Wine Making


Friends and Family 2

Not that long ago, when we were naive and fearless, the prospect of making wine seemed something a mere mortal might attempt. Obviously, between the quirks of Nature and quirks in the winery, we quickly found out that this next-life endeavour was hardly a shoe in.   But nothing in our enthusiastic mindset prepared us for a different hurdle:   several thousand bottles of wine – how in the world to sell it?   We sought advice.  I asked successful friends how they got started.  The most established said their ancestors set it up.  Even Cheval Blanc began with people […]


A Clean Harvest – September 2018 8

The harvesters make a constant thrum, even at night.  Everywhere, the Merlots are coming in. People are euphemistically calling this a “complicated year.”   The dreaded Plasmopara viticola (mildiou) hit the Merlots hard.  Some vineyards were turned into deserts.  Here’s a single, desiccated plant.   Imagine 25 acres.    This microscopic “pseudochampignon” arrived in 1878, on the heels of the phylloxera insect – the 19th century import from my stateside compatriots that decimated almost all the vineyards in France. Fortunately, our Merlot parcels were only affected partially.   Unfortunately, you can’t make good wine with affected grapes. So it has been […]


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 London – 2017 3

In the envelope:  plane tickets to London, passes for the Gatwick Express, Oyster cards for the Underground and keys to a beautiful apartment in Pimlico.   When one of our dear nephews said, “Come to London and tell your story,” we never expected such a very red carpet.   I remember this particular nephew at age seven, dividing his time between reclusive hours reading “The Philosopher’s Stone” long before Harry became a household word, and running with the raucous herd of franco-british-american cousins stampeding through an indulgent Grandmére’s house.    He is now an apparition in suit and tie, carrying […]


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 […]


Pressing Day 2016 5

A short video clip of Pressing Day: contortionist John, shoveling Brothers, goodbye to the valiant grape skins:     Something about the day of press that always evokes a shiver. It’s the time of year when that same neighbor reminds me of the young man who died trying to pull his father out of a vat; both were overcome by carbon dioxide, both found by the mother. Yesterday I opened the lid of a high tank at the end of fermentation. That woozy sensation, precursor to the fainting-and-falling scenario, was demonic indeed. To say nothing of that pneumatic press we […]


harvester and wagon: "there... no, I meant, there!"

No Tears Winemaking, October 2015 12

No tears this year. Sweat, sore muscles, stained hands, a little blood, but all scars reaped in joy.  It’s the year we’ve been waiting for. The year when our handiwork in the vines gets an exponential boost from legendary weather and a spanking new extension to the winery. Four harvests this season – a far cry from our pampered, one-harvest, one-vat in 2011. After the Rosé hand harvest, the Merlots arrived in their faithful manner: poised, plump, sweet. I was out in the vineyard directing the harvester while the enthusiastic team in the winery prepared for the wagonloads. And true […]


Rosé 2015 13

“Rendez-vous 7:00 am, top of the hill, vieilles vignes.” We’ve hardly begun and a thunderstorm breaks loose. “Lightning overhead, keep your snippers away from the wires,” we warn our neighbors as they arrive. No novices they, kitted out in professional rubberwear.  I’m soaked and cold in ten minutes. Lightning, generosity, helping hands, ancient roots. Thus begins l’Esprit de Jeanne, Rosé 2015. A team of twelve to start, including Genevieve’s friends from INSEEC in Bordeaux: Victor of France, Astrid of Germany and Kela of Hawaii. We are heads down, wet and serious until Henri arrives with his own solution to working […]


Harvest Preparation 2015 7

Anticipating harvest is much like anticipating a birth.  When it’s almost time to bear down, nothing else matters. It has been a spectacular year: plenty of rain in the winter, mildness during flowering, a very hot, dry June and July, just enough rain in August to plump up the berries, and now September: a gift of warm, sunny days and cool nights. Conditions are ideal, the grapes are healthy… but I will say no more lest I tempt our luck. And so it’s a scurry to get ready. We’ve organized an old fashioned hand harvest by family and friends for […]


Wine Tasting London – March 2015 2

Many years ago we lived in London.  It was a time of young children, young careers, budding friendships.  We could never have predicted we’d be back on such different terms. Thanks to the generosity of old friends, we found ourselves in corporate offices at Canary Wharf last week, presenting our wine.  We hadn’t expected that it would turn into something of a party, but our friends created such an ambiance, it was hard to leave. Generosity. You never know when you’ll suddenly be the beneficiary or you’ll be called up as donor.  And then, there’s a bewilderment sometimes in receiving, […]


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 […]


Hands 3

John has been complaining about his hands lately. They’re cracked and irritated and purpled with wine stains. Made worse when we filled our first oak barrels to age 1200 bottles. It was a bit of a circus, as always when we do something for the first time. He gripped a fancy nozzle to feed the barrels and yelled to keep me alert on the pump. We assumed there would be some kind of signal indicating almost full, like when you fill up your car. No such luck. No signal, just an exploding geyser of purple, gushing into the air, all […]


Wine Tasting – La Tourbeille in Paris, December 2014 4

A huge thank you to our friends Dominique and Jacques de Taisne and their family for hosting the launch of our 2012 La Tourbeille.  What a delight to open the wine in the setting of their beautiful Paris home, buoyed up by their hospitality. Huge thanks as well to the dear friends and their friends who dropped by to taste vintages 2011 and 2012.  It was wonderful to catch up and wonderful to find that all the cases of both vintages we had brought direct from our winery – were snatched up by the end of evening.  Thank you all, for […]


The Winery WorkOut – Pressing Day 3

The grape skins have now finished a month of diligent duty – imparting every last possible drop of their flavors to the juice. When it’s time to push them out, there’s no substitute for the shovel and a human being sweating away, one scoop at a time.  John dons his wet suit several times in the day to work from inside the tanks. Helpers on the outside operate the press, shout warnings and make the day shorter with humorous asides, benign local gossip and valuable advice. Since the atmosphere in the confined tank is mostly carbon dioxide, it’s reassuring to […]


Rosé 2014 – Harvest by Hand 2

Incredible weather, healthy grapes.  The year to try our hands at Rosé. It wasn’t worth it to call in a harvester for a small quantity (only 1000 liters…) so we opted for an old fashioned hand harvest.  As we began snipping, the eldest of our team piped: “Haven’t done this in 30 years!” Indeed.  Except for wines with big budgets and very large teams, (Medoc, St. Emilion…) hand harvesting in the rest of the Bordeaux region has almost gone the way of folklore.  Easy to understand why: labor intensive, costly, time consuming… and a little tough on your back and […]


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 […]


Vineyard in Flower 4

The perfume is subtle, wafting lightly in aromatic episodes.  A vineyard in flower is delicate, in more ways than one. The clusters of green “buttons” (the future flowers) appeared a couple of weeks ago.  Now we understand why May is such a hold-your-breath month.  The weather needs to be stable and reasonably warm, and hopefully rather dry so the buttons can give way to flowers and the flowers have a chance to pollinate.   Last year flowering happened in June, after the coldest May on record.  The bees were not happy. But this Spring has been lovely.   The flowers – tiny, […]


Our First Gold 10

It never even crossed my mind to wish.  You spend your energy trying to make something, often in the dark, not quite sure where it’s all going.  Then suddenly a light snaps on. You’re actually on a path. Our First Gold Medal.  From the Concours de Bordeaux, for La Tourbeille 2012. When we recovered from the surprise and stopped hopping up and down like six-year-olds, we took a look back at 2012.    A few moments from that vintage: A good vintage.  Many wonderful helpers along the way. Thanks to all of you who walked with us, when we couldn’t […]


Vigor in the Vineyard 3

My early appreciation for vigor was shaped by President John F. Kennedy.  It seemed every speech was lit up by the word, pronounced vigorously as – “vigah.”  “Vigah” was etched in my childhood mind as a cardinal virtue, invoking images of all that is robust, strong, healthy, shining, vibrant, confident, competitive. Vigor is also relevant in a vineyard.  At first glance, I thought of JFK and assumed vigor was synonymous with desirable.   But apparently, not quite. End of May and our oenologue, Francoise, came by yesterday for the first inspection of the season. After the problems of last May (cold […]


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 […]


All Hallows’ Eve in the Winery 5

Halloween and Pressing Day: costumes, pitchforks, bloody red stains, spooky stories. It’s not my favorite wine making activity. People are always reminding you of someone they knew who died from asphyxiation clearing out a vat. Plus the person who tried to rescue them.  And it’s always something extra horrible like a father and his devoted son. The first part, raking mounds of grape skins out of the vat – is just hard work. But it always catches me in the solar plexus when John folds himself like a circus contortionist to crawl through the tiny tank door.  Then the drama […]


Valiant Cabernet Sauvignon 3

Day and night for the past week, the harvesters have resounded through the valley; the entire region mobilized to vendange before another rain. No time for a second cup of coffee, our harvester started before dawn. A day of sunshine. Good cheer. Beautiful, juicy grapes. Improvisation and perpetual motion at the chai. And when we say “artisanal” sometimes it means running into the field and finding an old post and some rope to hold the whole thing together. All in, we close up the brimming tank and get to work. Post script: Et voila, the valiant Cabs just “before.’ And […]


Merlots 2013 3

The whole village didn’t show up, it just seemed that way. In the middle of a season that local newspapers are pronouncing catastrophique, neighbors dropped by to check in, swap stories, lend a hand. Wilfrid from Carbonneau loaned us his pompe à marc and his characteristic serenity.  Alfred from Roberterie offered philosophy and the wisdom of choosing a benevolent insurance agent.  Laurent from Haut Redon came with the latest in machinery.  When the tractor and wagon pulled up, out popped the village Mayor, his father and our driver of grapes. 8 tons of Merlot. With the grapes safely inside the […]