“Grapes and Old Stones”


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 […]


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 […]


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 […]


Epiphany 5

Dark of winter. Dark when you rise, dark when you come in from chores. I ran into a neighboring farmer this week. He works with his mother now because as a family of two they can do the work of five paid employees. It’s how many small producers survive. He lamented his divorce: “In family agriculture we live by a different rhythm from the rest of society.  By the seasons, by the sun, moon, the sap rising or falling, the needs of the animals. Income is a worry, but at least we believe in our work. Sometimes this is impossible […]


Our Move to the Farm 3

It has taken three years and we’re far from finished.  But lock, stock and barrels, we have now officially moved to the farm. A hundred years ago John’s great-uncle bought this land on a hilltop, with its enchanting chateau on the river below.  It was handed down to successive generations, and during the lifetime of his parents, family life in the big house made sense.  When they died that logic seemed to evaporate. Some of the current descendents are separated by an ocean and the joint maintenance of a far-away petit chateau turned out to be more than blood alone […]


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 […]


Farewell Fair Lady 9

We always called her the Big House.  The locals called it Le Chateau.  As of this week it is the house that belongs to that nice family with two cute little boys. So I’ve taken my last look from the window. The children have walked the creaky floorboards, breathed in the reassuring aroma of our old room, closed up the iconic red portail for the last time.  We’ve bid farewell to the fair lady. And tried to come to closure. It’s one thing to say goodbye to the stones and mortar one has loved and lived.  Parting with the ephemera […]


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 Golden Thread 3

The English cousin called it a golden thread.  The filament that brings them all back each year, to this place, to each other. They’ve known each other since they were toddlers.  Our children, the neighbors from Carbonneau, scattered friends, the English cousins… They’ve been playing Marco Polo in the deep end of the pool since they could swim.  Years of kayak rides down the Dordogne, croquet in the afternoons, “Deux-Cent-Un” around the old trees at dusk… Now in their twenties, they bring along girlfriends and boyfriends to play, toasting après-game with a glass of wine on the terrace. All year long […]


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 […]


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 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 […]