For many of us, the pandemic has offered a chance to reflect, to think about what is important to us. Perhaps to dream of another life, a total change. Fifteen years ago, Caro Feely and her partner, Sean, did just that, when they left their jobs and home in Dublin and put everything into a failing farm in France.
I recall the day when we put our dream into words. Sheets of rain blasted in off the Irish Sea and splattered down the balcony window of our rental apartment. The drops moved like living things, wild patterns on the glass. City lights reflected onto wet tarmac, and beyond that, dunes of Bull Island disappeared into fog.
I was feeling restless. We had been in our rental apartment for a couple of years and it felt like we were stagnating. I was making progress with my career, but we worked crazy hours. I enjoyed my work, but I couldn’t say I was deeply fulfilled.
Create your vision
Cup of tea in hand, I sat down on the sofa with a magazine. As I browsed the stories, a framed message jumped out at me. It went something like: ‘Create your vision of where you want to be in five years. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Imagine everything, where you are, what you’re doing, what you’re feeling, who you’re with. Write it down.’
I stared at the page for a moment. It was so simple, and it made so much sense.
‘We have to do this,’ I said to Sean pointing to the page.
‘Create our vision of where we want to be in five years,’ I said, and passed the magazine to him.
‘That’s chick stuff, I’m not doing that,’ he said, handing it back.
Page of dreams
When we exchanged our page of dreams, they were almost identical. We pictured ourselves on a farm in France, with vineyard and winery, gardens for self-sufficiency and two dogs
I convinced him. Pen and paper in hand, we settled into opposite ends of the sofa facing the wild weather. We thought for few minutes, then wrote furiously, putting our souls into the exercise. When we exchanged our page of dreams, they were almost identical. We pictured ourselves on a farm in France, with vineyard and winery, gardens for self-sufficiency and two dogs. We disagreed on most things which made our matching visions even more incredible. We had discussed the idea in passing; Sean’s grandparents had been winegrowers in South Africa. On a trip to France two years before, we had fallen in love with the place and its vineyards, but we hadn’t dared to take it further.
An impossible idea
‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’ – Goethe
When we gave form to our dream that day, we didn’t have the financial means to do it. We had no formal wine growing or winemaking education, no farming experience, and limited French. One could say it was an impossible idea. But having written it down, we started planning for it. We created a list of things we needed to do to help it progress; wine classes, French classes, visiting France for research, saving instead of spending when it was a nice to have. We took tiny steps towards our dream, barely aware that we were.
We were living Goethe’s words ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’
Five years after writing our dream we moved to France to our vineyard. The farm was far from a beautiful haven, it was in liquidation, but it had potential. We looked beyond the rotten shutters, un-trellised vineyards, broken equipment, rusted fences, and mouse infestation. We were idiots without a clue, but we were driven by a passion to change our lives. Some other things hadn’t worked out exactly as they were on the paper. We had no dogs, but we had two kids. There was some strong magic going on. We left our jobs and home in Dublin and put everything into the failing farm.
The birth of Chateau Feely
Since that shaky beginning, we have transformed Chateau Feely. Most important, and something we took on immediately, was the conversion to organic farming. Organic farming is farming with no chemical fertiliser, no herbicides, no systemic fungicides, and no systemic insecticides. It is good for your health, for our health and for the environment. Once we were certified organic, we went further, to become certified biodynamic, which, put simply, is ‘organic plus’. This, like our handcrafted winegrowing and winemaking methods, is key to the quality of our wines.
Over time we transformed into a wine tourism business too with wine school, accommodation, and tours in the region. We have been a Wine Spirit Education Trust approved programme provider wine school for 10 years and have a 100% pass rate. In 2019 we won the gold trophy for education and environmental practices at the first French wine tourism awards in Paris beating out competition from all over France. For a couple who arrived in France without a clue just over a decade before it was a major coup.
A third transformation
Along with usual wine education, we teach sensorial wine-tasting –mindful and almost meditative wine-tasting.
We are in the process of third transformation into online courses and experiences in wine and yoga with a focus on health and wellbeing. Along with usual wine education, we teach sensorial wine-tasting –mindful and almost meditative wine-tasting. Sean is passionate about organic farming and grows the vines for our organic, biodynamic, natural wines but also grows all our vegetables. There is wellbeing in being close to the earth and cherishing nature. It is hard but fulfilling work.
Lockdown has offered us a chance to revisit what we do, to remember those words of Goethe about the magic of moving towards your dreams and to meditate on the words of Ghandi to be the change we want to see in the world. These are both guiding our decisions as we move into this decade so critical for the environment, social justice and all our futures.
Experience a taste of France with virtual wine experiences. Visit Chateau Feely for more on the biodynamic and organic wine estate, accommodation, wine tours, vineyard walks. Visit frenchwineadventures.com for details of the wine school and wider tours. Find us on Facebook at and Instagram
You can also read the full story of the Feely's adventures in Caro’s book series; 'Grape Expectations', 'Saving our Skins' and 'Glass Half Full'. The fourth book in the series is in progress.
Read more: I left Dublin for Kerry at the start of the pandemic — and I've never been happier
Read more: The pull of West Cork and the realities of relocating from Dublin
Read more: 3 fixer-uppers in West Cork for under €100,000