Monthly Archives: September 2007

Wine, Wine Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink

As most of you will probably recognize, the title of this blog is a direct rip-off of Samuel Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. You know, “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to Drink.”

Blatant plagiarism aside, replace “water” with “wine” and it does aptly sum up how I’ve been feeling over the past five months.

Why, you ask?

Have a look at the above photo of a winetasting we organised a few days ago with my parents, my little sister Jayne, and my brand-spanking new Brother-in-Law Mark at one of our all-time favorite Burgundian winemakers (not to mention friends) Domaine Henri-Naudin Ferrand in MagnylesVillers.

I am holding a wine glass but, somewhat atypically for me, it is full. And the only reason I’m holding the glass at all is because Franck (who was taking the photo) had decided that his creative vision is disturbed if anyone in a winetasting photo is holding an empty glass or, worse yet, no glass at all.

That’s right, at this winetasting I hardly drank any wine which under normal circumstances would be a bit of a tragedy as the fabulous 2005’s are all bottled now and ready for tasting. However, circumstances haven’t been normal for a while now, and the reason can be located in the puffiness in my middle area and, no, that isn’t just because I have eaten one too many of Franck’s gougeres.

You guessed it…besides our own house renovations, Charlotte and Camille, and managing the three vacation rentals, Franck and I have had another major project on the boil – Baby #3 who should theoretically be born sometime near the end of January.

And although this means that for me there won’t be a lot of this (barrels of wine) for me in the next few months…

Or many of these pulled out of bottles…

…we are beyond delighted. More on the strangeness and joys of being pregnant in France (plus a few token posts NOT about my pregnancy, but about renos and Burgundy and wine…promise) to come!

Not-So-Good-Very-Bad Days Part III

TSD’s still occur in the land of good and plentiful wine.

Part III of my TSD (Truly Shitty Day)

Of course there were no parking spaces when I got to the school – those metaphysical questions must have slowed me down – so I had to revert to the anarchist parking tactics so frequently required in France and double park behind someone. When I got back to the parking lot after dropping the girls off (and incidentally having realized I had forgotten Charlotte’s snack, but that I couldn’t do anything about it at that point besides let her go hungry) the woman whom I had parked behind was shouting. She proceeded to berate me until I got in my car, gave her the finger (not very smart seeing as it is most certainly another parent whom I will inevitably cross at some wine-related school function over the next few months) and took off.

Next on my fun schedule was a visit to the lab for a blood test. This is always a lovely way to start the day but of course on my TSD finding my blood seemed to be on a par with mining for diamonds. They couldn’t find a good vein and had to poke me numerous times before at long last hitting one that could fill up the test tube. I wondered briefly if maybe being seriously annoyed makes one’s blood contract inwards or something?

I got home to find Franck still not speaking to me, and dragged through the day at work, avoiding Franck’s black looks and seemingly incapable of doing one single productive thing, which always leaves me feeling guilt-ridden and useless.

After picking the girls up from school, at which time Charlotte gave me a good ole’ guilt trip about almost expiring from hunger before lunch thanks to me forgetting her snack, and proceeded to enumerate all the other delicious things that her friends’ (better) parents had packed them, we went to visit Franck’s grandmother with my mom and Aunt Sharon. About two minutes into the visit I spilled Camille’s full glass of grenadine (nice and sticky) all over her floor so had to spend a good fifteen minutes of the visit on my hands and knees mopping up my mess while yelling up the occasional translation.

Lastly after the homework, dinner, bath, bed marathon (during which I reprimanded Charlotte for fidgeting – now there’s the pot calling the kettle black) I crawled into bed, but only after meeting Ghandi’s reproachful eyes staring up at me mournfully from my bedside table. I hit a lull in his biography and STILL haven’t reached domestic enlightenment as I hoped to do by now (to read more about this, read “Scenes de Menage” post from July).

As my Aunt Sharon succinctly puts it, “There are days you are the bird, and there are days when you are the windshield.” Despite what Peter Mayle says, I am here to tell you that living in France doesn’t change this one bit.

Not-So-Good-Very-Bad-Days Part II

Part II of the TSD (Truly Shitty Day)

“I’ve been thinking about it all night,” Franck said, positively glowing with energy which given my three hours of sleep I found downright obnoxious. “And I’ve completely redesigned the renos for the house.”

I pried open another bleary eye. “How can you have thought all night? You were sleeping, I checked.”

He looked very smug. “I must have done it in my sleep.”

“What do you mean you’ve redesigned the house? We just finalized the kitchen plans yesterday, and there’s no way in hell I’m going back to IKEA again. It’s done. We agreed. We signed the quotes.” I knew the wise thing was to remain calm, but I could feel the last grains of my patience trickle into the hour glass.

Franck bounced the mattress again. “But it’s not too late to redesign it!” Like I was supposed to be happy about this….? Well, I wasn’t. I wanted things to be finalized, things to be checked off on the check-list once and for all and, quite frankly, after being treated like a sub-human at IKEA on one too many occasions over the last few weeks, I was quite certain that I would rather gnaw off my left arm (or live with an imperfectly designed house) than go back there again.

“So…what exactly do you want to change?” I ask.

“I think we should eliminate the cupboards in the kitchen and put a small table in there in it’s place-“

“BUT THAT WAS THE PLAN I ORIGINALLY DREW UP AND THAT YOU NIT-PICKED TO DEATH!!!” I had officially run out of calm.

“I guess I changed my mind.”

I roared, I yelled, I gave Franck my mind’s worth. Now, a few days later, I can see what our argument essentially boiled down to is the very different ways Franck and I have in dealing with stress.

When I’m stressed I become manically decisive. This works out most of the time, but I have been known to make mistakes, like the white tiles on my bathroom floor here in Villers (never, never again), the bad tiling job by a friend whom we should have believed when he said he wasn’t really very good at tiling, and the pink living room in Le Relais du Vieux Beaune that annoyed me so much that I had it repainted cream a mere two months after the initial paint job.

In contrast, the more stressed Franck gets, the more averse he becomes to making decisions. He himself admits that he is greatly reassured by the thought that All Options Are Still Open, whereas deciding means taking a big risk that we will be making a big (not to mention costly) mistake. To give credit where credit is due, Franck’s 11th hour redesigns have often been a boon to us – such as realizing that we could fit a nice bathroom into the dirty cellar at La Maison de la Vieille Vigne and as a consequence have a far more spacious bedroom. However, on the dawn of this particular TSD I was feeling too annoyed to acknowledge this fact.

So I stormed off to take the girls to school in Beaune, bleary eyed and with a lovely patch of stress / fatigue induced eczema below my lip. During the drive my dear daughters, with their unerring sense of timing, peppered me with questions about death, heaven, and other unanswerable metaphorical topics. When I failed to answer quickly enough Charlotte would remind me in a strident voice”MOMMY! YOU’RE NOT ANSWERING OUR QUESTIONS!”

Finally I turned around at a stoplight and snapped, “No, I’m not, and I won’t because I’m exhausted and just had a fight with Daddy and need time to think, so stop asking them.” Great, add a nice dollop of guilt about bad parenting into the mix…To be Continued

No-Good-Very-Bad-Days Happen in France Too

There are some days where all the vineyards in the world are still no consolation.

Sometimes I get the impression that people believe that just because we live in France our lives must be akin to an endless nirvana on Prozac. I blame this misconception largely on Peter Mayle.

His “Year in Provence” books and their spin-offs paint a picture of life in France so unrelentingly picturesque, quaint, and replete with endless culinary delights that no room is left for TSD’s, or “Truly Shitty Days” as I call them. Mayle’s vision is indeed seducing, and I must say I enjoyed his books on the whole. However, let’s be frank here: if you live live anywhere long enough (even France) rest assured that Real Life will get around to rearing its head and biting you in the rear end at some point.

Now I’m not talking about a life-changing bad day; one containing a terrible diagnosis or the death of a loved one, for example. While simply being human ensures that we’ll all experience these sort of days if we simply live long enough, what I’m talking about here is your more run-of-the-mill bad day.

And, as with most run-of-the-mill bad days, mine started with a VBM, or “Very Bad Mood”. Peter Mayle’s Provencale utopia doesn’t leave much space for truly vile moods, unless they are the kind that can be milked for comic effect, or to add a dash of local colour. As for mine, however, there frankly wasn’t anything very funny about it.

The night before I had enjoyed a generous helping of Franck’s celebrated Boeuf Bourgignon, and after a week of eating even more runny cheeses and decadent meals than usual due to a visit from my Mom and my Aunt Sharon, my gallbladder decided to mount a protest at around midnight.

Several hours of the wee morning were thus spent rocking back and forth on the couch and drinking copious amounts of mint tea to try and relieve the gnawing ache in my gut. The pain made it impossible to lie down and sleep, so I spent hours in the dark cursing Franck and his Boeuf Bourgignon, the rest of my family who were all sawing logs, and especially the bloody gastroenterologist in Canada who refused to take my gallbladder out years ago, insisting I only suffered from “sludge” (charming image) and not the stones that are apparently required to get rid of the cursed thing.

This nighttime couch stint also gave me the opportunity to have a panic attack about the upcoming renos that we’ll be starting in November. After years of wrangling and several migraine-inducing trips to the IKEA kitchen dept. in Dijon we had finally settled on a floor plan and kitchen layout that we both agreed upon, but the cost and the potential for making mistakes of it all terrified me. Our budget is coming out of our own pockets this time, so it is very finite and very small, especially considering the scale of the work we are planning on undertaking. Will the money hold out? Will it be well-spent or will we make some horrible, expensive mistakes? Would that dour plumber who looked at me with his hang-dog eyes when I explained our reno plans and said “wouldn’t it just be easier to build a new house?” prove to be right in the end?

At around 4:00am the mint tea finally did it’s job, or maybe my gallbladder just decided it needed some rest too. I crawled back in bed and fell into a fitful sleep for three hours until the alarm beeped at 7:00am.

I flung my arm across the bed and slapped the “snooze” button, but within seconds Franck was bouncing on the bed, eager to wake me up and share something…..

To be continued…

A Chip off the old Block…

Now that Charlotte is great at riding her big multi-speed bike, one of her favorite things to do is go off on excursions with Franck through the forests and vineyards. Franck always takes his camera (and, as you can see from the previous blog, he makes pretty darn good use of it too). We bought a small digital camera for Charlotte’s Birthday present, so she takes hers too.

I’m amazed at some of the photos she brings back with her. For a seven year old, she has a fine eye – not that I’m biased or anything…

Here are some pics from this weekend’s foray.

Here are some friendly donkeys who let you pat them without biting and spitting, who graze in a little field in the vineyards just by La Maison de la Vieille Vigne.

Then they stopped by Franck’s Dad’s (Andre’s) huge and prolific vegetable garden, and admired how the squashes and pumpkins are coming along.

Then they stopped by a sunflower field.

And, last but not least, they stopped off to take photos of a field of wildflowers that caught their eye.

The 2007 Vintage – Hot Off the Press!

For all of you out there who are underwhelmed by the mink capture, and are frankly a little sick of the “Canadiana” content of my blog of late, here is a treat just for you. You want to hear about Burgundy, you say? You want to hear about wine, you say? Pas de probleme…I have the perfect thing.

You see, between managing our three rental houses, feeding and keeping my children (more or less) clean, and occasionally doing a very mediocre and bad-tempered job of shoveling out our house, I also translate the occasional thing for the BIVB and the Chevaliers du Tastevin, who between the two of them control much of the public dissemination of Burgundy wine related information. Often I get to translate press releases, which I quite like because I get a sneak peak at insider information before everyone else. And today, my dear reader, I shall pass this sneak peak on to you.

Today’s translation was about the 2007 harvest which will be winding up over the next few days. I’m going to paraphrase as if I cut and glue my translation verbatim there is an off chance I could be accused of plagiarizing, and may lose my translation gig in the process. However, I’ll be sure to include everything important, so you can have this crucial information before anyone else, including the media.

How’s that for privileged?

*****

Burgundy’s 2007 Vintage

For the second time in 5 years (the last time was in 2003) the grape harvest began in August here in Burgundy. However, this does not mean the two vintages are comparable in any other way (my note here for Grape Journal readers: 2003 was the year of the dreaded summer heat wave, or “canicule” which produced wines that have the characteristics of stronger, Southern wines rather than typically Burgundian wines). This precociousness is mainly explained by an early flowering that was the product of a mild Winter and a warm Spring. Unlike 2003, however, the weather turned cool and humid shortly thereafter which slowed down the maturation of the vines.

This year Burgundian winemakers were not favoured by the weather. The maturity of the grapes varied greatly from parcel to parcel. As a result, “les bans” – or the administrative decision which allows professionals to begin harvesting – was published early, thereby allowing each winemaker the freedom to choose the optimum moment to begin the harvest.

The weather during the harvest was dry and sunny weather, which meant that the grapes continued to mature right up until the moment they were harvested; the sugar tests conducted by the BIVB confirmed that the concentration of the sugar in the grapes increased on a regular basis. Thanks to wet, cool weather the sanitary condition (note to Grape Journal readers: levels of mould and rot) of the grapes remained satisfactory. The producers remained vigilant nevertheless and did not hesitate to exercise a thorough sorting wherever the parcels demanded it.

For the 2007 vintage, Burgundian professionals, equipped with their experience and the diversity of their “terroir”, will produce wines that live up to Burgundy’s fine reputation!

*****

P.S. I’ve also included some lovely pics Franck took last week of both red and white grapes just above our house here in Villers-la-Faye. These grapes are all picked now and are macerating away in the cuveries throughout the village.

Rare Documentation of Mink Capture!!!

Turns out I was wrong about there being no photos in existence of the now legendary mink capture at Shawnigan Lake this summer. As it turns out my sister Suzanne took a few snaps of the three conquering heroes (a.k.a. our three husbands) just after they had bungee cord-ed the living beezejus out of the Tupperware box. Keep in mind when viewing these rare and surely much sought after photos, that when they were being taken that dangerous mink was actually GNAWING his way out of the box with those razor sharp teeth of his.

Yes, it’s true – us Bradbury Lasses have chosen brave men. Note that bucket filled with water they put on top of the Tupperware container. They are pretty clever too.

Here they are; Suzanne’s Greg, who emigrated to Canada from South Africa when he was a boy, my French Franck, and Jayne’s Quebecois Mark. What a handsome and international trio if I do
say so myself.

Mighty proud of selves…

Not to mention ever modest. It wasn’t until the final snap that they brought out the heavy artillery they used for the capture (i.e. the kids plastic shotguns). Our mountain men do Canada proud.

Big Changes in Store…

Since the late Spring the entrance to Villers-la-Faye, coming from the direction of MagnylesVillers, has been getting a right ‘ole face lift. I was a little skeptical at first as the mayor’s office organizes and directs big projects such as these. You just have to take one brief glance at our village’s Stalinist Communal Village Hall, or Salle des Fetes, to see first hand evidence that in the past the aesthetic judgement of the mayor’s office can be, well, seriously misguided.

Granted, this neo-communist structure that blights my eyes every time I drive past (I haven’t included a photo, as I’m worried its sheer ugliness might break our camera) was a product of that 70’s decade which also birthed orange shag carpeting and avocado refrigerators. Still, the Salle des Fetes of Villers-la-Faye is a fine example of just how wrong communal decision making can go.

A more recent project was the place that was re-developed in front of the Mairie, the village’s version of Town Hall. There were many grumblings at the time about how the design was more suited to Paris, that city of the Louvre pyramid and La Defense, than that of a rural winemaking village. However, in retrospect I think the job they did was not too bad. The rock work is very pretty, and the kids absolutely love having a drink out of the old water pump in the centre every time we set out for a walk around the Mont-Saint Victor, which, believe me, is quite often. The rock fountain is also a nice touch, although I have to admit the blue lights embedded in the ground still haven’t grown on me.

So we are all waiting with bated breath to see the upshot of the new village entrance – and this time around the stakes are high. Everyone wants it to be really nice, because since Jacky passed away this winter, Marie-Rose and Nicole have now closed Jacky’s store and restaurant and put it up for sale.

The entire village is hoping that it will be purchased by someone who will reinvent the store and keep it open, as well as keep the cafe / bar / restaurant alive. New rumours float around the village every week: a young couple from Lyon are going to buy it, oh no! Some developer wants to turn it into rental apartments, Whew, Someone from the nearby village of Echevronne is interested…in any case everyone in the village is hoping the business will be kept open in some way, shape or form, and it is commonly (and rightly, I think) believed that making the most of the village entrance, where it is located, is one of the best ways to attract the buyer that will do just this.

My friend Nina, an ex-financial advisor for high net worth clients who now with her husband Manu owns and runs the village dry cleaners, and I had cooked up the perfect plan at the 14th of July Bastille Day picnic. We would buy Jacky’s, transform it into a boutique grocery store with delicious bread, staples, and wonderful local products like wine, cheese, and honey. The restaurant would still serve lunch and the rest of the day would be a cafe and bar with tables and sun umbrellas when it as nice out, local artwork on the walls, and a open fireplace in the winter. It would be the heart and soul of the village and it would be wonderful…if only the pair of us had the money or time, which we definitely do not.

When we left for Canada in July there wasn’t much to see; the roads were dug up, and the new lampposts (nice old-fashioned black ones that I was pleasantly surprised to see) were put up, but that was it. We came back home hoping to see major progress but, of course, this being France the work crew had taken the entire month of August off and absolutely nothing had changed during the month we had been away.

Now, however, things are progressing quickly (well, as quickly as possible taking into consideration the 35 hour work week and daily 2 hour lunch breaks, that is). I really like the stones that line the road, as well as what look like numerous stone ringed dirt plots to plant trees and / or flowers. This is merely speculation as right now they are just filled with dirt and a few weeds, but I have high hopes some pretty things will be planted soon. There is also a lovely stone surround in front of the old village washing house and, as of today, a whole circle of old fashioned wooden benches around a lovely green water pump (the girls will be thrilled) in front of Jacky’s store. They’ve even put in new flower beds in front of the Salle des Fetes which somewhat soften its stridently communist lines.

All in all it’s looking good…now all the village has to do is find the right buyer for Jacky’s.