JOIN IN THE CELLARS
400 grapevines. It had always been Terence’s dream to make wine. “We planted 400 vines because that is the number you are allowed to have without a permit,” he says. “It works out as an allowance of about a bottle of wine a day, which every French household would consider a sensible amount.” Over the years they have made France their home, brought up two boys who consider themselves French, and their best friends are French. In late September, when the grapes have swelled and the sun is still hot, the Stokes and their friends start the harvest early in the morning, bending low with their secateurs to snip at the vines, hoping to finish before the sun is too high in the sky. “Soon after midday we are finished,” says Terence. “Then we go into the shade on our terrace, sit around and eat Lancashire hotpot. We think our French neighbours enjoy it, made with our own lamb. With some smoked salmon to start and last year’s wine to drink.” La Bartheserre is like a film set. You approach down a long drive flanked by cypress trees to find a 16th-century stone house with a mini turret. There are four bedrooms, a terrace, and pasture and outbuildings. The sheep pens and shelters are not as full as they were, as they now keep only five favourites from the original flock. The grapes produce 300 bottles a year, stored in a wine cellar. Terence and Angela now feel too old to lift sheep, so they are selling through Knight Frank (020 7861 5015) at €645,000 (£545,000) in order to buy something smaller nearby. “The wine gets better every year,” says Terence. “We have syrah and grenache grapes and we have added tannat, which is local and gives a bit of bite, and we put them through a hand-operated presser. I find looking after vines is like looking after animals. They respond to your attentions.” You don’t have to own the land to be involved in the vendange. Jon Neighbour and his fiancée, Nicole Bowler, join in the harvest each year when they visit their flat at Château Les Carrasses, a château in the Languedoc that has been restored and split into 28 apartments and houses by Domaine & Demeure. The company, backed by a wine producer, buys disused vineyards and brings them back to life. “We go out every September and take part in the picking,” says Jon. “We own three hectares of land with the flat and are given 40 cases of the wine each year. I felt really proud when we tasted our first vintage.” They feel romantically bound to the château – they got engaged there last year and plan to marry there next May. “Les Carrasses fills the gap between self-catering and a hotel,” says Jon. “It is so peaceful. When we look out over the vineyards we feel a sense of ownership, connected to the land.” There is a restaurant, pool, tennis and boulodrome, and flats can be let when they aren’t being used. Domaine & Demeure is now restoring Château St Pierre de Serjac in the same way, where prices for flats will be about €379,000 (£320,000) to €800,000 (£675,000) and more for the most luxurious (for sales, call 0845 686 8670). As France pulls out of the recession alongside other European countries, older English couples are selling up and new Francophiles are moving in. Knight Frank says sales in Gascony have doubled since last year and inquiry levels this summer have been 35 per cent higher than last. “Over the last five or six years the market has come down a lot, by around 40 per cent in some parts,” says Matthew Hodder-Williams, in charge of south-west France at Knight Frank. “Compared to the Cotswolds you can get a monstrous amount of property in Gascony. Buyers are younger. Couples in their thirties and forties want a lovely summer family home but also a European base from which they can reach other parts of the continent. They can see that the technology has improved a lot, and accessibility is good with the TGV, regional airports and a new airport which has opened at Brive. You can stay connected and work from there if you need to.” Be part of the vendange in the morning and have a conference call with the office in London in the afternoon.
Vine time: a château in the Languedoc, top; the Stokes, above, are selling