The Off Season 10

My Farmer’s Almanac has advice for every season.  From a winter to do list with things like “sort your seeds” and “clean your tools,”  I latched on to this tidbit:  “Take time to REST – in two months it all starts up again!” Around here most local, small-scale farmers slow down a bit in winter:  all the potatoes and kiwis are in their cellars; you can’t make cheese since the goats aren’t producing milk, etc.  Except farmer-heroes like Didier: he raises ducks as well as crops, does agricultural research, makes his famous foie gras in his own laboratory, and sells […]

La Tourbeille in Paris – 2017 5

We have lived and loved many cities – but dare I say, we have a particular weakness for Paris, city of brave St Geneviève and brave St Elizabeth, city of erudition, of romance, of high standards for all that encompasses gastronomy, wine and pleasure. So joy it was indeed to be back in Paris last week when dear friends Dominique and Jacques hosted a Vertical Tasting of our wines in their home. To spoil our tasters we went to one of the finest cheese shops in Paris, as only the Parisians can boast, for they take first pick of the […]

Wild Man in the Woods 5

Perched on one leg like a stork in the rain, I was swearing at the soggy cow path that had stolen my boot. The bottomless mire sucked it right off my foot and I yelped with panic as it began to disappear. Imagining the long, half-barefoot walk to the house in cold muck, IF I could pick my way out of this treacherous sink hole, I made a last attempt to retrieve the rogue boot, and found myself toppling in slow motion into the mud. How he had come so close in silence still mystifies me. He righted me and […]

Quarantine 5

Household under self imposed CWQ  (Creative Winter Quarantine).  A few rituals for hiding beneath the surface of regular life: Chain oneself to a work post and pray that gestation will evoke some magic. Go down to the Grotto in the woods, listen to the water fall.  Fill as many bottles as you can carry, drink the rest.  The water is soft and sweet and tasting of round minerals. Crisscross under the stone ridge heeding the sound of chipping.  Discover John under the cliff, chisel in hand, searching for essence in an enormous oak limb.  We agree to break silence.  Discuss […]

Going underground 4

There was a time I thought it strange and frightening to bury our loved ones in the earth.  So much dark and heavy.  So much mystery.  So unfriendly. I should have remembered my own first plunge into deep earth.  Four years old, imploding with confused fury after an act of injustice, running away blind.  Searing indignation, prickling hot tears, and then a fall into a deep hole.  Later my family found me asleep, wrapped around the trunk and roots of an old oak tree. Of course my older brothers teased me for decades, via their scathingly pejorative epithet – tree hugger. […]

For the Friction 3

When we renovated the kitchen of this old farmhouse we installed two sinks because generous guests are forever asking, “what can I do to help?” So all through this glorious month of bounty – fruit, vegetables and convivial gatherings – cheery teams have put those workstations to good use. The teams migrate as projects are conceived. One morning someone wakes up and says, “let’s build an extension to the deck.” And out come the power drills. On the hottest afternoon of the year our neighbors Nikky and David * arrive with expertise and physical prowess to help move the huge […]

Witch Doctors 2

The image of the wild man or woman living in the woods, stirring up cauldrons of potions for ailments, seems to have been filed away into the long-ago-and-far-away category. A mostly irrelevant archetype unless you’re reading tarot cards. We might ask how mankind ever survived without modern pharmaceuticals. Right up until the 1950’s, our parents lived and breathed customs and know-how that changed radically when industrial agriculture was introduced post WW2. Something as modest as the omnipresent hedge – with varying plants to attract beneficial insects and creatures, provided wind breakers that protected crops during storms, and valuable, earth-nourishing root […]

Away With the Dead Wood 2

I suppose everyone has their own version of dead wood.   Stuff accumulates, it’s probably part of the law of Inertia. Not too consequential if you’re just clearing out a junky closet.  But when the inertia has descended onto several acres over 40 years, it gives one pause. The hilltop across the valley has been an eyesore for longer than we care to remember. The real shame of it is that the grove of acacia trees – so valuable for their hard wood, intoxicating perfume, and bee-attracting flowers – has been devastated by the fatal appetites of mistletoe and thorn bushes. […]

To Graft a Fruit Tree – Lesson from a Village Elder 3

Our neighbor Monsieur C. called last night to ask about his patient. A month now since our grafting lesson and each day we check the old/young pear tree for new signs of life. I tell him the first green bud just popped and his pleasure is audible – he’ll hop over on his bicycle to see for himself. Monsieur C – “Anthony” is helping us achieve a grand wish – learning how to graft trees.  But his entry into our life is an even grander wish fulfillment, the discovery of an endangered species in our own back yard: an octogenarian […]

Rosé 2014 – L’esprit de Jeanne 7

Every land needs a protective spirit.   But where do they come from?   Are they settled in a place depuis la nuit des temps?   Do they migrate in search of suitable territory, like pollinators looking for a place where they can thrive? A few years ago we found our protective spirit hovering near the grotto in the woods. The place was wild, hidden by thorn bushes, inaccessible except to forest animals, asleep for decades.  Here the water flows right out of the rock cliff wall, filtered by fronds and moss and ferns, sweet and delicious. Our spirit is an adolescent […]

John’s EveryDay Moments, Winter 2015 2

No one would say daily life in the countryside is glamorous. Your mental space is filled up with ordinary, rural moments, and they mostly happen when you’re alone. Maybe that’s why so many farmers talk to themselves.  John isn’t talking to himself yet, but I’m starting to find little notes.  Here’s an excerpt. EveryDay Moments – Winter 2015 Walking across our compound to my office at dawn. Stoking the wood stove to keep my breath from crystallizing in the inside air.   Walking back to the house under the early blue-black evening sky. Taking in the first star on the […]

In the Midst of Everything – Tartes! 5

“Everything” now is about preparation for harvest.  Parcel inspections, maturity tests, last minute trimming… cleaning vats and tubes, dry runs of pumps and cooling systems, organizing equipment and helpers… In the midst of “everything” it is an astounding fruit year.  We’ve been blessed by an extraordinary season’s end: sunny, warm, dry, breezy – perfect. And thus, more everything just came in around the harvest moon: wild peaches, figs, hazelnuts, pears, some of the apples… Even the oaks could be heard in the night silence, releasing their acorns like pensive, fertile drops of rain. Time of abundance.   We have to […]

Apparition in the Vineyard 5

Over the past century France has acquired the veneer of a rather secular country.  But deep in the veins of the rural places there is a quiet yet undeniable veneration of the land, and with it an ancient connection to the Mother of Them All. Those latecomers, the Christians, often built female deity shrines on the sites of Roman female deity shrines; they in turn often built theirs on Druidic earth goddess sites.  Some say there is a magnetic energy in these places. August 15th 2014.  Here on the hilltop it was the Feast day of the Blessed Mother. A […]

A Vat of One’s Own 2

The wine business often seems dominated by men.  But long before Jesus made his winemaking debut at Cana, there were women at the helm.  Like Oeno.  Mere mortal, yes, but also a descendent of Dionysus, (god of the grape harvest and ritual madness).  Oeno was renowned for her skill in turning water into wine.  Naturally, she was carried off to war by the Trojans to keep them supplied. This century is showing up differently.  At our recent village council elections, the candidate mayor was determined to fill some of his seats with vigneronnes (women grape-farmers) because of their important and […]

Key to the Farm 4

Friday I handed over the apartment keys, last vestige of city life, and boarded the train out of Paris.  The end of four decades as city dwellers: living, loving and leaving a succession of homes in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Brussels, London and Paris. In some ways we’ve “bet the farm” to get here.  But more accurately, we’re betting on the farm to get us somewhere else.  Sometimes places turn out to be vehicles that help us experience something we need to live.  It now appears we need to live the farm.  Of course there’s a pretty side to […]

The 17th of May in 1763 3

It’s one of those perfect Tourbeille days.  Sunlight and sky so crisp you want to sing.  Air fragrant with Acacia blossoms.  Fields rising high with clover and prairie flowers. On the most sublime day of the year, John waltzes off to an overgrown pasture with his scythe and I chain myself to my desk. The United States government has requested a translation of the “wallpaper” on our wine label. By scythe and by pen, we jump back in time. I open my copy of a page from the Old Parchment Journal to find the scribbles in antique French that make […]

The Cruellest Month

The farmer’s wife:  “Ca me fatigue.  Everywhere this green, starting up all over again.  It’s exhausting.”   I laugh automatically and compliment her self-effacing wit.  She with her lifetime of fieldwork, not to mention green thumb and meticulous flower garden. But she won’t have it.  She insists her favorite season is the onset of winter. Hard to fathom.  What could be more heartening than the first signs of spring? Intoxicating, thrilling, joy-inducing… one can think of a dozen words for typical reactions to April.   But “fatigue”?   Is she in a secret club with T.S. Eliot? Everywhere we turn, the world is […]

The Taste of Earth 4

My mother once passed around a photo of a toddler in a muddy springtime garden, mouth full of dirt, fingers gingerly lifting an earthworm to taste.   For years my brothers taunted me – Wanda the Worm Eater. Decades on I’m still caught by the spell of thawing earth, and the hidden, mysterious workings down below. It’s March.  The allées in the vineyard are suddenly bursting with clover and wildflowers, a godsend for the first pollinators.  But the real showstopper: entire parcels of spring onions.  I asked the farmer who planted them.  No one, they grow wild.  When he was a […]

Asian Hornets 2

Someone asked about these ugly, dirty plastic bottles we keep in a garage.  But are aesthetics necessary when you’re on a mission to kill? It has become a February ritual: setting the traps for the asian hornet queens. They wake up before their workers and start the construction of enormous, spherical, paper maché style nests, very high up in a tree; the nests only become visible in autumn when the leaves have fallen. A year ago we had to call in the hornet busters.  They arrived at dawn with their gear to remove the nest in an old oak.  15 […]

Our Hunters 5

Thirty years ago my eldest brother was a deer hunter in Michigan.  He tracked alone in the woods after a snowfall and perched for hours in a tree, waiting with bow and arrow and thermos.  When his prey finally came in sight he aimed, knowing the hit would be true.   Then he set down his weapon.  He promised his children he’d hunt but not kill. Our local hunters don’t have that luxury.  They are called to duty at moments through the winter, as boar and deer overpopulate, and damage to orchards and vineyards reaches a tipping point. There’s a slight […]

Magic Winter Lettuces 4

The oddness of it first struck me when the mason asked if he could pluck a few green things out of the wreckage he wrought demolishing the old chicken coop.   “Winter Lettuce,” he chirped holding up a shiny specimen.  He gestured to the mess that was the chicken yard/orchard/vegetable patch as if to hint there were gems strewn about, and then carried off three muddy plantlings held close to his chest. Back to work. We tore up and ploughed over the entire area. Tossed some grass seed to keep the mud at bay. Turned our backs, got busy with everything […]

The Legacy of Cedars 7

Near impossible to convey the majesty of a mature Cedar of Lebanon.  I’m standing in the field gazing up, body-dwarfed, mind-expanded. This great tree, and his kin who dot the property were probably planted in the early 1800’s.  Someone told me it was the fashion then to import exotic cedars from the mountains of Lebanon and Morocco to lend a noble allure to the landscape.  200 years on, we – and all our neighbors – are the beneficiaries.  Their summits rise above the early morning mist of the Dordogne and evoke a Chinese silk drawing of the entire valley. Every […]

Liberating the Walnut Trees (and a recipe for Walnut Pumpkin Pie) 3

When the last sheep disappeared from the pasture below stone ridge, the briars invaded. In just a generation, they suffocated almost everything of value. Here’s what was left: Clearing the pasture has been like peeling a gigantic and stubborn onion. First come the scythes. Then clippers. Then the big guns. As we drag off the thorny branches, uncovering years of broken bottles, pipes, tubes, old boots… we do a lot of grumbling. Wildlife appreciate the bramble fruit, but the feeble root system doesn’t even help prevent erosion.  I want to weep each time we uncover a stunted oak. But as […]

Kitchen Herb Garden – Spiral in Stone

Many years ago a family employee set out to defend the vegetable garden.  He was a handy man philosopher who engaged in occasional ponderings about ends justifying means.  But he was also a self-avowed Anarchist who spent a lot of time in the Foreign Legion, so I can’t pretend to understand much about his solipsistic ruminations. Certainly it was tiresome to find that the rabbits had gotten into the carrots again.  How he came to the decision to install an electric fence is a bit of a mystery; sadly I was not around at the time.  Perhaps it was kin […]

Teeth Gnashing at Harvest Eve

In a good year it’s easy to talk about terroir as a place where Nature and Human work together and bring forth a measure of bounty. What to say in a difficult year? It was the coldest, wettest spring in decades.  We lost about 30% of the Merlots.  The survivors suffer from uneven grape maturity.  But we escaped the devastation of the July hailstorms.  The late blooming Cabernets are doing fine. After many decent years, the local collective mind now gingerly recalls the catastrophic ones. The winter of ’59 when the long freeze destroyed harvests for two successive vintages.  The […]