Norfolk council worker becomes top French wine maker

When former county council worker Cameron Field decided to swap life in the public sector for the south of France, he had little idea of what to expect.

But over the years he has redesigned a celebrity chef's garden and has now become an award-winning wine maker at a French chateau.

The former personnel officer, who grew up in Norwich, chose to leave County Hall and move to France in 1998 to follow his passion for gardening.

At the time, his French was limited but he managed to find some work by going through the telephone book looking for English-sounding names and offering to work on their gardens.

Celebrity chef Ken Hom was one of his first clients.

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Later, Mr Field, who lives in a village called Anglars-Juillac, just north of Toulouse, was offered a job at a chateau in the next village.

The chateau in Prayssac, which at the time was owned by an Englishman, is surrounded by 1.6 hectares of vines.

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As well as looking after the garden, Mr Field found himself taking care of the vines.

Now, he is an established vigneron and his wine, Chateau De Touzeau, has won a silver medal at a national competition between independent growers.

'I didn't have an aptitude for languages so it was a brave move but my passion was gardening and I wanted to live in an area where I could grow a good range of plants. I came to this area of France and fell in love with it,' said Mr Field, who grew up near Norwich City's football ground.

'The vineyard was just something I took over. Having green fingers, it helped to get an understanding of the physiology of the vines.

'It was one of those things I found I had an aptitude for and an interest in. It's a good life. It is a physical job and can be hard work. It's not straightforward and it's fairly technical but it keeps me fit and keeps me on my toes.'

The wine made at Chateau De Touzeau, which is now owned by a French couple, is sold in restaurants, locally and they have a lot of Dutch and English clients.

It is a red wine, known as a black wine because of its dark colour, and made from malbec grapes.

Making the wine is a year round job which starts in the winter months when Mr Field prunes the vines. Together with a team of helpers, he hand picks the grapes at the end of September or in the first week of October.

Mr Field's 2009 vintage was bottled just two weeks ago, producing 11,500 bottles of three different types of wine, and the 2010 wine is currently in oak barrels.

The 56-year-old, whose father Herbert and five brothers and sisters still live in Norfolk, returns to the county for special occasions.

Mr Field, who has a civil partner Jean-Luc, said: 'It's not always easy to get away from the vines because there's always something to do. But what I miss about Norfolk is my family and being near the sea.

'You're never far from the sea when you're in Norfolk – going to Cromer and Cromer crab. And Norwich is so fantastic for shopping.

'It's not like England here, it's very seasonal. It can be as hot as 40 degrees in summer but in winter it can go as low as minus 18 degrees. The melons have just come in so you can gorge yourself on melons for the next two months.

'I have created a lovely garden and added a large pond this year – it's a good life and I'm very happy. My ambition now is to win a gold medal for my wine.'

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