David Meakin from Wiltshire was working as a grain trader when he decided to move to France in 1994, encouraged by the fact that he was under 35 and therefore qualified as a ‘jeune agriculteur’. This meant he could benefit from a cheap loan as part of an initiative to help young people get a foothold in the farming industry in France.
He found the Safer group an invaluable resource and they took him to see various farms in the Lot-et-Garonne department. David also did plenty of research on wine production, suppliers and technical help available in the area before trying to learn procedures from the previous owner as well.
David makes wine and beer, all produced, bottled and sold on the farm. He also does three markets at weekends but apart from that, business comes by word of mouth – you can’t buy his wine or beer in shops but can place an order via his website. For those who are interested in more than 10 cases of wine, there’s an opportunity to take part in the harvest itself, culminating in a harvest party!
The beer side of the business didn’t begin until 2006 but David admits he was always interested in making it and in 2009, things really took off. The beer can be found in a few local bars and David indicates that “The French are starting to drink more of it. They don’t like it too bitter and we cater to their tastes”.
Of his experience as a wine and beer producer in France, David adds “It’s not so much difficult as time consuming. The powers that be assume you know lots of things that you would if you were French but being English you don’t. Procedures don’t always follow what you would call logic! There is an awful lot of paperwork but I suppose there’s always a catch”.
He and his family live in a traditional stone Quercy farmhouse on a plot of land that spans just over 100 acres, 20 of which are planted with vines. Boasting views towards the Pyrénées, the property wasn’t easy to come by – the search for the perfect property lasted six years in total, mainly because the farm needed to make an income from the start.
It was David’s parents who eventually stumbled upon the vineyard their son had been looking for all along, while they were enjoying a break in France. They then raced back to tell him all about it and David flew over shortly afterwards to visit. Back then, a low-cost carrier wasn’t an option and such a decision was quite an expensive gamble.
According to David, “Many people you read about buying a vineyard have other means of support, they don’t do all the work themselves and it’s not the be all and end all if the vineyard doesn’t make money. In my case, it’s all we have! I am a farmer first and foremost whereas other vineyard owners take their strength from experience gained in marketing.”
Things are obviously going quite well for the vineyard owner, “We’ve been ranked amongst the top 400 wines in France and are regularly commended for producing some of the best value for money wines in the south of France” he says. As for his beer, which he hasn’t entered into any contests, David explains “We’ve just not had the stocks! It’s easy to sell as there isn’t much competition.”
On the few occasions that he returns to the UK, David likes to attend the Real Food Festival. After 15 years in the industry, he’s only recently become involved but intends to keep coming back for that if nothing else. “Rather than come to them, friends and relatives prefer to visit us in France – I can’t imagine why!’ says David.
Living and working on a vineyard in France, there is no such thing as a typical day. For instance, David told us, “The other day we were pruning the vines, it was a lovely spring afternoon and the children had been out on the horses. We had just reached the end of a row, so I told them to bring the horses down to the wife and I, and off we went for the rest of the afternoon. That’s the life!”
Domaine du Merchien, Penchenier, 46230 Belfort du Quercy