July 20, 2010

A moment of peace before the day begins.


I sit in the wooden lounge chair in the early morning hours, a hot mug (the French drink their coffee from a cereal bowl but I always feel like I’m going to spill half of it on myself) of café au lait warming my hands and my body.  This mornings air is brisk – a welcome change from the constant heat of the last few weeks.  Although the temperature promises to rise into the mid 30’s again today.   

Soon the girls will awaken, always up with the sun, never letting us forget that we told them one winter morning when the sun rises around 7:30 am that they were not allowed to wake us until they see the sun.  We forgot that the sun rises at 5:30am in the summer months.  We’ve regretted that rule for a few summers now. 

The guests will arrive shortly after expecting breakfast and conversation which we are happy to provide.  Everything is ready on the stone tables in the garden overlooking the vines.  The coffee is hot.  My mother-in-law’s homemade apricot and cherry preserves await the hot bread and croissants that Raphael went to fetch from our favorite bakery in town.  

This is my moment.  The water, which flows from a Roman source deep beneath the earth, trickles over the tiny fall at the base of the garden wall.  I never noticed its music before, covered by the daily noise of playing children and the rumble of the tractor as it makes its way up and down the fields.  

I watch a lizard scurry along the wall and remember something one of our guests said in parting the other day.  Clasping my hand and wishing me a good day, she said that I complete the place.  Raphael said later that it was the highest compliment.  It meant that without me, this place doesn’t work.  I wonder though, if I, like Raphael’s mother, will ever feel that this is truly my home.   

Raphael comes up behind me and runs his hands through my hair.  As if reading my thoughts, he says, “Without you, I don’t work.”  And I know that my home is with him.


Date night on the tractor…

July 19, 2010

Raphael and I have been trying to have a ‘date night’ for a while now.  But between the unexpected work in the fields, the kids, the work on the house and numerous other expected and unexpected responsibilities, we’ve been unable to make that date.  

We made a plan, Raphael and I.  After the kids were in bed, I would join him in the fields on his tractor.  So at about 8:30, I changed my flimsy, gold sandals, so inappropriate for a farm (Gotta love inappropriate shoes.) for the thick, practical black pair I bought at the marché the first time I visited the winery.  I grabbed a cold beverage (Wish I could say it was a chilly rose but in fact it was a coke.) and climbed up the path towards the chapel and the sound of his tractor. 

He was headed towards me a few rows away, high up on the green monster spitting out puffs of copper that smelled oddly sweet in the evening heat.  Seeing Raphael on the tractor always makes me think of the country song, “She thinks my tractor’s sexy.”  I have no idea who sings it and have never had Raphael listen to it but there is something about a man on a tractor.  He waved me over and I climbed up the metal ladder amidst puffs of copper and waves of heat from the engine. 

Tractors are one seater’s so I stood next to him, hung on to the bar spanning the top and leaned against the metal tank holding the copper.  It was hot, smelly, loud and bumpy but I have to admit, there’s something quite romantic about riding a tractor with a man through vineyards at dusk.  The sun was setting at the foot of the fields and the building clouds were tinged pink in its glow.  Tractors are really high up so the view is extraordinary.  I could see to the Vercors mountains and the span of fields leading to their base – the yellow sunflowers, blue lavender, and green vines a patchwork in the dying sun.  Despite the noise, we managed to have the longest conversation in days.  We shared the coke and discussed the kids, our summer plans, our current living situation and our future house.  I was sent to apologize to neighbors having dinner in their garden next to the field we were treating.  They are summer visitors and I barely know them but they didn’t hesitate to invite me for a drink and joke about me riding the tractor with my husband.

At one point, Raphael scooted back in his seat and told me to climb up in front of him to take control of the tractor.  “Where,” I said noting the many gears and pedals clamored together in front of the seat.  “There’s no room and I might bump one of those things.”

“No, don’t worry.  Come on.”  I swung my leg over the gears and settled my butt in the small space of seat between his legs.  “Here,” he said letting go of the wheel.  “You take this.”

“What!  No!  I can’t drive.  I’ll crush the vines or flip us over.”  I had heard stories about people being crushed under their tractors and it always worried me.  I had already gashed my knee climbing up on the thing and banged my head against the bar when Raphael shifted gears jerked the tractor unexpectedly.

“No,”  He said it like talking to one of the girls.  “It’s just like driving a car.” 

Tension climbing up my arms, I took hold of the wheel.  I swerved the tractor a bit and Raphael took hold to straighten it.  “See that circle knob on the front of the tractor?”  He pointed out.  “Keep that in the center of the vines and your good.”  It’s harder than it looks, for me at least.  The tractor is built to treat six rows at once spraying three on either side with wide-spread wheels in order to span one row of vines up the middle.  The round knob is meant to be aligned with this center row.  The problem is that each time the tractor hits a bump, and the fields are full of them, the wheel jerks to either side.  It was at this moment that Raphael chose to inform me that the tractor has no brake.  “Why?” 

“I don’t know,” he shrugged that Gallic ‘that’s just the way it is’ shrug.  “It’s old.”

At the end of the row he took the wheel in order to turn the thing around and head back down the next rows.  The sun was almost set.  Raphael turned on the headlights throwing a florescent orange glow over the vines.  We finished the fields and headed back to park the tractor.  Taking Raphael’s hand to walk back to the house, I thought, this was better than dinner and a movie.  We talked, laughed, kissed and enjoyed each other’s company on top of a tractor in the middle of vineyards in the dying sun.  I was reminded of our first summer together and felt free again.


Words & Wine 2010

July 16, 2010

Recently, we completed our second Vine & Wine tour.  Unfortunately I was unable to accompany the group on many of the outings.  Here are a few of my highlights.         

The first winery of the week was our neighbor, Domaine Gallety.         

Alain Gallety gave us a full tour of the caves.



One of the first producers of the AOC Cotes du Vivarais.  Their exclusivity means they are always sold out of wine to our disappointment.  So we are thrilled when they open a bottle each of their two wines, ‘Domaine Gallety’ and ‘Sy’rare’, a play on words since Sy’rare is 100% Syrah grapes and only a small amount is produced each year.         

The winery visit was followed by a tour of Viviers, a medieval village which retains most of its original buildings.         

The cathedral of Viviers, the smallest cathedral in France.


 After our tour, the group enjoyed a gastronomical lunch at Relais du Vivarais.  The group was off to visit  Mas d’Intras.  It was a day for local wineries and it ended with a tour and tasting at our own winery, Notre Dame de Cousignac.        


 We prepared dinner of wild boar.  Surprise, the meat had fur and a hoof until shortly before our guests ate it.  I’m not a fan of wild boar but Raphael prepare this one perfectly.        


Unfortunately this was my last outing with the group until Cassis.  I missed Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape with a tasting at Ogier;  I missed Die and Jaillance and the restaurant Le Caveau;  Jaboulet and Lyon and the amazing dinner at L’Escalin.        

And then finally Cassis.        




Fruits of summer…

July 13, 2010

 We’ve been instructed by Raphael to save fruit seeds.  Since the winery has gone bio, or organic, we’ve seen a  resurge of wild fruit trees that he remembers from childhood – those magical days when he used to run free in the vineyards and pick apricots, plums, mirabelles, and vine ripened peaches.   Raphael wants to plant the seeds.  He wants to create an orchard of wild fruit trees. 

 The organic rules mean the vines are no longer treated with herbicides or pesticides nor do they cut the overgrowth surrounding the vineyards.   Walking among the vines with the girls, baskets swinging from their hands, Raphael showed us all the wealth that lay hidden in the woods bordering the vines.  With the scents of wild fennel mixing with the ripeness of the fruit, we devoured one type of rare variety after another.  “Mmm!  It brings back memories of when I was young.”  Raphael’s exclamations came to me from the midst of the brush into which he scrambled to find the trees and bushed with the ripened fruit.  More fruit made it into the girl’s mouths than their baskets.  We managed somehow to return home with baskets of varying shades of plums and mirabelle’s.  Our guests will be enjoying fruit for the next few breakfasts – unless we eat them all first!


Music to work by…

July 12, 2010

The soft sound of violin breaks through the heavy afternoon heat which seems to blanket the entire region deafening out all noise except the cicadas.   It accompanies me as I clean a bedroom in preparation for this evenings guests.  Through the end of this week we have various classical musicians, all part of the Cordes En Ballade, a festival of classical music in the Ardèche.  Each year we host musicians from the festival here at La Source de Cousignac.  It’s our treat to have ‘free concerts’ in our salon when they join to practice for the evenings show.  The girls are fascinated by the speed at which they play their instruments.  We’re not a musical family although Raphael did play the alto as a child.  I’m told he wasn’t extraordinary.  We still have the ancient instrument in the attic.  Ancient because it was old fashioned when he learned on it. 

 I wanted to publish a video of them playing but can’t seem to make it work.  With any luck, I’ll figure it out soon.


Welcome home Corbasson’s…

July 5, 2010

The Corbasson’s  have returned from their 9 month trek across north and south America along with the final bottle of Cousignac, the Côtes du Rhône red.   The bottle traveled 45400 kilometers from our humble winery in the Ardèche to New York City to the final stop in Ushuaia where it was stamped by customs.

We invited the Corbasson family over for a welcome home bbq and of course, to share bottle number 12.  We all wanted to hear about their adventures in more detail and we were full of questions.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many times since their return they had answered the same questions and told the same stories.  Were they reliving their adventures by recounting them to us?  I understood that their most memorable moments were those unexpected meeting with locals who extended extraordinary hospitality.  At one time, they were invited to stay the week with the taxi driver who collected them after their camper broke down.  They accepted and passed a week sharing every aspect of daily life with this extended family.  I don’t remember where they said they were at the time but I do know it was in south America.

After tasting the travelling Côtes du Rhône, which everyone agreed had held up nicely given the distance and motion and lack of proper storage conditions it had been subjected to, we surprised the family with a few ‘bottles’ as a keepsake of their journey; four magnums. The first a Côtes du Vivarais Red christened Amerique du Nord, a Côtes du Rhône for Amerique Central, and a Côtes du Rhône Village for Amerique du Sud.  The final bottle – a cuvée Ardèsc.

Four magnums and the travelling Côtes du Rhône. Oh, and the Corbasson's with Raphael.

The Corbasson’s invited us along on their adventure by sharing moments on their blog, http://corbasson-trip.blogspot.com/ .  Before they left, they stopped by our winery and purchased 12 bottles of wine to share with the new friends they would make along the way.  They were taking a piece of France with them, they said.  Each wine was opened at a precise location and marked in their blog as an episode;  the first ‘episode’ was at the White House.  The final was upon their return to France and the bottle’s return to Cousignac.



July 1, 2010

After a long day of being cuddled.

Thanks to all of you!  Elody is wonderful.  She’s very content and sleeps well in between eating.  I’m busy adjusting to daily life on few consecutive hours of sleep. I apologize for my absence.  I miss blogging.  I see that I am going to have to reorganize my daily routine to fit any kind of writing in.  I used to write in the evenings and then briefly review what I’ve written the next morning before posting it.  Each day I tell myself I’ll write a bit after the kids are in bed.  And then evening comes and as soon as the kids are asleep, if baby allows, I am too.  I say this as I nurse Elody and type with one hand, in fact, one finger, on my left hand, reaching over and up to the high table on which my laptop sits beside me.  It’s a slow process. 

Elody and Papa at the final Words & Wine dinner. She was an unofficial guest for many of the events and tastings.

It’s taken me over a week to finish this one paragraph averaging about a sentence a day until something, or someone, demands my attention.  This is the first night I haven’t fallen asleep on the couch (or wanted to) in weeks.  I have to add, it’s been an eventful few weeks for other reasons as well.  We just wrapped up Words & Wine 2010 which I’ll post about in another day or two. Grandma just returned to the states after a two week visit overlapping with Words & Wine.   And we’re beginning the heavy season for the bed & breakfast.  Today is the first day of the Cordes en Ballades, a two week music event for which we are book a year in advance.  And this weekend our town is hosting the International pétanque Competition.  The tourist season has begun along with this sweltering weather – which I love by the way.