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July 2014
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Diary of a Vineyard – July 2014

64_Rives_Blanques_Oct13Ouf! as they say in French. It’s all fireworks and brimstone this month:  there’s the 4th of July and there is the Quatorze de Juillet.  

And then there is also a catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions as hail sweeps over vast tracts of the Minervois,  Cabardes,  Malepere and Carcassonne, wiping out between 20% – 100% of 15,000 ha of vines. That’s very close to home – and knowing the same could easily happen to us brings it even closer to home.   The Minister of Agriculture comes to see the desolation with his own eyes.  A number of winegrowers are uninsured, wiped out.  And not just for this year, but for next year as well, as a result. Nobody has ever seen anything like it. We thank our lucky stars to be unaffected by this randomly distributed misery.  Because that’s what it is: luck.  Luck separated by just a few hundred meters.


Friday 4 July
Red Letter Day

KLMwindow-300x199And our lucky stars are spangling bright. Today goes down in the annals of Rives-Blanques as the very best ever. First we hear that our chardonnay-chenin ‘everyday’ wine has again been awarded the gold medal of the Pays d’Oc competition, the Ambassadress Collection. It will be sent around the world to represent the quality of Languedoc’s wines. Quite an honour for a wine we like to call our “basic beauty”.

Then we hear that the SAQ Monopoly in Quebec has placed a large order for our top chardonnay – the first time ever! That alone is reason enough to celebrate. Canada here we come!!

Then … the KLM buyer calls us and says, “The panel tasted your Le Limoux yesterday. It was awful”

A heart-stopping, horrible, horrified,  horrifying  pause follows. Then he roars with laughter.

“Ha! I got you there! No, of course, it was wonderful!”

BRILLIANT!! We forgive him his sense of humour. That puts our blend Le Limoux into the World Business Class of KLM on their transcontinental flights. More than brilliant. Just absolutely, incredibly, amazingly fabulous.

And the day holds even more in store, but it’s too much even for a diary which nobody reads …

So we finish it off by watching Don Giovanni in an open air amphitheatre in the heart of the old medieval city of Carcassonne, and the stars spangle very very brightly overhead.

Monday July 7

USAsilver-150x150The two silver medals from the Best French Wines for the USA in Miami come as a bit of a let-down.  Where are the fireworks?

Friday  11 July

“Saute! Saute!”  Eric shouts at Jan-Ailbe.

But above the roar of the old tractor, he only hears what sounds like “Stop! Stop!”.

He’s trying with all his might to stop.

But the tractor, a 50+-year old veteran called an International Harvester for reasons not entirely clear to me, is a tractor that goes on and on when all else stops.   It is a tractor that out-tractors our brand-new Ferrari-red computer-driven state-of-the-art Cases number.  The trouble is,  the unstoppable tractor is not stopping.  In fact, it is cutting a sure, certain, unwavering  path down the slippery slope towards the steep drop at the end of the Cépie field.

More frantic “Saute! Saute!” from Eric, and more fruitless pumping of the break from Jan-Ailbe.

Finally, he disentangles his 6’7″ frame from the cramped cabin and jumps for his life.

Tuesday 15 July
Tuesday Tour Talk & Tasting 

TTTT3-300x225Our Tuesday Tour Talk & Tasting visitors come on the dot of 10h30.  There are a couple of Belgians, some Dutch people, and a number of Britons.  We have advertised the fact that we speak Chinese  (and Spanish and Portuguese) but fortunately that has not been put to the test yet.  Certainly the ‘talk’ bit of the Tuesday Tour Talk & Tasting would be a lot less free ranging.  Right now we’ve been banging on about biodiversity (in English), something that resonates with the Panman accompanying today’s tour into the vineyard (the Panman who speaks Chinese wouldn’t know what a boar is in Mandarin any way.)   We stop at the field where the chardonnay for Odyssée grows, and biodiversity flies in.  A White Admiral, a Swallowtail and a Blue Something steal the scene.  The scene is difficult to steal at the best of times, but there are a couple of avid amateur butterfly-ists in the group.  For them, the view pales  in comparison.

Wednesday 16 July

Our 25-year old forklift lifts its last and is replaced by a nifty metallic silver job with power steering and a bleeper that bleeps when it reverses.  Both Jan’s are thrilled.  It’s a battered up, fairly beaten second-hand affair, but to look at them you’d think Christmas had come.

Monday 21 July

Two Dutch stewardesses with two friends and a gaggle of children, one English doctor with son and son’s girlfriend, three Swedes, and a single, solitary Frenchwoman all turn up in the tasting room at the same time.  Polyglot party-time; no work gets done.

Carol Panman

N is for New Girl – and with it a Guide to the French Education System

C’est la rentrée. As I write, parents everywhere are breathing a monumental sigh of relief that the summer (lovely as it is!) is over and they can finally hand daytime responsibility for their little darlings/monsters back to teachers. It’s been a particularly big week for the Sayers household as our eldest – Rosie – has started maternelle (infant school) for the first time, and so we start along the long road that is the French education system (see below for the lowdown).

Day one went well – no tears from our new girl (a few sentimental ones out of sight from her mum !) although there were some tiny tots sobbing their little socks off in her class. The new intake is made up largely of those born in 2005, of which Rosie (age 3 and 9 months) is one of the oldest. However, parents here clamour to get their children in as young as possible so some of Rosie’s classmates are not yet 3. It’s not surprising that they’re not too chipper about being packed off for an 8 hour stint with complete strangers !

I say day one went well, but I’ve omitted to mention our spectacular arrival at the entrance to school. Just in case speaking English with each other wasn’t attracting enough attention, I decided to ensure that everyone knows who we are by performing the mother of all falls up the steps. I went flying, Joe (age 18 months) in my arms, and we both fell with a sickening thwack of his head (and, less importantly, my knees) on to the very solid tiled floor. Understandably, he didn’t take too kindly to this and proceeded to let everyone know of his discomfort – loudly. Cue for a gaggle of French mums to gather round and regale me with advice on how best to treat the bumped head. I suspect I am now unofficially known as “that English woman who throws children around”.

It’s a long old school day here. We have to have Rosie at school by 8.30am –a real challenge for us as a family, accustomed as we are to getting out of bed relatively late and enjoying a leisurely breakfast, and not helped by Rosie’s daily dilly dally over what to wear – few French schools have uniforms. There is a rather complicated schedule of activities posted on the wall of the classroom for parents to see, but if Rosie is to believed, she mainly spends her time skipping !

There is a canteen for lunch which produces a gourmet style menu of daily 3 course meals which wouldn’t look out of place in a Jamie Oliver establishment, but many of Rosie’s class go home for lunch. A two hour lunchtime window sounds a lot but let me tell you that there is little slack in the schedule once you’ve walked home at 3 year old pace, cooked lunch (we have embraced the hot-meal-at-lunchtime ethos of the French in order to fit in!) and walked back to school.

After lunch it’s siesta time, obligatory for the “Petite Section”. The school has a room dedicated to sleeping and laid out with 30 miniature beds which makes a touching little tableau. How the teachers succeed in getting 30 wriggling 3 year olds to sleep at the same time is beyond my comprehension – I couldn’t manage it with one – but they do, on a daily basis. Mind you, I fully understand the awe inspired in the children by la maîtresse – I’m terrified of her myself having been the victim of her disdain for a number of serious parental misdemeanours including providing the wrong-sized photographs and turning up at the wrong door after lunch – this is a different entrance from the one used at the beginning and end of the day, but, of course, no-one thought to tell me and the other novice parents this.

Post-siesta and it’s time for goûter – the afternoon snack (sleeping and eating – that’s my kind of afternoon !). She who must be obeyed has drawn up a rota for us parents, who will take it in turns to provide a week’s worth of goûter – that’s four days worth (in case you’re uninitiated, there’s no infant or primary school on Wednesdays in France) of afternoon snacks for 30 children – no sweet stuff allowed ! I’m already in blind panic about my week and what I’m going to produce, especially with French preconceptions about English cuisine to overcome. Suggestions on a postcard please….

The afternoon apparently involves more skipping, with perhaps a bit of painting or a story thrown in and then kicking out time is 4.30pm. It’s vaguely concerning that three year olds have a longer day than many French civil servants! All the parents line up obediently at the door which opens a crack while the maîtresse pops her head out and then summons the relevant child from their desk. Woe betide those who spot a parent and in their excitement, make a run for the door out of turn. Many try, but few succeed. That icy stare alone is enough to put them back in their place ! That reminds me, it’s nearly 4.30pm and I need to get my skates on – I don’t dare be late.

The lowdown on the French education system:

Maternelle (Infant school)

Age Grade Abbreviation
3-4 Petite Section PS
4-5 Moyenne Section MS
5-6 Grande Section GS

Primaire (Primary school)

Age Grade Abbreviation
6-7 Cours Preparatoire CP/11ème
7-8 Cours élémentaire première année CE1/10ème
8-9 Cours élémentaire deuxième année CE2/9ème
9-10 Cours moyen première année CM1/8ème
10-11 Cours moyen deuxième année CM2/7ième

Secondaire (Secondary school) –

Collège for the first four years and lycée for the last three

Age Grade Abbreviation
11-12 Sixième 6ème
12-13 Cinqième 5ème
13-14 Quatrième 4ème
14-15 Troisième 3ème
15-16 Seconde 2nde
16-17 Première 1ere
17-18 Terminale Term or Tle

This article first appeared in French Property News magazine. Please note that some of the information contained may be out of date. (including Rosie’s age!)

Louise Sayers

We all saw the cyclists on TV, but how many if us missed this little chap who’s been with us all the while ?


When is a Regional Capital not going to be a Regional Capital? When it becomes a mere City . . .

A Capital battle for French Cities . . .

The map of France was set to be redrawn today, with MPs likely to approve a 13-region model proposed last week. But that will start a whole new debate – where will the new “super-regions” base their capital?

As reported, MPs last week accepted a new-look France, which cut the number of regions from the current 22. They were due to vote through the plans today.

The proposals unite Poitou-Charentes with Limousin and Aquitaine, as well as Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy – despite resistance from some representatives of the regions concerned – but the question of where the political and administrative centre of each new region remains unanswered.

There is more at stake than simply the prestige of being the primary city in one of France’s new “super-regions”. There is an economic impact.

“The choice of capital has a significant impact in terms of jobs,” decentralisation expert Patrick Le Lidec told FranceTV info.

He explained that “capital status” would bring “administrative jobs because of the implementation of regional council services,” and would also have a knock-on effect on businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve has tried to reassure MPs worried that their home towns will lose capital status.

He said reform, “does not mean that there will be administrative territorial deserts where there are currently regional capitals.

He suggested that some administrative services may be moved away from the regional capitals of the new “super-regions”.

Mr Le Lidec agreed: “One can imagine, for example, the Regional Directorate of the Environment, Planning and Housing (DREAL) would not be based in the regional capital.”

But he warned of the potentially expensive dangers inherent in appeasing cities that lose their regional capital status, saying there is a risk of “losing part or all of the desired economies of territorial reform”.

The decision on regional capitals can only be made once make-up of the regions are confirmed.

Mr Le Lidac argues that France’s major metropolises – such as Toulouse, Lille, Strasbourg and Rouen – have prior claims to become capitals of larger regions, but the new-look map could throw up a number of key local disputes.

Assuming Midi-Pyrenees does merge with Languedoc-Roussillon, ancient Cathar rivalries could re-emerge, argues regional newspaper La Depeche, as Toulouse and Montpellier vie for regional capital status.

L1060447Toulouse is the larger city, but neither the regional president of Languedoc Roussillon nor the mayor of Montpellier are shutterstock_91666832prepared to give up without a fight.

Meanwhile, a union of Alsace-Lorraine-Champagne-Ardenne has caused concern in the corridors of power in Strasbourg, according to the local edition of Rue89.

Its status as regional capital seemed assured under original plans which merged Alsace and Lorraine, but the addition of Champagne-Ardenne has raised the possibility that Metz could become the primary city in the new-look region.

Concerns are also being raised in Normandy, where ancient Rouen could be challenged by Caen – and the mayor of Le Havre has even suggested his city as an alternative.

There are three possibilities in a new-look Burgundy and Franche-Comté region, too. The two current regions have been happy to merge, but a choice between Dijon and Besançon may be a sticking point. This is why the UMP mayor of Dole has put his city – an ancient regional capital in its own right – as “a third way”.

with thanks to The Connexion, Jul 23



Son en Lumières en France & Light Shows

Pierre-Jean Durieu /

The annual Festival of Lights takes place in Lyon every December / Pierre-Jean Durieu /


Son en Lumières

Court Séjour valable aux dates de spectacle : du 22 au 24 août et du 29 au 31 août 2014



Son et Lumière

Until 21 September

Huge silhouettes projected on to the façade of the Château Royal de Blois in the Loire Valley conjure up tales of chivalry, love and drama at this residence of French kings. The narration is spoken by leading French actors and an audio guide is available in English.

Tel: (Fr) 2 54 90 33 33



Chartres en Lumières

Until 12 October

The soaring Gothic cathedral in Chartres becomes even more mesmerising when multicoloured lights dance around its intricately carved façade to an orchestral accompaniment. Nearly 30 buildings and squares in the town are also lit up.

Tel: (Fr) 2 37 23 40 00



Carrières de Lumières

Until 4 January 2015

The immense interiors of a disused limestone quarry are used to display
famous art on a monumental scale.
This year’s show celebrates the works of three Viennese artists, including Gustav Klimt – best-known for his gilded masterpiece The Kiss.

Tel: (Fr) 4 90 54 55 56



La Cinéscénie

7 June to 13 September

The historical theme park Puy du Fou employs a cast of more than 1,000 actors, dancers and horsemen for its night-time extravaganza, held on a huge outdoor stage beside the castle moat. Expect fireworks, light shows and lasers.

Tel: (Fr) 8 20 09 10 10



Des Flammes à la Lumières

20 June to 26 July

The centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of World War I makes it a particularly poignant time to watch a re-enactment of the 
Battle of Verdun and its aftermath, using 250 actors, 900 costumes, 1,000 projectors and an array of special effects.

Tel: (Fr) 3 29 84 50 00



La Nuit des Chimères

2 July to 1 September

As dusk settles on the medieval quarter of 
Le Mans, the buildings and cobbled streets are turned into giant projection screens (pictured) to recount the history of the Plantagenet dynasty, which came from the town and ruled England for three centuries.

Tel: (Fr) 2 43 28 17 22



Les Luminessences

11 August to 11 October

In the courtyard of the Palais des Papes, spectators learn about the papacy’s residence in Avignon in a light and video show that projects 3D images on to the walls, backed up by music and narration.

Tel: (Fr) 4 32 74 32 74


with thanks to France Magazine

For your August reading . . .

Swallows & Robins – The Guests In My Garden

by Susie Kelly


<swallows and robins.jpg>
When the chance to transform two old barns into holiday cottages presents itself, Susie grasps the opportunity, all she has to do is find the right builders for the job and make sure the works completed before the first guests arrive.
In this entertaining, funny and sometimes sad book, we have the opportunity to meets a wide variety of her friends, acquaintances and guests who arrive from around the world and come from all walks of life.  From Tristram the blond Apollo to Ivy, her cleaner, every characters description and antics add to the readers’ enjoyment of this entertaining book.
Through her guests’ travels, we are able to explore some of the beautiful French countryside, its heritage and traditions whilst also being treated to a glimpse of what life really is like in rural France.


by Alan Brenham

Just Released – A gripping crime thriller written by award winning Author Alan Brenham.

In Temple, Texas, Police Detective Matt Brady, assisted by FBI Special Agent Steve Casani, is investigating the disappearances of five beautiful women. Desperate, with no leads and the number of missing women growing at an alarming pace, Matt is desperate for answers.

Everyone knows that the person we become in life can be affected in a moment, by a word, or circumstance. The paths we take as a result and their consequences are sometimes, only discovered after the passing of time. These life-changing moments or words, for some people are stamped in their mind forever, silently festering and waiting to emerge, bringing back memories, which cloud the present.

This book is even more enjoyable because, whilst writing it, the author has been able to draw from his wealth and variety of personal experience in police and law, among which is his time as a Temple patrol officer and, Assistant General Counsel for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

A brilliantly written compelling thriller, action packed, clever and with twists and turns which are guaranteed to keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Another spring

by John Needham




New Release.

This book is a collection of short stories, each possessing different themes, but all written in the style of writing that lovers of John Needham’s other books will recognise.

John writes from experience, hindsight and observation. These stories are poignant, reflective, heartrending and celebratory, they will make you laugh, smile, think and reflect.

If you are a fan of fly on the wall stories or memoirs, you will love the way that his pen dips into the past as he captures the essence of life then, and the innocence of bygone days, in the first two of his short stories which are called Awakening and Skeggy Day Out.

Tantalisingly, Baby Blues is a taster for his next novel The One of Us. As two couples explore their thoughts and feelings whilst deciding whether they are going to adopt.

Of course everyone has fallen in love. Dream, Dream, Dream, takes its title from the famous song as one man reflects on life and love in the 50’s.

Whilst in the final story a writer shares a little of himself in Another Spring…

Even though two of the stories are modified extracts from the author’s novels Convergence and Forebears, the others are new, and I am confident in saying that fans of John’s writing will not be disappointed in this new book.

Diary of a single parent abroad

by Jill Pennington

<diary of a single parent abroad.jpg>

I have to say first off that I loved this book.
I don’t honestly know whether it’s because I am English living in France or because I can relate to some of the situations Jill has had to deal with, or just because it is a really good story brilliantly told.
From a mother who enjoys renovating in the UK, to a single parent managing to settle her children and herself in a foreign land whilst coping with a tricky marriage split between two countries, I found her adventures entertaining and her portrayal of them no holds barred.
As the book progresses she gives a realistic glimpse of what it is really like to live in a different country than your homeland, especially when they speak a different language and really cannot understand you. Many books on renovating abroad are written as if money is no object and it is refreshing to read an account of what it is really like when you don’t have a lot of money yet still love where you have made your home. I also loved the way she so honestly describes how friendly the local neighbours can be in small communities, willing to offer help and support after they get to know you.
A really good story and I hope we get to hear more of Jill’s adventures.

A brilliant App to guide you in the Dordogne . . .

Dordogne explorations 

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 18.39.08This well established and popular travel app has been downloaded in large numbers by Dordogne lovers and first-time travellers to the area since it was first launched in 2012. It explores not only the beautiful region of Périgord, the old name for the Dordogne, but also the Quercy (modern Lot) with parts of the southern Limousin thrown in for good measure!

Of all the beautiful regions France offers, the Dordogne has to be the author’s favourite with its beautiful meandering river valley stretching from the Massif Central in the east, through the counties or départements of the Corrèze and the Lot before entering the Dordogne département on its way to the Gironde river in the west. Imposing medieval castles from which the English and French conducted the long running saga of the Hundred Years War during the middle ages stand cheek by jowl with fascinating prehistoric sites where there are cave paintings dating back to the beginning of life in Europe.

This amazing app will enable you to explore a host of fascinating medieval towns, fortified bastides, prehistoric sites and charming sleepy villages not to mention several cool places to eat, drink and rest by simply touching the screen of your smart phone or tablet!

The app is available for iPhones and iPads by clicking here: Dordogne Explorations.  An Android version is obtainable from Google Play.

About the Author
Paul Shawcross is a travel writer and a Photographer but above all a Francophile, who first fell in love with France when passing through on the way to Spain way back in 1979. Paul has revised and penned new text for several editions of the Michelin Green Guide to the Dordogne Berry Limousin region and written articles for several leading Magazines.

DordogneSt Geniès

The beautiful village of St Geniès (pronounced san jenyes) is located in the Dordogne just 14km/9mi north of Sarlat just off the D704 Montignac Road and is the epitome of how a perfect French village should look. Surprisingly not on the list of Plus Beaux Villages, for reasons which elude this writer, it certainly should not be missed.

Named after the Provençal martyr St Genesius, St Geniès has a large village green giving onto charming houses which are constructed from a golden hued limestone complete with lauzes rooves, a ruined romanesque keep and a renaissance castle and church. At the top of the village is a mound complete with the gothic Chapelle Cheylard (1327) replete with frescoes from the period.

Like most French villages, St Geniès has a market which takes place in the main square every Sunday morning selling local produce. During July and August between 7 and 11pm there is an unusual evening market with tables set out in the square where you can choose courses from different stalls. Not content with all this, there is a truffle market every Sunday morning from December to February in the old Town Hall.

St Geniès is a perfect location for artists and photographers – there are great pictures everywhere. For a fine overview of the village, wait till the late afternoon or evening and walk along the D61 road which runs along the north-west side of the village.

A century ago British women still couldn’t vote!

Lord Lexden, our great supporter in the House of Lords for removing the current 15-year-limit on the voting rights of British citizens living abroad, has written a letter in The Times (refer below) highlighting the unyielding opposition to women’s voting rights, which extended up to the highest political level in the early part of the last century.

A century later, shouldn’t you make sure as a younger British woman (or indeed man) living overseas that you are registered to vote in the 2015 general election? It’s now been made so much easier to register on-line to vote here.

Coin of Courage – Letter to The Times, 8th July 2014, Lord Lexden

“No votes, thank you.” Postcard by the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, London 1912

“No votes, thank you.” Postcard by the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, London 1912


The execution of Edith Cavell made a profound impression on the then prime minister, Herbert Asquith (“Wartime heroine Edith Cavell is honoured with £5 coin”, July 5).

“She has taught the bravest man amongst us a supreme lesson of courage,” he said in 1915, and in this United Kingdom and throughout the Dominions of the Crown there are thousands of such women, but a year ago we did not know it.”

Overnight this hitherto unyielding opponent of votes for women, who had been physically attacked by Mrs Pankhurst’s suffragettes, was converted to the cause.

Lord Lexden

House of Lords   Letter published in The Times, 8 July, 2014


Today July 3rd is Lavande Day

A_Opener_July14Lavender comes from the Latin ‘Lavare’, to wash.  It therefore comes as no surprise that it is used for cleansing.

The oil is used to alleviate nervous tension, relieve pain, disinfection, help blood circulation, treating respiratory problems, helping sleep disorders as well as keeping moths, mosquitoes and midges at bay,

It is a base oil in perfume manufacturing. It’s this that was recognized as ‘valuable’ the C16th and C17th, and so demanded a place in the calendar of nomenclature.

Apparently it’s brilliant for curing acne. It inhibits the bacteria that cause the infection, it regulates hormone release, reduces scaring and relieves irritation.

The calming side comes from the effect it has on the nervous system. It can calm migraines, headaches, exhaustion, restlessness and depression (though heaven alone knows why so many French are treated for anxiety when there’s so much lavender in the Country).

And like Noisette, Rose and Cerise it joins the great pantheon of French colours that are derived from fruits and flowers.

Diary of a Vineyard at Chateau Rives-Blanques: June 2014

flowering14Some times you enjoy good weather.  Some times you love it to bits.  Right now, we are loving it to bits.

Good weather well timed is 喜喜, that is, double happiness.  Happiness twice over, or whatever.  There is some point in good weather when you don’t need it; but  there is every point when you do.  Right now, the whole of Rives-Blanques is in flower, every single vine is either on the point of breaking into flower, or is right in the middle of flowering … or is just approaching a happy end to flowering – and this is the moment when we really  don’t want any rain.

Though these clusters of flowers are self-pollinating, they need sunny weather and a nice breeze to become bunches of grapes.  So it goes without saying that if the flowering is flawed, then good-bye vintage 2014.

To put it another way,  the inflorescences are in  florescence …  full fluorescent florescence, you could say.  And Rives-Blanques is holding its breath.

Saturday 7 June

A nice couple of hopeful young Canadians come by, to taste the wines.  No, we are not open, but then, we are not closed either.  They are welcome to come in.

“Gee, it’s difficult to find anywhere open on a Saturday”,  they say.   “Last week we were in Saint Emilion, and they wouldn’t let us taste.  They said they were too busy with the flowering.”

“Busy with the flowering?”

“Yeah, the flowering of the vines, or something.   That must be a really busy time  for you?”


Wednesday 11 June

gorse-300x225Marc Dubernet is a scientist blessed with a brilliant nose.  He once memorably stuck his brilliant nose into a glass of our Blanquette de Limoux and pronounced:fleur de vigne -  the evanescent smell of the vine’s flower forever blooming in our effervescent.  Ever since then, we walk in the vineyard smelling hard.  We do it every year during that short period when the vines are flowering.  But it’s so fragile, so terribly delicate –  and every time, it’s the gorse, of course, that takes over.  Great yellow waves of sweet garrigue wafting over our vines and into our wines.  But if people ask what they are smelling in their Blanquette, the answer is straight-faced and serious: fleur de vigne


Friday 13 June

Work on the construction site at the bottom of our hill has come to a sudden halt.  They’ve undug all their digging, and closed up the holes to think about it for a year and a half.  There is quite a lot to think about: a tomb dating back to 3500 BC, and signs of an 8th century settlement.  How cool is that?

Monday June 16

EmptyBarrels-300x225The chardonnay we picked last year told us quite firmly it wanted to get out of its barrels, so that is what we are doing today.  Carefully emptying, cleaning, and then putting away our barrels ready for harvest 2014.  (Which will be upon us before we know it.)

Always an exciting moment, this.   All the barrels have been emptied into a big tank and blended together.  Our hopes are high: La Revue du Vin de France has already tipped this as one of the top white wines of vintage 2013, and we like to think they are right.  The proof will be in the pudding: bottling next month.


Thursday 19 June
Say Cheese Please!

Tasting1-300x218One of the most important cheese producers in Holland sent their Cheese Master over to taste their cheeses against our wines with a handful of our local customers.  We invited Domaine de Gayda just down the road to put some of their red wines up to the challenge: their lovely cabernet franc, and the award-winning syrah, Chemin de Moscou.

Cheese Master Ron started off by telling us how to go about it: first look at the cheese, consider its colour.  Then smell it, consider its smell.  Then taste it, consider its taste. Then, and only then, take a cautious sip of your wine. You will see that the Blancs de Blancs will taste sweeter and softer with this young cheese (it did), blending happily into a single soft whole (it did),  whereas the  same cheese with our mauzac, Occitania, will become a really successful marriage of two separate personalities (it did).  For instance.

Lest we forget the main concern in our cellars, Xaxa got up and hastily presented a quick rundown to the systematic approach of wine tasting (consider the colour, consider the smell, consider the texture, consider the taste, consider the length, and so on), making us all realise that there is not much to choose between tasting cheese and tasting wine.   Excepting that tasting them together is a very good idea, of course.

And the camera caught this table doing it all in the right sequence….

Tasting2-216x300We worked our way systematically through five different and wonderful cheeses, ranging from young goats’ cheese (“I’ve never seen a goats cheese like this in France!” some one exclaimed) to the three year old VSOP cheese made from cows’ milk.  One thing became clear: no matter how good the Gayda red wines were (and they were very good indeed), they could not do the cheese full justice, nor (even worse) the cheese them – with the exception of the powerful VSOP.  What we did not have were any creamy Camembert-type cheeses, which may have been a better match for the reds.  Reypenaer, however, do not make any creamy Camembert-type cheeses.

Which reminded Ron to remind us: perfide any Gouda that calls itself Gouda, it will undoubtedly come from Lille, or some other nefarious Gouda-copying place.  The only Gouda worth its salt is a Gouda prefixed by the magic trademark word “Holland”.

It was an interesting and well-spent two hours, also well spent in terms of the € 250 Ron raised for his favourite childrens’ charity, de Opkikkerer.

Friday 20 June
C’est la fete! 

OT-293x300It basically is always party time when the Vinifilles, the female winegrowers of the Languedoc, get together.  Today we got together in the magnificent new cellars at Domaine Ollier-Taillefer in Faugeres, to throw a party.  But of course, what else would we throw?  In fact, it was a party to thank the sponsors who sponsored our party in February at Vinisud, the big Mediterranean wine trade fair: a party for a party.  Well, why not.  In typical Vinifilles style it took less than an hour to decorate the tanks with bright orange Vinifilles hats, and set out a massive spread for our sponsors.

Conviviality is a very overworked word in these parts (as is ‘passion’ ) but I have to say:  it was convivial.  And the Vinifilles are a very passionate, convivial bunch.

…/to be continued

Caryl Panman


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