“Grapes and Old Stones”


Season’s End 9

Season’s end. John’s hands are stained from pumpovers and “brassage des lies.”   Fermentation finished.  A relief – fermentation is finicky business.   And now we see the extra work in the vineyard paid off; the vintage shows promise.  A few worries ticked off the list. October mornings:  newly crisp air and fog wisps above the valley.  Afternoons:   cold water swim and last caress of summer sun.   Night fall: early. John on the tanks – brassage des lies Season’s end brings changes to our nightly walk.   First the winery, to bed down the wine.   Embrace each tank, […]


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 […]


Lavender Meditation – July 2018 10

It’s high summer.   The time of first fruits from the garden, long sunny days, kayaks on the water, cool starry nights, village fêtes, music rising from parties all along the river… Lavender time. When we planted the first row several years ago, I didn’t fully realize that lavender is much more than a flower.    We knew of the medicinal properties against insect stings, and also hoped to deter some mosquitoes.   But now, several plantings later, the spectacle of evening lavender has become central to the setting of high summer. Just before sunset is best.    I sit on a broken old […]


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 […]


At Year’s End 8

  Your Yoke of Fear   I give you back your yoke of fear It’s broken now. Rent asunder, I am broken too   I give you back your yoke of fear It’s broken now Useless, like the perverse turbulence that stirred up worst case scenarios In your imagination In your projections In your fury   If only you had known then That it was in vain Useless Worse than useless. When real danger arose It kept you from dressing yourself in the very armor, The only armor That might have helped In those moments when yes, we must take […]


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 […]


Taverne – There’s Magic in a Beginning 13

The bank called it a coin perdu.    “No one will come.  Lack of experience, lack of credentials, big risk, big No.” But on a quiet, misty evening in June, our mayor and town council helped us cut the bright ribbon.  The village Taverne officially opened. The first week neighbors and curious locals stopped by.   They exclaimed at the extraordinary view. They praised the food and wine and prices and atmosphere; said this was just what they’d been waiting for.  Some of them pointed out their houses or villages in the valley below or on the hilltops some 10 […]


Coming Soon – La Taverne du Belvedere 13

Several years ago I dreamed there was a secret Taverne on the property.   The door was hidden to all but the initiate.   If you were lucky enough to cross the threshold you entered a fire-lit place of laughter, flowing with wine and beer.   It was an old fashioned kind of place, radiating human warmth. Years on, in one of those strange twists in the plot line of real life, we find ourselves on the brink of opening just such a place, our own – “La Taverne du Belvedere.” It has been a year of discovery, to understate the case, for […]


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 […]


Resistance 3

I turned away from last week’s Economist, with its haunting cover of Trump’s lipstick kiss on Putin’s cheek, to page 10 of our local newspaper, Le Resistant. Unlike most of today’s news outlets, Le Resistant doesn’t live on bad news.  Of course there are the usual reports of burglaries, fires and accidents, but most of the stories are about people who don’t groan much about the world because they’re busy doing something about it. Like the tiny village down the hill, where the mayor sponsored a drive to set up a young woman in her own vegetable growing business; 200 […]


Winter Solstice 2016 – Tuning the Radio 2

At first we were just ruminating and tinkering.  How to entice beneficial micro critters into the soil; how to prepare potions from the “weeds” in the prairies… At first it was mostly amusing.  Stumbling on Henri’s odorific jars of fermented vegetables in my linen closet (sauerkraut and the like for healthy gut flora); trolling a pasture for fresh cow patties to fashion a “praline” dip for fragile tree roots. Just trying things out, trying to find our north. In our ramblings, we sought out the rural elders. They proudly hobble around their havens of pre 50’s bio diversity, amidst beehives […]


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 […]


Harvest 5

We were picking the grapes for our Rosé when the driver of an industrial harvesting machine passed by.   He looked at us and looked at our baskets and clucked:  “Hand harvest. That’s work.” Indeed it was.  But our family-and-friends hand harvest is one of my favorite rituals of the year.  We spend days preparing the rows, while John tears up reams of calculations trying to estimate how much surface area will translate into tonnage which will translate into liquid capacity of the Rosé tank.  Far from exact science since you don’t really know yield until the juice is in the […]


The Summer of So Much 8

A chapter ends. A chapter with an arched eyebrow – enough rich desserts for awhile.  These past months, one wave after another, richness after richness. How often I wanted to shout, hey stop there just a second.  When will we savour and assimilate?  I need to pause and capture before the next wave comes.  But the best you can do is try to let go, so you’re supple enough to take it all in. Letting go.  Letting go of the illusion of permanence.  Trying to let go of the illusion of control.  Trying to balance between willful action to create […]


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 […]


Reinforcements 10

When we sent our children across the ocean to finish their education, we didn’t consider they might never return. But as the nest went empty, we changed course.  Sold the city apartment, acquired land. We told the children this farmer’s folly was not to be confused with that burdensome genre of family legacy laced with bad drama for future generations.   Sell it all when we die if you wish.  No ties.  Lead your lives, fly we said. So they did.  Of course we delighted in their discoveries and cheered their adventures.   Secretly we mourned to see them so rarely.   Sometimes […]


Parallel Lives 5

Crisscrossing the land on this hilltop are several roads to nowhere.  They are the vestiges of old rural lanes that once connected farms and hamlets to villages.  A few of these paths still lead from one place to another, but most of them were chopped up a century ago and have fallen into abandon. My favorite path has an intersection at our front gate.  Like the scarecrow’s choice, from this point you can meander south along the ridge, east down to the stream, or north to the river.  Or rather, one could a hundred years ago.  You wouldn’t know you’re […]


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. […]


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 […]


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 […]


Summer Linen 9

Nothing makes me feel as safe and secure as the ritual of summer linen. Even the word linen calms my breath, conjuring up a daily life when real linen was a household staple for everyday use; an era when things moved more slowly. Linen is heavy and wrinkles terribly and must be ironed to regain its wonderful skin-caressing, cool smoothness. To care for linen, one must have time. Today I’m preparing summer linen for the arrival of family and guests. I recall what my friend Helen said the first time she visited: “I fell into bed last night and thought – […]


Summer Solstice 1

Millions of years ago the Dordogne carved a series of caves into the rock cliff under our house.  The village historian told me they were the site of Druidic rituals, later appropriated by the Romans for their own gods. Since it’s the Summer Solstice, I took myself down to the caves this morning looking for the wisp of a Druid or two. The spot is somewhat difficult to access, and hidden most of the year by the shadows of thickets and tress.   But in late June at sunrise, the caves present several niches of warm and inviting nooks.   […]