Say Ile de Ré and golden sandy beaches and white sails draped around its chic harbours resonate in the mind's eye. Say Deux Sèvres and you will be rewarded with a blank look.
One of the more modest départements of France, it has a population of a mere 360,000 or so souls, and has managed to avert the eye of the world for pretty much the whole of eternity. It's time to change that.
Whilst it has a growing ex-pat population, its notoriety has been confined to the unkind sniggers of its sophisticated neighbours, where, in polite circles it is referred to as Les Deux Chèvres, owing to the substantial number of four legged inhabitants there.
That said, it has a modest charm and some distinct hidden treasures, not least of which are its wines which are produced in its northernmost region, nestling below its lofty cousins in the Loire Valley.
Its geographical proximity to this oenology titan means that it shares the Anjou appellation which at least give it a semblance of modest recognition.
One of my personal pilgrimages is to visit each and every one of the 28 viticulteurs that are within a half hour drive of my home in this area to imbibe their wares – no unpleasant task I might add.
This crusade is facilitated by the generosity of these people when they hold their portes ouvertes to gather the faithful customers in through their doors to share the delights of trying the first of the new wines that have been prepared the Autumn previous.
It was an informal affair. Gilles and Alain Lemoine are brothers who run the vineyard at St. Pierre á Champ, producing 2,000 hectolitres from an estate of 32 hectares. They produce a range of wines amongst which appear familiar grape types such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc.
This is not the place to come if you are a serious wine collector and are looking for a find to squirrel away in your cellar to accrue in taste and value.
Theirs is more the wine of a moment. Honest and sagely priced and doing exactly what it says on the label.
Much of their offer is packaged to identify the grape variety, and bearing a re-branded trendy label, plus a few 'specials' to include a wine named after a family member – Alexia - which does improve with a few years' keeping, if you are inclined to do so.
The Lemoines received their guests over an entire weekend, into a part renovated and ageing barn. It still sports a freezer-like plastic slatted entrance as the main door has long seen better days.
The barn is lined with trestle tables with hastily stapled paper tablecloths on them and benches which require a intern-ship at a circus to balance on.
The trappings are simple, uncluttered and frankly not photogenic. It is a different story however, on the matter of ambience.
I walked in on a Sunday afternoon and was greeted by the site of around 100 guests who were generating a buzz of conversation that threatened to drown the string folk group who were in attendance.
Gilles and his wife came straight over and hand shakes and kisses were swiftly dispensed, leaving me with a sense that I was the guest of honour, although everyone was being regaled with the same warmth and sincerity.
As is the form in wine tasting etiquette, I moved from the drier whites of the Sauvugnon Blanc, the Chardonnay and lesser known Grolleau Gris (think Pino Grigio) into the Rosé d'Anjou and finally finally onto the red: Anjou villages and Cuvée Alexia, which was rounded off with a glass of sparkling white, one of the vineyard's top scorers.
During the tasting, exchanges of rapid franglais could be heard and orders were taken for fouacé – rillettes, a local bread not unlike pitta. For those with a sweeter tooth the was a cherry conserve.
Needless to say, everything was home made in the vineyard's kitchen.
The wine was as young as it could possibly have been, and needed, especially where the whites were concerned, a bias towards the drier end of the taste spectrum, which suited me well.
Nonetheless, it had the distinct foundations of a credible wine yet to come and left an indelible tasting note to self to return when the bottles were ready for sale.
Like so many small businesses in the area, the Lemoines have diversified and are also producing a fine apple juice which was on sale as was their current stock holding of wines.
Once I felt I had eaten and drunk more than was polite, my order was taken and brought to the car, where farewells were again sincere and promises were exchanged to come for an aperitif when next in the area.
It was a privilege to be allowed over the doorstep of such kind and honest people. The portes ouverts is a low cost public relations exercise, but it morally distinguishes itself from its slick city based counterpart by its generosity and humility.
The wines of the Domaine de la Gachere have achieved the modest accolades of a Medaille d'Argent and a mention in the Guide Hachette du Vin, but will remain amongst the ranks of a lesser known vintage, at least for the time being.
If you get the chance, go and try the wine, as a warm welcome awaits.
Gilles and Alain Lemoine
Domaine de la Gachère
79290 St. Pierre á Champ
Helen Aurelius-Haddock lives in the Poitou Charentes. She writes for various publications which include French Property News, Flavour Magazine and Green Living. Her blog Haddock in the Kitchen is her personal journal of the food and recipes of regional France.
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