Posts Tagged ‘wine’


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, .  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.


In the vines…

April 28, 2010


Seven year old Grenache vines.


We’ve been enjoying summer sunny weather.  The dandelions blanketing the field’s are turning fuzzy giving the girls a new occupation, blowing them into each other’s face.  Just this past weekend I saw the first delicious red poppies dotting the roadside.  Soon they’ll be mingling with the remaining dandelion’s in the vineyards.  The vine’s are in their  infancy stage, just coming back to life after the long winter, bursting green with the newly born leaves.  With amazing rapidity, each day sees them growing a little fuller and greener.    

Spring is a busy time on the winery.   The 2009 vintage, an excellent year, is being bottled, ready for the table.  Last week, we bottled the Côtes du Vivarais Rosé, a personal favorite.  And this week, the Côtes du Vivarais Red.  The bottling takes place  on the domaine but the ‘we’ is not true.  An affiliate company who specializes in wine bottling comes to the winery with all the equipment necessary to put the exact amount of wine in each bottle then cork, capsule and label them.  The bottling truck arrives early to begin setting up which involves stationing the truck so that it is out of the way of the small road which passes behind the winery, connecting pipes from the tanks to the truck, getting the bottles, labels and corks in place for the assembly line process.  As with machines, many things can go wrong.  This time it seemed everything that could, did go wrong.  I came home from taking the girls to school this morning and found three of the bottlers along with Raphael huddled under the truck looking like they were taking cover from a hunter gone mad.  Apparently the entire electrical system of the machine had gone out and they were, like typical men, studying and discussing the options.  Later that morning, with everything in working order, the bottling was underway.   

Before the wine can be bottled several steps need to take place.  It must be filtered which occurs after the malo has finished.  The malo is a step in fermentation that can last between two weeks and a few months.  It is a second stage fermentation in which malolactic bacteria  already present in the wine, convert malic acid into lactic acid reducing the acidity of the wine by two.  Here at Cousignac, we allow this to happen only with our red wine.  In our rose and white, we stop the malo before it occurs in order to keep the wine’s freshness.      

Filled bottles waiting to be labeled.


While all this preparation and bottling is taking place, the workers are busy in the field.   The taille, or pruning, of the vines is long over despite the snow and freezing weather which regularly prevented work.  In freezing temperatures, the vines risk breakage while being clipped.  The women and men work throughout the winter beginning as soon as all the leaves have fallen from the vines, clipping the naked branches.  It’s a much slower process than the harvest and usually takes about 3 months to complete with only 5 or so workers.  They work in all-weather;  light rain, wind and those luscious sunny winter days that make us remember why Provence is, well Provence.    

Attaching young vines to wires.


With the pruning complete and spring in full blossom, the workers are busy attaching the vines to wires in the fields that are harvested by the machine.   The wires give shape to the young vines.  The vines in the photo above are 7 years old and have been providing us with Grenache grapes for the Côtes du Rhône wine for 4 years.  This season sees us planting new vines in fields that have lay sleeping for the past two years since the old vines were ripped out.  The fields are left dormant for a few years after vines are removed in order to allow the soil to regenerate.  These baby vines, grafted French top and American root, give Syrah grapes, a popular staple in southern Rhône wine making.  The baby vines are barely noticable in from a distance, the only part sticking out, a slim red tip that will, in a few years, look like its neighbor.        

Baby vines waiting to be planted. The red is the French part the the rest is American.


With all the filtering and wine pumping that’s been taking place the last few weeks, and the fact that our living room is adjacent to one of the caves, our house is beginning to smell like fermenting wine.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s kind of relaxing in a heady, intoxicating way.     

Playing hide and seek in bottles waiting to be filled.


Road tripping our wine across the Americas…

April 26, 2010

The family Corbasson is on the last leg of a year long camping car trip across the states and south America.  They are from our town and wanted to share a part of France with the Americas. Thus the story of the 12 bottles.   Before they left, the Corbasson’s stopped by our winery to choose 12 bottles of wine, the first 11 to be opened at turning points in their trip.  The 12th, to be opened upon their return to France.  They chronicled the voyage on their own blog mentioning our bottles as each one was opened.  The blog is all in French so those of you who don’t speak the language will probably not be interested in their story but the pictures tell it just as powerfully.  Raphael and I now hold the dream to make this voyage someday.  They’ve enjoyed 8 bottles, the first upon their arrival in DC and the 8th just last week along the “Ruta 3, the most southern road in the world”‘.  You can follow each bottle, labelled episodes.   We are honored that they chose our wine to accompany them on their adventures.


We have a name…

April 20, 2010


The water source flows from deep under ground, to the water bassin, along this canal past the house to a creek in the woods and finally to the Rhone river.


I’m excited to announce that we’ve finally decided on a name for the bed & breakfast, La Source de Cousignac.  For the past three years, we’ve been using the name of the winery, Notre Dame de Cousignac which was fine at the beginning when we were just renting a few rooms in my in-law’s house, the family house.  But as the business grew and continues to grow and change, we need to define it separately from the winery.   

Our new name was chosen at the perfect moment as this weekend we welcomed our first guests of the season.  They were in the area to celebrate a 60th wedding anniversary.  They chose us as their lodging because they were here 10 years ago, when the same couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the winery.  At that time, the caveau was not the wine store, it was a large room empty of wine which was rented out for events such as weddings and their anniversaries.  The three couples who stayed with us last weekend had fond memories of the event and upon discovering that we now run a bed & breakfast were pleased to stay with us.   

La Source de Cousignac came out of the idea that we wanted the name to 1:  tie into the winery and location which is Cousignac, our quartier, or neighborhood.  When locals think of Cousignac, one of the first places that come to mind is the winery.  We want the bed & breakfast to be the second thing they think of.  It’s also a way to link the bed & breakfast with the winery.  As a seventh generation vigneron, winemaking is in my husbands blood and a vital part of the history of the family and the land.  It is impossible to completely separate wine from the house and the people who live in it.  And why would we want to do that anyway?  We want to b & b to have a distinct personality without forgetting that it is part of a working winery.   

The point of entry for the water source.


The 2nd reason for La Source de Cousignac is that we wanted to link the bed and breakfast to the environment.  Our water source begins deep under ground.  It was used by the Romans who first accessed it deep underground and this access exists today blocked by a wooden door and hidden behind overgrowth.  The source is never ending supplying fresh, cool water even on the hottest, dryest days.  On summer mornings, when I awake early to prepare breakfast for our guests, I like to take a cup of coffee to the front garden and in the silence of daybreak, listen to the trickle of water as it tumbles down the tiny fall before crossing the path.  It is a relaxing moment to pray or reflect before the rush of the day and the responsibilities of work and children.   

Thirdly, we are obviously a source of wine.  Our guests come to stay for any number of reasons but they almost always join us in the garden of an apéritif of our wine.  We are one of those rare people who like having strangers come to visit.  We enjoy meeting new people and providing them with a relaxing visit and a taste of Provence and the wine it creates.  In fact, many of our guests become, if not friends, acquaintances who return regularly for a stay and often our wine.   

Which brings me to the final reason we chose this name.  We are a spiritual place, with God and Notre Dame or Our Lady of Cousignac in our presence.  We think of our place, our home as a source of welcome and maybe an escape for our guests.  A place to relax, to feel free, to do as I said above, reflect.  A source of renewal.  It’s for all these reasons that we finally decided on the name La Source de Cousignac for the chambre d’hôtes.


Fin gras…

April 16, 2010

The mascot wearing the ribbon of excellence or as Raphael called it, the cow thong..

Our sejour into the high Ardeche last week was not just an afternoon playing in the cold.  Our destination was the village of St. Eulalie where the first annual Fin Gras du Mézenc beef tasting was being held and to which Raphael was invited as an honored taster.  I was along for the sight seeing and the lunch, of course.         

The Fin Gras du Mézenc is one of three appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) for beef in France.  The cows are raised by a unique group of ‘eleveurs’ who’ve been living on this land and raising cows for generations.  Their heart is in the land so much so that the president of the AOC joked that his wife claims he spends more time and gives more love to his cows than to her.        

The cattle farmers, butchers, restauranteurs, tasters and meat.

The legend of Fin Gras says that on the first day came the mountain fires:  the volcano’s lava fertilized the land.  The second day brought rain which fertilized the green pastures.  Next the wind blew drying the hay.  And finally came the monks who built farms where they lived out the frozen winter months with their cows.  And so began the Fin Gras.         

The unique taste of the beef of Fin Gras comes from the hay.  The cows, coming from a variety of races, are nourished on the plateau on top of Mout Mézenc where a specific weed called cistre grows wild in the prairies.  It’s the cistre that gives the beef of Fin Gras du Mézenc its particularity which is threaded through the meat from the ‘persillade’ or the natural marbling of fat.  Most cows graze in the spring and summer and are fed a light diet of dry hay through the winter months.  Cistre, called the fennel of the alps, is thought by most cattle farmers to be a bad weed for the cows since they never touched it while grazing in the pastures.  It is usually removed from the hay before dried.  In addition, many endeavored to creat a new flora in their grazing pastures by planting grain that produced acceptable hay.  However, the cattle farmers of Mézenc decided to leave the cistre in the hay and by doing so discovered that the cattle love the weed when dry and devour it with gusto throughout the winter months making this the most fattening up time of the year.  This cistre gives the meat a unique indescribable flavor and makes it one of the most expensive and tender meats in France.         

The beef tasting consisted only of Fin Gras de Mézenc meat.  The tasters were a select group of butchers, chefs, restaurateurs and wine makers.  Raphael was actually representing Goûtez l’Ardèche which holds its own select tastings of products before admitting them to the organization.  The tasters job was to evaluate and describe in distinct language the scent, visual, and taste of the meat which was tasted on three levels.  The first was a bouillon, or in fact 17 different bouillons.  For each, the criteria were exactly the same;  the meat used to cook the bouillon was cut from the same part of the cow, it weighed the same, was cooked for the same amount of time (6am to 10am), and in the same amount of water.  The single difference was that each cut of meat used for the bouillon cam from a different cow (age, breed and location, mainly altitude and type of prairie).         

M. Vidal, president of the Toques d'Auvergne and Bernard Bonnefoy, president of the AOC Fin Gras du Mezenc smell the bouillon.

I sat, fascinated by the intentness of the tasters.  It wasn’t unlike a wine tasting.  They examined the color of each bouillon, moving the bowl to see how the fat swam in the liquid.  A spoon was filled and the bouillon dripped back into the bowl to check its texture and consistency.  Noses approached, circling over or dipping deeply into the bowl, sniffing lightly and intently at the fragrance.  Cups were filled, once again the bouillon was sniffed, sipped and frequently spit into a plastic bowl placed on the table for that purpose.  Notes were taken on each bouillon.  Some were retasted.  It took a while for each taster to make his way through all 17 bouillons  and as the hour approached lunchtime, the scent of coking beef teased my gurgling stomach.  Raphael let me taste the one he marked as his least favorite and the one marked as his preference.  It was easy to note the distinct difference between the two.  The first was very fatty and tasted that way, had little smell and, contrary to the large amount of fat which I thought would bring taste, was watery.  The second was thick and just the smell made you want to cut into the steak it came from.  Upon tasting, it was full of flavor and I could say, full bodied like a wine.         

The spitting.

The second tasting was a selection of carpaccio marinated in olive oil, vinegar and sel de cistre, which I was unable to try due to being pregnant.  There were also 17 carpaccio meats using the same standards as above.  This tasting went much quicker and was less involved although once again, the amateur tasters biggest comment was that they blended together after a while.  But for the professional : differences were made between texture.  According to Raphael, some were so tender, they cut with just a fork and were melting in the palate like excellent smoked salmon.  I’ve never been a fan of carpaccio but I have to admit, it looked quite good thinly sliced in various shades of pink – about the only difference I could see between them.         

The evaluating.

The final event was performed with all the pomp and circumstance of a wine tasting but there was no actual tasting involved.  It was more of a viewing – of côte de boeuf or rib eye steak.  Each butcher supplied his or her own piece of meat, presenting it in full description and then cutting it on a butcher block.  The threading was pointed out and the type of preparation for sale each butcher used was explained.  The majority of the taste testers were unable to make a significant difference between the cuts of meat, except maybe the amount of marbling in each piece.  It was the butchers who really supplied the knowledge to define differences.  One butcher asked me to touch his meat.  (No, not a come on.  For goodness sake, I’m over 7 months pregnant.) And then touch another cut of meat.  If it is oily to the touch, he explained, it is a good meat, gras or fatty, but in a good way.  A meat that is slightly dryer to the touch has more nerves and tendons and will be less flavorful and more tough and chewy.  A good tip except that I don’t imagine my local bouchère would appreciate me asking to touch her steaks before making my choice even if France is keen on allowing consumers to sample their wares before purchase.         


The event ended with a marathon meal beginning with a blend of all the best bouillons, followed by an entrée of thinly sliced beef, not much more cooked than the carpaccio, a tartar of lentils and a rillette of beef.  The main course consisted of three different cuts of beef prepared the best way for each cut.  Surprisingly, the most well cooked was the most tender perhaps because it was covered with a sauce made of bouillon and dark chocolate.  (After seeing the movie chocolat, I’ve always been curious about the marriage of meat and chocolate.  This was my first chance to taste it and it works.)  Local cheese was next and finally a chestnut mousse for desert.  Each course was accompanied by wine supplied by the wine makers present.  We brough a fruity Côtes du Rhône, and much appreciated Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, and a Côtes du Vivarais white.  The restaurant where the tasting was held is a client of ours and happily supplied one of the best wines of the event, our 2001 Ardèsc, which was so smooth and nicely aged in the high altitude.  Speaking of altitude, these cattle farmers love a good meal with a good wine followed by a good after dinner drink, in this case, a liqueur made by the President of the AOC from the cistre.  This was some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted but by the end, I had eaten enough beef to last me for a while.         

In the bag, the hay and cistre mix. In the jar, the sel de cistre.

The Fin Gras du Mézenc have recently opened a museum and visiting center in the village of Chaudeyrolles where you can learn about the Fin Gras through different presentations, visits to farms, and cooking demonstrations.  There is also a promenade among the cows with 8 stops depicting the rhythm of the farmers. If you go there, don’t forget to buy a jar of sel de cistre, or salt of cistre. Spread on top of any beef steack, it will give a uncomparable taste.  And most restaurants in the region offer a meal with the meat of Fin Gras du Mézenc.        

Restaurant of the president of Toques d’Auvergne        


Hotel du Nord  Marie Andrée & Serge Mouyon  –  07510 Sainte Eulalie


Words and Wine blog

February 20, 2010

Check out the Words and Wine blog.  The header is a huge picture of Raphael looking very French Provençal Winemaker.  And the current post is about our wine.  Here’s the link: