Monthly Archives: June 2007

A Down on Your Knees Winetasting

Two weeks ago I was hired by the BIVB to translate for two days during a Pinot Noir symposium they were holding. I was frankly delighted to be asked, as the symposium itself sounded really interesting.

My job was to be, for the day before the symposium, the translator for an American wine educator, Julian Maines from Southern Wines, and for a British woman Lulie Halstead who founded Wine Intelligence in London and was making a presentation the next day. The day of the actual symposium I translated at lunch and then translated the various presentations and questions and answers at the symposium itself, which was particularly intense as there was quite a good amount of conflict. Everyone was getting quite aerated over the need (or not) to label all red wines from Burgundy with the “Pinot Noir” grape variety, and basically jump on what was frequently alluded to as the “Sideways” bandwagon.

Anyway, for me the symposium was quite intense and intriguing on the translation front, but all in all I would have to say the highlight of the entire two days was a winetasting at Comte Georges de Vogue’s Domaine in Chambolle Musigny.

This is one coveted winetasting experience, let me tell you. Mere mortals like myself usually don’t get such an opportunity, but the BIVB arranged it for Julian, and I was brought along (trying to hide my ear to ear grin) to translate.

We did uniquely barrel tastings of the 2006 vintage, as of course everything older than that is already sold. We met the winemaker, Francois Millet, in the courtyard and he quickly got us started on a barrel of “Les Amoureux“. Once the wine was in our glasses we were instructed to shake it vigorously top eliminate the bubbles of oxidation still present. I shook my glass, busy translating Julian’s questions and M. Millet’s responses when M.Millet said in his soft yet commanding voice.

“Would it be easier if I just spoke English?” (in perfect English, no less).

Turns out he spoke beautiful English that he learned while going to school in Calgary, so I just relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the winetasting!

Here is M.Millet extracting “Les Amoureuses” out of the barrel for us to taste. The wine was still a bit bubbly, to be sure, but the complexity of aromas and enticing spiciness was already evident. M.Millet told us about his philosophy of keeping his winemaking techniques as simple and unadulterated as possible – such as using horses to plow the vineyards, hand pumping, etc. in order to let the true spirit of the “terroir” shine through.

Next we were ushered into the vaulted cellar downstairs, where we tasted both “Les Amoureuses” and “Les Bonnes Mares” that has finished the maceration process. I absolutely fell in love with Les Bonnes Mares, which reminded me why I love wine and made me want to drop down on my knees in either or prayer or thanks, or perhaps both.

Julian emailed me his photos (posted here) as I didn’t think it would seem very professional to tote my camera along with me.

I also was invited out to restaurants twice during my two days – very rough job, I know. Both of them were good and ones I hadn’t tried before.

First, just outside of Nuits-Saint-Georges (and only minutes from Villers-la-Faye) we lunched at the restaurant “Le Chef Coq of the well-known hotel La Gentilhommiere (LONG roofs tiled in the Burgundy style – can’t miss it). The food was very elegantly presented and I had a Moroccan lamb kebab thing that was out of this world and served in an adorable mini-tagine dish. The peach tart we had for dessert was lovely too. They have a great pool and it looked like an ample eating area outside which would be fabulous on a sunny day (it was raining with thunder and lightning when we were there though, so we stayed firmly indoors).

Secondly dinner that night was in the town of Chagny which is also home to the celebrated 3 Michelin starred restaurant the Lamelloise (which even though I have never been there I would certainly trust the folks at Michelin and recommend it if you have the budget). We went to the restaurant “Le Grenier a Sel 4, rue Marc Boillet, Chagny, which is actually owned or co-owned (wasn’t quite straight on this point) by the Lamelloise. It is a rustic fondue / grilled meats type place where you can get a great Burgundian fondue, or a lovely grilled steak – and the meat and cheeses and other ingredients are apparently the same used by the chefs at Lamelloise – for a very reasonable price. The room is also quite neat, with gorgeous vaulted ceiling and a big interior fireplace for grilling meats along one wall.

And to put the flourish on my two day stint, when I sent in my bill I got a delightful email from the man who hired me who said that in his opinion I had charged too little, and that to compensate he was leaving me a few choice bottles to pick up at the reception area after July 5th, on behalf of the BIVB.

La Kermesse!

Last weekend we had the girls’ school fair, which is called “La Kermesse” here in France. It includes games such as “Peche a la Ligne” and “Peche aux Canards” (NOT “Peche aux Conards” as one of my children mispronounced it, which roughly and somewhat politely translates as “Fishing for Jerks”), a “spectacle” put on by each and every preschool and primary class, and of course, because this is Beaune we’re talking about, the all important wine stand.

However, as we took many photos at this illustrious event, I will let them tell the story…

Camille (here with her friend Lucy) was a mouse.

Charlotte was a Charlie-Chaplin-esque person. Note the artfully drawn moustache done by her mother.

Camille’s dance involved lots of cheese (this is being France, after all) and a nasty black cat from the Kindergarten class who threw a diva fit before the dance and refused to wear either his tail or ears, so nobody could really figure out what this child dressed in black was doing on the stage amongst the cute little mice.

Charlotte’s dance was very ambitious as the teachers combined the two Grade 1 classes, meaning there were about 50 seven year olds on the stage at one time. The result was a bit of a jumble but there was a lot of tricky and neat hat-passing involved and Charlotte did a great job.

This is Camille and her cousins Lola and Tom who we were looking after for the weekend. They are sick and tired of waiting and once Charlotte is changed are eager to go and try the Peche aux Conards.

Lastly, here is the wine-stand. Basically everyone at the school is connected with the wine industry here in one way or another so all the winemakers, negotiants, courtiers, etc. donate 6 or twelve bottles and they sell them. All the parents abandon their children and run here first thing on arrival and snatch up good, wonderfully priced wine by the box. I’ve never heard the numbers but I think it single-handedly raises a lot of money for the school.

I’ve often wondered if the wine stand isn’t also the reason so many grandparents and distant family members scramble to attend every year! Somehow I don’t think it’s for the Peche aux Conards.

Les Chatelaines et moi

I was invited to a private jewellery sale in SavignylesBeaune, at the house of a woman named Florence who I know a bit through a mutual friend (Charlotte). I’ve been to her house before, and she actually lives in a lovely abode at the back of the Domaine Chandon de Briailles, as her husband will be one day the new Count de Nicolay and inherit the family’s beautiful chateau (just across from the main chateau in Savigny). This means that although Florence is very nice and low key she is also most definitely a member of the aristocracy.

Charlotte and I had planned to go for our weekly walk that morning, then hit the jewellery sale afterwards. It’s been raining so much recently that we ended up opting to go for a walk around the ramparts (fortified walls) of Beaune rather than our usual foray into the vineyards. Just as an aside, if you haven’t tried this walk you really should – it shows a hidden Beaune of medieval alleyways and defensive towers that really captures my imagination.

Anyway, Charlotte, despite telling me the night before that she was just going to go to the jewellery sale in her walking gear as well, stopped at home to change first. It seemed a bit of a waste of time for me to double back home to change when in fact Savigny is about the half way mark on my way home from Beaune. Besides, I had a full day of work ahead of me so wasting half an hour to change seemed rather frivolous.

So I swanned into Florence’s house in my black walking pants (bit muddy from previous week’s excursion in vineyards), pink T-shirt, and grotty grey fleece I bought at Eddie Bauer about a decade ago. Luckily, the six or so ladies assembled, though undoubtedly chic, seemed not to notice. Or perhaps they were just extremely well-bred…In any case nobody but yours truly, explaining perhaps a tad too loudly that I had just been for a walk, commented on my grotty attire. The jewellery was truly lovely. I ended up buying a pendant necklace – very in here right now and called a “sautoir” – and a matching pair of earrings.

The very nice jewellery maker whom I chatted with and paid was also dressed quite casually in a nice Mexican looking embroidered shirt and jeans. As I was leaving I asked Charlotte if she was one of Florence’s friends from Savigny.

“Oh no,” Charlotte responded. “She’s the Chatelaine of Commarin.” Commarin, if you might know, is one of the most massive and impressive castles in this area of Burgundy.

Must admit that I felt a bit cowed for a few seconds. Then I remembered that I too have an illustrious background, being the descendant of a rich line of scullery maids and destitute but tenacious immigrants. Besides, this is post -revolutionary France after all! With this in mind, I straightened my shoulders and returned home in my grubs with pride.

Chaux painted red

We went off to the Fete de la Musique last night in Chaux. Last year we had a great time at MareylesFussey and the year before that in MagnylesVillers. So Franck and I and the girls went with high hopes.

I bought a pizza from the pizza van on the newly renovated Place in Chaux and we settled down to eat it while catching up with our friend Jean Yves.

The first sign that a fabulous evening was not in store was the fact that nobody could figure out where the band were hiding. They didn’t show up until a few minutes after nine, and when they did we weren’t quite sure whether that was a good thing.

The “band” consisted of a rather depressed looking man playing the accordion and a truly bizarre lead singer. He was dressed in a suit made entirely of gold sequins, had a unnerving orange tint to his skin, and a huge black wig. None of us were quite sure what to expect, however to give him credit I must say he surprised us all. In complete contrast to his flamboyant outfit he had a dour repertoire of communist dirges about leaving the factory at the end of the work day and how the proletariats will one day rise up and overthrow the capitalists.

The fifty or so children assembled, who can usually be trusted to dance with abandon to almost anything, stayed perfectly immobile in their plastic chairs, stunned into silence.

Franck and Jean Yves, as loyal Villerois (what the people of Villers-la-Faye are known as), agreed that the people of Chaux could never be counted on to throw a decent party, and that besides, they were all communists and that it was common knowledge that communists don’t know how to have fun. The idea was floated that perhaps the evening’s musical act had been sourced at the latest annual communist meeting.

In any case, there is hope that next year the party will be in Villers, and as our mayor was in Chaux last night and saw the catastrophe I’m quite sure he won’t be booking the golden sequined communist for entertainment. Besides, in Villers we know how to throw a party.

Et BOOM!

Last night we had another one of Burgundy’s spectacular thunder and lightening storms. Chris Wright, who is staying with his wife and their adorable two year old daughter Hannah at La Maison des Deux Clochers took these amazing photos out of the window.

At our house in Villers-la-Faye Franck had unplugged every single electrical appliance and while Camille sawed logs in her own bed, Charlotte had hopped into bed between Franck and I and the three of us watched the show out our bedroom window.

It was scary and beautiful, and made me feel very glad for being tucked up nice and safe in my bed!

It was good that it happened last night as tonight is “La Fete de la Musique” which is being held at Chaux with a live band and merguez on the BBQ until late, late, late – it is the solstice after all!

However, still no french door opening permission from the architect of the French Monuments. Luckily, as you can see, we have lots of distractions!

My Fence aka My Pride and Joy

I’m very excited! As much as I may be frustrated with the progress of renos at our house (and no, the planning permission didn’t arrive in today’s mail) things have been moving along very nicely at La Maison des Deux Clochers. We just finished putting up a lovely wooden fence around the garden area so that you can lounge, drink wine, and pick your nose in complete and utter privacy.

Another bonus is that now you can take the garden furniture out of the cellar at the beginning of your stay and just leave it in the garden for the whole time. The door locks with a key and it would take a very motivated thief indeed to haul a plastic garden table over a wooden fence almost 2 metres high! There’s a cost / benefit ratio to consider and I frankly don’t think there’s anybody that motivated in MagnylesVillers.

We’re planning on planting some wildflowers and lavender around the edges, and Franck has replanted some trees on the far side and is reconstructing a little stone wall. I’m very thrilled with it, and I hope our guests will be too. Aren’t our old rose bushes nice?

This is the view from outside. On the ground level it’s looking a little bare right now but that’s where the wildflowers and stuff will go.

Posted by Picasa And then here’s one last picture because I like looking at it and it makes me feel like we are making headway after all. Although I’m sure the Freudian psychoanalyst with the strong German accent would remind me that my new fence is essentially for the enjoyment of “otter” people (i.e. our guests), and ask me what I think that means? Poo on him, I say. We did put up two identical panels at our house too in order to make the front garden more private, so there!

The Circus comes to the Village

The other day as I was driving the girls to school they caught sight of a poster of a neon, deranged-looking clown at the bottom of our street. The circus was coming to Villers-la-Faye, just down the street from our house beside the Salle des Fetes. Of course we had to go.

We knew a bit about what to expect as the circus had come to town last year too. It had consisted of an Italian gypsy family with two pre-adolescent girls who did cartwheels dressed up in worn velour leotards that captured Camille and Charlotte’s imagination and meant that for months afterwards their favorite imaginary game was “circus girls”. There was also a dog who could do tricks and a lazy or dead albino boa constrictor that we could all go up and pet at the end. It was, no doubt, a hard act to beat.

Much to the girls’ disappointment this year there were no “circus girls” in the show. Instead for the 5 Euros entrance fee per person we were treated to the tricks of Fleuri and Jo, a young Spanish couple who also seemed to have some gypsy blood in them. They also had a trick dog, as well as a very recalcitrant pony who did a huge poo right in front of us, much to the children’s hilarity and joy, in protest for being forced to parade around the ring.

Jo did amazing feats of strength by doing handstands on balanced chairs (he only fell once) and because he found that his unicycle wheel was deflated he and Fleuri gave all the children pony rides. At the end the children didn’t want to leave so they spent some time patting the wonder dog and tormenting the goat, who wasn’t in the show and whose purpose will forever remain a mystery, picketed nearby. Then everyone who was still hanging around helped Fleuri and Jo stack up their plastic chairs and put them back in their truck.

I find I actually prefer this kind of home-grown circus to the Barnum & Bailey’s type. You never know what you are going to get – a pony poo, a boa constrictor, or stylish velour leotards.

Planning Permission and other joys…

The hot water heater was the final straw. I now officially admit that I am getting very, VERY sick of my 1/4 renovated house which we currently live in.

The hot water heater on the fritz has of course absolutely nothing to do with the renovations we’re currently planning, but today I’m just in a fug of frustration about home ownership.

When we moved here in the summer of 2004 it seemed to me a good idea to find a fixer-upper to buy (and anyone who knows Franck and I will know that we seem to be drawn to truly desperate causes). Here were my reasons;

1. In France it is possible to get a 4.5% fixed rate mortgage for a 25 year term and amortization. That’s right – no renegotiating – same low rate for the whole 25 years.

2. I really wanted to have a base here that we could settle into, and didn’t have to be worrying about a landlord selling, repossessing, or kicking us out of our abode.

3. I wanted any work and / or investment we put into our house to benefit us, not a landlord

4. Paying monthly rent to a landlord frankly drives me crazy when I consider that I could be paying a mortgage instead (and a mortgage with good terms – see Point #1)

5. Lastly, and most importantly, I had this VISION. Now, my “VISIONS” often are what get me into deep water and / or seemingly endless and impossible reno projects. This particular VISION was of a comfortable country style home here in the vineyards, near Franck’s family, where we could receive friends and have wonderful leisurely meals out on the deck. When we move back to Canada it would be a place to come back to for us and our girls, hopefully bringing cousins and assorted kidlets along with us as the children get older. I saw it as our anchor here in France. I think you’ll agree with me, this is quite a lovely vision.

However, as it stands today there is still an alarmingly LARGE gap between my vision and reality. Besides the fact that we have no hot water at the moment, we also have hideous wallpaper that I told my best friend Andrea when she came in the Spring of our first year here that I couldn’t live with for another three months (this was two years ago), a kitchen counter that is so infiltrated with water that the whole thing is collapsing before my eyes, a deck that still has the stylish (not) finish of broken tiles and raw cement…the list goes on an on.

For the past two years the hideous state of our home here in France was only a mild embarrassment as we were working on the other gites and although I am quite crazy I am not crazy enough to embark on more than 1 renovation project at a time. I know a Freudian psychoanalyst would have a field day as to why I spend a good part of my life fixing up wonderful places for other people to stay in while my own abode is such a downright dive, but frankly there are some things that are just not worth thinking about overmuch.

And besides, we have encountered some real roadblocks. The biggest of all is planning permission. We have the fortune / misfortune to be located in the vicinity of two historically classed monuments a: 1) 12th Century Chateau tower and a 2) a 12th century chapel at the top of Mont Saint Victor (never mind that it is completely hidden by trees).

This means we have the dire misfortune of coming under the jurisdiction of the “Architect of the Historical Monuments of France”. So we filled out and submitted all the forms, jumped through all the hoops, etc. to ask permission to open up one extra french door leading on to out deck. The response is supposed to come in 6 weeks. This was 3 months ago…

Appeal? you suggest. Phone and ask then to hurry up? Ah-hah. But seriously, no. This is the worst possible manifestation of french administration we are talking about here. The man has absolute power (and what did they say about absolute power again?…that thing about corrupting absolutely? anyway, I’ll let you read in the rest and stop just short of libel). The only person he has to answer to is the Minister of Culture, and if you think that the Minister of Culture in Paris will be accepting our phone calls because our planning permission for our french doors is late, well then you must just be the kind of crazy person that would undertake two reno projects at the same time.

Besides, we already had a little (ahem) tussle with him over La Vieille Vigne. He and Franck had a bit of a (cough – understatement alert) difference of opinions concerning the colour of the shutters and our skylights in the main room. This paragon of administrative uselessness thinks that ALL shutters in Burgundy should be painted GRAY. Charming. So I painted La Vieille Vigne’s bright turquoise and we bulldozed the permission for the skylights through the Mayor’s Office. So let’s just say we’re not on his good books. So now we’re just trying to lay real low and hope that as there are a lot of Germains in Burgundy he will confuse us with someone else. But until we get the permission we can’t do anything.

So there’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. In the meanwhile here’s a photo my lovely friend Heather took when they were visiting from Germany the other week. Franck made an amazing “tagine” and we ate it out on the deck while the kids watched a video inside. Besides the unfinished aggregate on the deck and the exposed mortar blocks that are not painted or stuccoed it captures the essence of my still elusive dream.