During 2015 I met some wonderful people who write lovely, interesting blogs and who have been very encouraging in spite of my feeble efforts so far. And as I can’t let them down, I’ll dedicate this post to a photographic summing up of 2015 and all the wonderful people who helped us make it work.
Every year we host young people from all over the world eager to experience life in France and in some cases to understand the work involved on a vineyard.
Louisa Hoppe joined us in May from Stuttgart and brought a huge ray of sunshine into all of our lives. I have very few pictures of her, the main reason being that she was constantly behind the camera rather than in front!
Here she is on the left with David Douglas Clifford ( our New Zealand cellar hand from several years ago) and Emilie from Denmark.
Some of the loveliest photos that I’ve posted this year on Facebook were the work of Louisa and I really feel that this is a good opportunity to thank her for her patience and talent a little more publicly. Here’s a taste.
Needless to say all these photo shoots absolutely had to be accompanied by tea and cake sampling !
In July every year we also host delightful young Americans who have spent a month at our son Pierre’s university in Toulouse learning French and the essentials of French agriculture and its produce. This can sometimes be a challenge especially with the vast contrast between American and French cuisine. The following month they are spread out around France on farms to experience farm life first hand. The month they spend with us is mostly in the vineyard and although the weather is usually warm and sunny the job itself is physical and definitely not what most of them are used to. Added to that, they spend a good deal of their time in company of our delightful employee Dominique ( the one who knows just about every trade under the sun including wallpapering – see blog post ‘Winter Works’) and whose grasp of ‘American’, although improving over the years, is still rudimentary. I’m not exactly certain who learns the most ! It takes a good sense of humour and a lot of perseverance to get through to the end of the month still smiling and this year’s student Darcie Gorsuch from Cincinnati, did brilliantly.
Here she is (still smiling) with Louisa on the day she left.
Henry Winsby from Lancashire followed Louisa in August and his quiet, smiling and efficient manner was appreciated by everyone. I think we increased his knowledge of Bordeaux wines one hundred fold and when things were a little quieter in October he even leant a welcome hand in the vineyard and the winery !
To complete our international line-up for 2015, a friend and graduate of Pierre’s university in Toulouse joined us as cellar-hand. We knew JB (Jean-Baptiste) Bancarel a little bit before he came to stay and he lived up to his reputation as a delightful, caring and hard-working young man. He added the missing French touch to the team and being an ‘Aveyronais’ we were treated to specialities such as Roquefort and Aligot ( a pureed potato and cheese affair which requires concentration and arm power to prepare properly). He will also be remembered for his bread consumption – I’d forgotten the French eat baguette even with rice, pasta and French fries !!
Wilfrid, JB and Henry enjoying the roquefort and JB and Henry in the winery pressing – looks slightly like Henry has just sprayed JB from head to foot !
And he did smile a lot !
We wish them all the very best in their future careers and hope that we might see them again in 2016 and reminisce over a glass of wine and a slice of cheese ( or a slice of cake!)
Heavens! Two posts in a month ……
I’m shut up in our office, windows firmly closed and shutters pulled, braving out the 40° plus afternoon temperatures. In fact I’m recovering from a baking and jam making session ( which wasn’t probably such a clever idea) but next Sunday I’m holding my first ever High Tea at Carbonneau.
There’s something extremely evocative about High Tea and for someone who hasn’t actually even enjoyed one I’ve probably got a bit of a nerve! They’re not terribly common in France, in fact even afternoon tea seems to be something very indulgent as far as most French are concerned. In this country one doesn’t snack so the idea of sitting down to a huge slice of chocolate cake or a plate of scones late afternoon is as about as foreign as the English having cheese ( with bread) before dessert. I often think I’m paddling up stream with my Glass House venture but thankfully there are enough English, Australians and NZers in the area to keep me busy.
Back to my forthcoming tea – I didn’t realise there were quite so many versions. A very dear friend asked me ( seriously I think) if it was a Yorkshire High Tea. I have to admit that left me a bit confused – not quite sure how a New Zealander living in France would lean towards a Yorkshire affair. Apparently ( and because I had to admit I had no idea what it was) a Yorkshire high tea is a light but cooked meal served around 6.30pm. I’m afraid she might be disappointed as I’m not planning to cook much that day – hence preparations starting in the searing heat today.
And then there’s the problem of how to serve it – every Pinterest photo show gorgeous silver tiered cake stands laden with tiny sandwiches, cakes and scones. Margot very helpfully suggested that I hire them for the occasion but yet again, living in an afternoon tea desert, that is going to be a tough call.
Clotted cream is another issue – I have no idea how to translate it into French and doubt that it even exists but I must admit I think I’ve converted a lot of folk to ‘crème fraiche’ – its probably far better for the cholesterol levels 🙂 Plus my scone recipe is Australian ( made with lemonade and cream) so no room for purists here!
Even though we live in a country world famed for its baguettes and loaves of all shapes and sizes, fresh sandwich sliced bread is virtually impossible to find. There is a passable American bread which if its slathered in enough butter, mayonnaise and filling, softens up quite well – after all beggars can’t be choosers! At least cucumbers abound and French ham is delicious.
So, if all goes well we should have a loyal handful of slightly confused people next Sunday eating ‘American bread’ cucumber and club sandwiches, Australian scones with French cream, New Zealand baking, drinking French tea and wine all in 38 degree heat!
I might be a novice in the high tea department but at least I’ve invented a version of my own.
Now that I know for a fact that my mother does read my blog, I thought a page about roses might be appropriate.
Where vines grow, roses abound and every house front, barn wall and crumbling bit of masonry is adorned with flowers during the month of May. Our garden proudly boasts 180 specimens varying from some cheap and cheerful garden fillers from the local supermarket (which although they have no scent are hardy and generous) to David Austin beauties and Meilland tea roses. I actually thought that was quite a lot of roses – certainly feels like when I’m pruning them- but I had French couple to stay earlier this year who have 500 bushes in less than one hectare of garden with box hedging as well. He did say that he found my pruning had been done with ‘passion’ –I was very flattered.
One climber however, Pierre de Ronsard is still my favourite and I posted a picture on Facebook and had an outstanding 1700 people look at it. Although it’s in every French garden it is absolute perfection and lasts for days in a vase. The English equivalent is called Eden and definitely worth acquiring.
Our tea room, The Glass House, has been open again since the beginning of May and lots of new faces have popped in. My ‘MoMa’ pumpkin and apple cake is going down very well and so is my upside-down rhubarb cake. And as we don’t have hordes of people yet I’ve been indulging in a bit of furniture painting.
I’ve discovered a fabulous chalk paint made by Annie Sloan and it goes onto absolutely anything with sanding or priming or any of the boring jobs needed before transforming an old piece of furniture. I’ve already painted a buffet and a commode that has been pushed from one attic to the other over the last few years and the result is beautiful. I posted a picture on Instagram and was delighted to have Annie Sloan in person comment on it a minute later! I’ve even painted rather rusty old outdoor tables, wine bottles and glass dishes. My favourite colour is Duck Egg Blue which teamed with Antoinette Pink is very ‘tea time’.
We plan to organize a ‘high tea’ early July with cucumber sandwiches and local bubbles – should be fun!
Last heard of I cheerily said that the next installment would be all about working in the vines. Armed with my usual enthusiasm and the thought that this can only be good exercise in the depths of winter when too much sitting is often a problem, I resolutely helped for a couple of days. All that I can now say is there is absolutely zero to blog about pulling canes out of pruned vineyards.
I had good intentions of taking photos of my two smiling workmates, Michèle and Sylvette with the chateau in the background, frost on the canes – all very bucolic. In fact it was so bitterly cold I couldn’t take off my gloves and I was too worried about dropping my phone in the mud. We grimly soldiered on doing what must be the hardest job of all in the vineyard, yanking at twisted, whip-like branches, conversation reduced to grunts and moans and the occasional cry as a cane flicked across our cheeks. This is a job that has traditionally been done by woman – men pruned and women slogged away doing the menial jobs. I have even tried to research why this might have been the case for so long. Very little is written about such an uninteresting topic but I did a read a sociologist who suggested that pulling out the canes was the equivalent of cleaning in the vineyard and naturally considered a woman’s work. Things have changed of course over time although I suspect there are still more men than women doing the interesting stuff. I also must admit that I pitched in for two days only before Wilfrid took pity on me and I retreated to the warmth of the house.
However, last week I volunteered again along with Michèle, Wilfrid and Dominique to help finish off the job. As luck would have it was the wettest day in weeks and I slithered up and down the rows, water draining into my boots. It was interesting to see though that our two male companions really didn’t find this sort of work amusing – much complaining and grumbling could be heard!
With all the machinery now available to work in the vineyards one would hope that someone would invent one to do this mindless work and that is exactly what turned up at our property this week. Drawing a small crowd of very curious neighbours and wine maker colleagues, the new contraption moved down the rows pulling or rather wrenching out the canes. One row took less than ten minutes – the equivalent would have taken me at least an hour. It’s not very gentle and there’s quite a bit left to clean up afterwards but it is progress and if there is area in viticulture where progress is needed it is indeed here!
Work in the vineyards has of course not really occupied that much of my time and mostly I have been getting the chateau ready for a new season with a very special break in New York to visit our eldest son. I’ve managed to incorporate some fabulous American cakes into my tea room menus tasted at the MoMa .
We opened at the beginning of March and although we’re not yet brimming with tourists it is fun to see new and old faces again. To mark the occasion we have a new sign at the top of the drive and Wilfrid’s grandmother’s paintings have been lovingly hung in the new gallery/upstairs corridor.
And speaking of things new, here’s a glimpse of our redesigned labels for the 2014 vintage of Margot, Lulu and Classique wines. Pierre put in a lot of time and effort to rework the existing version and the result is a younger, fresher label which already seems to be a hit.
Like a lot of people, winter is not one of my favourite seasons. Especially in the countryside where the normally leafy, green fields are now bordered with black, leafless trees and hedges and not a bird to is to be heard. We rush in and out of the house – putting wood in the fire, slipping on the muddy courtyard , closing the doors , waiting for a glimpse of blue sky through the fog.
However, work still goes on and in the vineyard it’s a busy time pruning and pulling out the canes. It’s also a time when projects that I’ve had in mind over the summer get a bit of attention and when I can be shamelessly creative and messy without having to clean up for guests or cook a meal for 12!
This winter I decided to attack my main project before Xmas. Our upstairs hallway, which measures 17.5 metres in length has been on my ‘to redecorate list’ for years now.
The first mission was to strip all the wallpaper and while the first layer ripped off easily the second was firmly glued to the wall (perhaps we’d omitted to size them the last time – beginners error!) Anyway, even my wallpaper steamer found it daunting and after 2 hours I’d managed to strip 2 metres. I did what we all do in moments of despair – I googled the solution and found a fabulous posting which involved mixing 5 caps of fabric softener with 5 litres of water and spraying the walls with my rose sprayer. I only had lavender softener on hand so the whole experience was very perfumed and very nice on the hands.
I sourced some polystyrene cornicing from a company in Germany and had 56 metres delivered (4 days later). A few years ago I put up some cornicing in a bathroom (with interior and exterior angles galore) and this time made sure that I had the right mitre box to do the job. However, (just my luck) my 22cm cornice was a bit big and after bothering all my carpenter friends ( who frankly weren’t that interested) I managed to cut all my angles with the help a very dear Belgian friend Gaby who is as determined as I when it comes to finding a solution. The answer was to cut with blade from under the cornice. That way it remained in the slots and the angle was prefect. Probably only my father will find this sort of detail interesting – he still can’t believe I get up to this sort of manual stuff! Gluing the cornice to the ceiling was challenging and kind people don’t make a mention of the visible joins – neither the walls nor the ceiling were straight – but the effect is fabulous.
However, the best part was the wallpapering. Quite by chance Wilfrid mentioned to our worker Dominique that he wouldn’t be pruning the next day as I needed his help hanging the wallpaper. Dominique then told him that his apprenticeship and first job had been as a painter/decorator and quickly Wilfrid carried on with the pruning and I had an expert on the job.
My next project was for Xmas. For a month or so we’ve had about 40 barrels stacked in the courtyard waiting to be sold and reconditioned and it seemed a good opportunity to take one to bits and make candle holders I’d seen in many wineries on a visit to South Africa in 2009. Pierre took one to pieces and together we made several versions, big and small using a hand drill and sander and a bit of clear varnish. The idea is to make them for sale in our wine shop this year.
We’re never short of things to do around here. Next week I’m working in the vines – will keep you posted!
I’ve had in mind to start a blog for quite a few years now. Things happen here at Carbonneau that I need to put to paper partly to share with those involved, those curious or simply to help me remember them in the future. The launch of the new version of our web site seemed an ideal opportunity.
But before anything else, a word on the web site itself. For a year or so now the children have been badgering me to do something about the rather dated version. What seemed initally to be a rather simple exercise in changing colour, layout and photos has ended up being a major team effort. I confess to knowing very little about the workings of web sites ( and still don’t) but now certainly appreciate the hours it takes to redesign one.
Huge thanks to Hugo who initally whisked my idea onto Powerpoint , to Mahé Neel who graphically got us on track, to Dyu Minh, Jason Boa, Jorg Lehman and David Wickham ( and myself) for the fabulous photos, to Morgane for her painstaking organisation, to Pierre for his vision and wine web site expertise, to Margot and Lucie for their constructive criticism and most of all to Stéphane Bezpalko for his patience and perserverance.
And now for those of you who are meeting us for the first time we’ve posted our Newsletter for 2014. Happy reading.