering an ecological setting for seminars and team meetings, particularly apt for companies with an eco agenda and green focus. Wine and food pairing is also on the agenda using food from Feely farm in partnership with a local chef.
If you can't make it to Chateau Feely yourself, Caro also shares her passion for living lightly on the earth through her writing. Her books 'Grape Expectations' and 'Saving our Skins' recount their adventures in wine land and the third book in the series, ‘Glass Half Full’, will be published this year.