I picked up Saving Our Skins by Caro Feely on the “recent acquisitions” table at the library. It’s about a professional couple, originally from South Africa, who after living in Dublin for a few years, move to Saussignac in the Dordogne (France) in order to develop an organic and biodynamic vineyard and related wine education and accommodation business. I now see that Feely has already written about their earlier years, and their conversion from city professionals to owners of an old winery, in Grape Expectations (which I haven’t read).
This book starts at the outset of their 3rd year at Saussignac, and culminates in the winning of a prestigious tourism award. In fact, we can see all about the tourism side of the business at French Wine Adventures and the accommodation they offer at Luxury Dordogne Gites.
If the description sounds something like A Year in Provence, let me say that it’s much more than that. This book is 300 pages of quite dense, but very readable, information and descriptions. It goes into the technical details of wine making on an organic and biodynamic basis, life in a small close-knit community with two young children, the financial stresses involved in rehabilitating and developing a vineyard with tasting and accommodation facilities and the struggles in order to sell a premium product in a buyer’s market.
It’s full of the richness of life in a wine producing region of France, complete with comments about the detailed French and EU regulations (their advantages and disadvantages) and all the tribulations and achievements. There’s an ever passing parade of people and candid comments about many of them. Sometimes you feel that there’s a bit too much detail (do we really want to know the toing-and-froing in getting Grape Expectations published?), but the result is certainly that the reader identifies with the stresses, challenges and frustrations that the family encounters and we’re effectively drawn in to the family’s life so as to empathise with their trials and triumphs.
What particularly shine through are the author’s passions – to develop a business and for organic agriculture.
You can’t help wondering, with two books out there, and the wine tours and accommodation businesses now being obvious successes, whether the “authenticity” of these activities will disappear. Of course, after reading Saving Our Skins, we certainly wish Caro and Sean every success. At this stage, however, after looking at websites, the fundamentals seems intact (presumably the typos are not intentional?) and virtually all the Trip Advisor reviews rank the experience as “excellent”.
Definitely worth a read, whether because of an interest in wine-making, organic/biodynamic farming, life in the Dordogne or perhaps even in order to plan for a stay at Saussignac!