The Vineyard

A wine property of 124 acres in the appellations of Saussignac and Bergerac.

Our Story

Frank and Riki Campbell are the proud and happy owners of their latest (and last!) project, Château de Fayolle and its’ vineyard located in Saussignac, France. Originally from South Carolina in America, the Campbells moved to Lausanne, Switzerland in 2009 where Riki attended L’Ecole du Vin de Changins for 3 years to prepare for their new life as winemakers. Frank was the President of Eaton Corporation for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The couple searched for the perfect vineyard in Switzerland and France for three years, looking at more than 100 properties. Finally, in October 2018, they found Fayolle and moved to the south of France in March 2019.

Why Fayolle? For Riki, it was the manageable size of the vineyard with the ideal terroir that had the potential to produce wines of the highest quality. For Frank, it was the medieval château, the stunning variety of the landscape and the prospect of tackling the numerous projects in all the outbuildings.

Of the 35 acres of vines in production, 60% are red grapes (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec), and 40% are white varietals, sauvignon blanc and sémillon blanc. In 1997, under the ownership of the English beer conglomerate, Ringwood Brewery, the vines, the production facilities and the château itself underwent a huge renovation and modernization. Today our vines range from 21 to 2 years old. We age some wines in stainless steel vats and some in French oak barrels—catering to both modern and traditional palates.

Something very dear to Riki’s heart was the desire to produce “vin bio” or organic wines and since the day the Campbells arrived in 2019, no man-made chemicals have ever been sprayed in their vines. It is a 3-year process in France to become certified “biologique” and Fayolle is now in year 2 of that process.

Projects

  • 2019 saw the renovation of part of the tractor barn into a stunning new barrel room where the Sang du Sanglier red, the Bois du Sanglier white and the Saussignac sweet wines are aged.
  • Since they now had nowhere to put the tractors, Frank, Christian and Fabio built a new barn inside the old ruin to house all the tools and equipment.
  • Still ongoing in 2020, is the renovation of the rest of the old barn into a new tasting room, wine shop, café and office space, which will hopefully be opened for the Christmas season 2020.

The “Terroir”

What exactly is terroir and why does every French winemaker get misty-eyed when they speak of it? There is no one-word English translation for the concept.

Terroir is all of the raw materials in a certain place that eventually give the wines their heart and soul. It is the land: the soil quality and depth, the amount and type of rock in the dirt, the mineral content. It is the water: the rain, the fog, the morning mist, the natural drainage of the slopes. It is the location and height of the sun in relation to the vines. It is the strength and temperature of the wind. It is the flora and fauna growing and living on the property: the birds, the bees, the fruit and nut trees, the wildflowers, the earthworms, the weeds that grow between the vines. It is all these things in combination that make each vineyard unique in all the world and the starting point of any great wine.

Our terroir at Fayolle is as close to perfection as one can find. The château sits on top of a limestone cliff with only 15 inches of topsoil available. This means that the vines must struggle to flourish. They must grow deeper taproots to find water. They grow stronger and incredibly hardy to survive, resulting in an abundance of rich and flavorful fruit in the fall.

All of our parcels of vines are situated on gentle slopes in a southwest direction to take advantage of the morning sun on one side and afternoon sun on the other. The soil is chock full of chunks of limestone and flint which you can literally taste in the white wines. The abundant cherry, plum and fig trees, as well as the blueberry and raspberry bushes on the property all come in to play in the reds. The biodiversity of the surrounding landscape–from the hillsides, the vines, the woods, the lake to the hay fields–contribute to the complexity and elegance of our wine.

« One key thing we have been doing to enrich the unique flavors of the varietals so well-known in Bergerac and Saussignac is to raise the density of the vines per acre each time a parcel is scheduled to be replanted. Allowing less space and, therefore, less resources to each vine can only enhance the richness and complexity of Fayolle wines by making the vines work that much harder ».

Frank Campbell

The Harvest

The most magical time of the year here at the vineyard, “le vendange” or harvest begins in September and lasts through November. Starting in late August, the team, along with our œnologue, Daniel Hecquet, from Château Puyservain, goes out in the sémillon vines and taste the grapes to determine if they are ready to make our crisp and dry sparkling wine called Bulles du Sanglier or Wild Boar Bubbly. We are looking for the exact ripeness which creates the perfect balance between sweetness and acidity. Christian runs grape samples down to the lab every day during this period to verify our tastebuds until that one day comes when we say, “That’s it! Let’s go!”

We are part of a cooperative who all share a harvest machine. We slide ourselves into the schedule and are given a time slot. (This time can be 4 a.m. or 6 p.m. or midnight—the harvest machines run 24/7 during the vendange.) Early mornings are best because it is still very cool outside and the grapes are plump and clean, thanks to the dew, so we always try to get ourselves into that sweet 6 a.m. slot!

We are very lucky here at Fayolle that our vines are located so close to the chai, which is the building where we receive the harvest. Our grapes are only exposed to the air, (oxygen is Kryptonite to grape juice), for a few minutes—just enough time for the harvest machine to go up and down 5 or 6 rows, dump the grapes in the bin behind Fabio’s tractor, drive the fruit to the chai and put the harvest in either the press (for the white grapes) or directly into the fermentation vats (for the reds).

This mechanical harvesting system continues for about 3 or 4 weeks, parcel by parcel, varietal by varietal, as each grape becomes perfectly ripe for the type of wine that is its’ final destination.

Except for the Saussignac. The Saussignac wine is a whole other beast altogether. The sémillon blanc grapes that are destined for our region’s signature “vin liquoreux” or sweet wine are picked by hand. We have to wait for the bunches of grapes to become “over-mature” and start to be covered with botrytis cinerea or noble rot. This process starts in October and continues well into November. During this period, we descend on the vines 3, 4 or even 5 times, buckets and secateurs in hand, to pick only those bunches that have achieved the peak of desiccated perfection. The harvesting machine, as effective as it may be, just does not hold a candle to the sorting skills of human eyes and hands.

Making and Aging the Wine

Forming an enclosed courtyard with the back of the château, itself, are the winemaking facilities, which visitors are welcome to explore. The “chai de vinification”, or vat room, contains the 17 stainless steel tanks where most of the wine is fermented and aged under tightly regulated conditions. This is Christian’s domaine. He rules the chai.

Here at Fayolle, we currently make 9 different wines from our 5 different varietals of grapes. (The Malbec grapes were only planted in 2019 and won’t be harvested for the first time until 2021). Each parcel is fermented and made into wine separately before we do any mixing of wine in a process known as assemblage. We love Assemblage Day! Christian, Daniel, Frank and I are like mad scientists in the tasting room with our beakers and spittoons. Do we add 6 % of the sémillon to the sauvignon blanc this year? 8? 10? Every year is different because the wine from each parcel tastes slightly different from year to year. Does the merlot need a little acidity this year or a little more sweetness? Can we add a little rounder mouthfeel to the Bois du Sanglier? As everyone knows, France is very big on adding small amounts of one varietal to enhance the dominant flavors of another varietal. That is why clients with sophisticated palates can readily determine a Bordeaux from a Bourgogne from a Bergerac. It’s all in the assemblage!

Just to be clear, either by our preference or by regulation, certain of our wines are made from 100% of one varietal and never mixed. Our Sang du Sanglier is 100% merlot and the AOP Saussignac and Le Marcassin Doux, our semi-sweet wine are always 100% sémillon blanc.

Across the courtyard from the vat room lies the old tractor barn. We have renovated half of into the new barrel room where we age both white and red wines. The other half is in the process of being converted into a new tasting room, wine shop and café.

Here at Fayolle, for our barrel-aged red wine, Sang du Sanglier, we use French oak barrels from 3 different suppliers because they each impart a distinctly different flavor to wine. We rotate also, the age of the barrels so that each year one-third of the wine is in new barrels, one-third in one-year-old barrels and one-third is in two-year-old barrels. Then the wine quietly sits in its’ barrel for about 15 months until we mix it all together and bottle it. The now empty 3+ year-old barrels are then sold to ladies who like to make them into planters and tables!

When you come to visit the property, you will see another massive building outside the walls that we call The Ruin. Today, we are using it as the new tractor barn. It was built between the wars by the then-owners of the château, the de Dietrich family as a folly. Its’ original purpose remains a mystery because it was never used or completed. The stone walls remain, but the interior wooden framework and roof trusses were sold just after WWII by the family to pay the taxes on the château. No one in Saussignac ever remembers the building having an actual roof. If anyone local has an actual picture of The Ruin with a roof on it, we would love to see it!

The Team

« Our high standards also involve recruiting men and women who are passionate about their work ».

The earth would be wild without the hand of man to domesticate, cultivate and raise it.
Being surrounded by a team is also the passion that drives Frank & Riki Campbell.

The « Dynamic Duo » of Christian Buffo and Fabio Almeida, Master of Cultivation and his Sous Chef, are responsible for all of day-to-day work on the property from the care and treatment of the soil to packing the wines for export.

Christian’s decades of experience in the vines and in the chai have given him a profound skillset that the Campbells rely on and respect. According to Riki, “Christian teaches me something new every single day. I don’t know what I would do without him. The man has more knowledge about wine making in his little finger than I have in my whole body!

Fabio, with 16 years in the industry in both France and Portugal, brings a passion and an eye for modernization to the team. Frank jokes, “Thanks to Fabio, I can now operate all of the equipment at the vineyard without killing myself. Although he still won’t let me touch is big tractor!”

And welcome to our newest team member, Rebekah Gash! Not only is Rebekah responsible for all the administrative duties, she is also going to manage the social media postings and will be adding loads of new content in the upcoming months.

The Fruit of our Labors

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