As someone born and raised in southern California, I've never really experienced the change in the seasons. In Los Angeles the seasons are marked by holidays and store displays rather than changes in weather.
In L.A. you know summer is over after the Labor Day weekend has passed, and it is officially autumn when the grocery stores start advertising Halloween candy and sending out Thanksgiving advertisements. To get into the spirit of the season we break out our collection of orange plastic leaves and toss them on the dining table as though they have blown in from an open window.
Here in Provence l'été is over, and l'automne has announced itself in a rather more tangible way. While our friends in Los Angeles are sweltering in 100 degree (F) temperatures, we are experiencing cooler, windy days with the occasional rain, thunder and lightning storms. The swimming pools are closed for the season, and the stores that were opened all day for tourists are now fermé for a proper three-hour déjeuner.
This is agricultural country, so the weather drives much of life. The vendange is nearly complete, bringing an end to three weeks of dodging tractors filled with grapes on the school run. Melons and other summer fruits have disappeared from the market, and the quaint sound of shotgun fire can be heard at dawn signaling that la chasse has officially begun. We were told that if we plan to take walks in the countryside this time of year we might want to wear bells and orange vests to avoid being mistaken for un sanglier.
And while we don't have the autumn color show of New England, the leaves on the vines are turning from green to shades of amber and orange, and the cafes and fountains are sprinkled with golden fallen leaves. It is a welcome change from year-round evergreens and endless stretches of watered lawns.
Of course anyone reading this (assuming anyone actually is reading this!) in a place that experiences a proper autumn will wonder what all the fuss is about. And to our friends on the east coast who are already thinking about snow blowers, all I can say is "bon courage!"
l'été = summer
l'automne = autumn
vendange = the harvest
fermé = closed
déjeuner = lunch
la chasse = the hunt
un sanglier = a wild boar
bon courage = an expression to wish someone "good courage"
All Images © 2014 Ken Wallace Films LLC. All rights reserved.
This week my wife and I were invited to visit the wonderful Château La Nerthe winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As guests of a friend, we were given a private tour of the cellars and grounds where we learned about the fascinating history of the estate, which dates back to the 12th century. La Nerthe was an established wine producer by the late 1700s, and in 1782 a French author noted that "the best wines are harvested in the Clos de La Nerthe….they have smoothness and charm." There are even records documenting that the winery exported wine to the United States in 1786--just 10 years after the Declaration of Independence.
The oldest part of the cellar dates back to 1560, with stone tanks with walls measuring 1.20 meters thick. Recently an archeologist examined the huge cellar stones and determined that they had been taken from the Roman amphitheater in Orange!
Château La Nerthe is one of the few estates that grows all thirteen grape varieties allowed in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape domain, and it is also one of the few that chooses to produce a white wine. Unlike many areas of Provence, the wine makers of Châteauneuf are not restricted in how they can blend the varieties, which means that each vineyard has an opportunity to handcraft very personal wines. That said, the predominate grape in La Nerthe red blends is Grenache Noir.
The 90 hectares (about 222 acres) of vines at La Nerthe are an average of 40 years old, and some date back almost 100 years. Because older vines yield fewer (but more intense) grapes, they estimate that they get about one bottle of wine per vine. And when it is time to plant new vines, despite the fact that they will yield grapes after about 5 years, it will be 20 years before any of those grapes are used to make Château La Nerthe wines. All of their wines are certified "bio" (organic), and have been long before it became something fashionable to do as a marketing strategy.
Of course our visit would not have been complete without a tasting of their wines. We sampled both the reds and whites and we were not disappointed! I don't claim to have the gift of describing the finer points of wines, but I found them to be very nicely balanced and subtle. The 2011 Red (which we purchased) was absolutely delicious, with flavors of red berries and plum, and was ready to drink (though would cellar nicely for another 10 years or more). A special tasting of their 1984 vintage was a rare treat, and the difference in flavor profiles was fascinating; to my palette it tasted of rosemary and figs.
One wine we did not taste was the Cuvée des Cadettes. These wines are in such high demand that they are not offered in the tasting room, and vintages are sold out by advance order. The winery does hold a small quantity of bottles for purchase however--something to look forward to on our next visit!
If you find yourself in Provence I highly recommend a visit to Château La Nerthe. I can't think of a more enjoyable way to spend an afternoon than to pack a picnic lunch, buy a bottle of wine, and spend a few hours overlooking the stunning Châteauneuf-du-Pape landscape.
All Images © 2014 Ken Wallace Films LLC. All rights reserved.
Château la Nerthe
Société Civile Agricole
Route de Sorgues
Tél : 33 0 490 83 70 11
Fax: 33 0 490 83 79 69
Coordonnées GPS Lat: 44.049596 Lng: 4.856644 E-mail: email@example.com
Visit of the cellar with appoitment.
Vente à la propriété.
Each morning as I drive my kids to school the sun casts the most beautiful crisp golden light across the landscape. Usually we are hurrying to get to school, and by the time I am on the way home this brief window of magical light is past.
But recently we have met a wonderful family with whom we covoiturage, saving us an hour of drive time back and forth to school each day. So today, as I was returning from dropping the kids off at the rendez-vous du matin a half hour earlier than usual, I pulled to the side of the road and grabbed my camera to capture a few images of the still-lingering golden hour.
So what began as a convenient arrangement with strangers to save some gas, turned into a far more valuable gift: a few extra minutes each day to pause and appreciate the beauty of our new surroundings.
Images © 2014 Ken Wallace Films LLC. All rights reserved.
covoiturage = carpool
rendez-vous du matin = morning appointment
I'm a sucker for classic black-and-white photography, but Provence just cries out to be photographed in color. I subscribe to the philosophy that a photograph should be presented in color when color adds something meaning to the image, rather than distracts from it.
A walk through the village reveals warm hues of ancient stonework and terra cotta tile, subtle greens of olive trees, grape vines and oaks, violet bundles of cut lavender and pale blue window shutters thrown open to an afternoon breeze. To this newcomer, color defines the experience of Provence. The light here brings out the something special in the pigment.
Today, as I wandered through the Monday market with my camera, I decided to pay special attention to the many shades of la couleur bleu.
Images © 2014 Ken Wallace Film LLC. All rights reserved.
la couleur bleu = the color blue
Coming from Los Angeles to Provence, one of the first things I noticed was that without the light pollution of the city we can now step outside at night to enjoy les belles étoiles. Tonight my daughter and I drove about two minutes up the road for a little photography experiment. This was the result.
For the technically minded, this was shot with a Canon 5d Mk3 at ISO 6400, f4.0, 10 sec exposure. The image was edited in Lightroom.
les belles étoiles = the beautiful stars
We hope this finds you enjoying le rentrée, as they call the return to school in France. Our rentrée was a bit sooner than would have been ideal, coming only four days after our arrival in France. We did our best to prepare ourselves. Since we had not driven to the school before (and because we shipped our GPS unit sans maps of Europe) we decided that it might be wise to scout the route to school the day before. Turned out to be a good idea, as our first drive in was a circuitous route that included missed turnoffs and detours through unknown villages until we finally arrived at the school, 3o minutes longer than our estimated drive time. But at least we knew how to get there.
On Monday morning our jet-lagged family piled into our Ford Focus rental car at 7:30am for le premier jour of class. Thanks to our previous day’s recce we arrived 30 minutes early and had time to meet several of the teachers who were delighted to meet the new American family who couldn’t comprehend a word they were saying. As most of you know, Paige and Ryan attended a Waldorf School in California, and we were fortunate to find one for them to attend here in France. Opening day at a Waldorf (Steiner) school entails a series of beautiful ceremonies, songs and speeches to welcome the families back to school. And I’m pretty sure that if we had understood any of it this was equally as beautiful.
We breezed through the three-hour parent meeting and collapsed back into the Focus for the 30-minute return home, imagining our children already well on their way towards French literacy. Or at least conscious.
I have only a vague idea what we did the rest of the day, or even the rest of the week. Our days were a blur of driving back and forth to school, interspersed with shopping at Auchan (the French equivalent of Target) for home and school supplies. Now I know that this doesn’t sound like the idyllic Provençal lifestyle glamorized in Peter Mayle’s novels, but little village shops really aren’t the best place to buy A4 notebook binders and toilet paper.
One of our main priorities was to buy a car to replace our rental Ford Focus (which is a fine American automobile, but at $250 a week not particularly a bargain). In California you can select pretty much any model of used car you want and have a dozen viable options. Not so in Provence. We were assisted in our search by a very sweet French woman who has been working at La Maison Rose, and offered to help us in the delicate art of French negotiation. She recommended finding a car at a dealer, because they offer a 12 month warranty and are less likely to try to sell you a piece of merde (Google it).
We spent two days visiting dealers and found a Citroen C4 with low milage and an automatic transmission (possibly one of the only voitures automatiques in all of Provence). We were ready to make the purchase, but our French negotiator had other plans. Felicia and I looked like Wimbledon spectators as we tried to follow a conversation that must have covered the entire history of the French automotive industry. Really, what could they have been talking about for so long? Perhaps this is a good opportunity to point out one of the first things we have learned since moving here: the French love to talk. I think it is because they sound so good doing it. As one of Paige’s classmates pointed out to her, “I like speeeking French becaussse eet ees suuch a beeuuteefull language.”
But I digress. Our Citroen negotiations stalled when the dealer wouldn’t agree to our negotiator’s demand to reduce the price by 30%. We were ready to pay retail, but this is not the way things are done in le Sud (the south). There is a process that must play out, and we were advised to come back in a day or two and certainly the salesperson would reduce the price. Since it can take up to a week to take delivery of a car after purchasing it, we decided we would come back the next day and take whatever price we could get.
That evening we had a meeting with a family with whom we hoped to covoiturage (carpool). The father, it turned out, worked for many years in the auto industry. When he heard we were searching for a car his only advice was to steer clear of Citroens, especially the C4, unless we liked frequent trips to the repair shop. He told us that of all the manufacturers, Toyota was hands down the best in terms of quality control.
To make a long story short, we bought a 2011 Prius that is very much like the one we sold in Los Angeles before we moved. We learned a very important lesson about the pace of life—sometimes slowing things down a little allows time to gather the important information needed to make smart decisions.
The other activity that consumes much of our time is the buying and eating of food. It now seems perfectly normal to eat a loaf of bread and drink bottle of wine daily. Even the most simple lunch of some ham and cheese on a baguette is accompanied by moans of pleasure at the taste and texture of the bread, the sweetness of the fruit, and the stinky ripeness of the cheese. A trip through the Bédoin outdoor market on Monday’s yields seafood paella, roasted chicken, artisanal goat cheese, walnut fig bread, wild boar sausage, lavender honey, and even a linen dress for Paige.
Our first two weeks haven’t been all work. We've spent time with friends from the US who have been living in France for almost five years, done a bit of site seeing, and attended a lovely aperitif party, thrown by the woman who is renting our village house. In her few months in France this outgoing woman from Seattle has become a part of the village social scene. She introduced us to a friendly group of artists, musicians and actors who generously shared valuable information about life in the village.
Meeting people in Provence in a social situation almost always starts with les bisous: three kisses starting with the left cheek. Messing up the left-cheek-first rule can be awkward, so concentration is required. We also noticed that the people we met, despite not knowing us, were very interested in having a conversation despite the limitations of our grade-school French. Why would we move from Los Angeles to Bédoin? How are the kids adapting in school? How long are we planning to stay? It’s a relief to be met with such openness, and makes us hopeful that we will be able to forge new friendships here soon.
No conversation would be complete without the requisite discussion about the weather. For the most part, il fait beaux. Days have been warm, with cool breezes blowing in during the evenings. Perfect for afternoon naps. But the weather can change quick. We had a brief introduction to the dreaded Mistral. The Mistral is a cold wind that arrives with a fury, often accompanied by hail, lightning and if you believe the rumors, can blow small children and pets into the next village. Our Mistral blew in, and it was quite impressive. Gusts of wind slammed shutters and doors open and closed, thunder and lightning put on a sound and light show, and sheets of rain washed over the dry countryside.
Alors, we were told that this was only a petit Mistral; just a taste of what we can look forward to in Winter. When the real thing hits we plan to keep the kids and dog inside, just to be safe.
Of course there are things we miss about Los Angeles: Leaving behind our family and friends has created the biggest hole in our lives. We miss them all and think about them every day. Other differences are more mundane. Shopping here takes much longer, primarily because we don’t have the advantage of brand familiarity. Staring down an entire isle filled with every cheese known to mankind is impressive, but intimidating. Thank goodness for gouda.
Simple business dealings are far more complicated. Opening a bank account requires an appointment a week in advance. Store hours are limited (and a bit arbitrary), nothing is open on Sundays after noon, and every official transaction is accompanied by vast amounts of paperwork. As the person who sold us our car said when handing over the contract, “C’est pour la poubelle.” (This is for the trashcan).
And of course the language barrier can’t be denied. Sitting through a two-hour school meeting in French left me brain dead. I can only imagine how the kids feel after an eight-hour school day, and try to be sympathetic when they climb in the car tired and grumpy. We also try not to instantly fall back on English, though almost everyone is very willing to try to communicate in English if they can. We really do want to learn French—it’s just so darn hard. By all reports, it gets better after about 3 months.
I can’t think of a better Christmas present.
The church bell in the village is ringing 11pm and I’m reminded that tomorrow is market day. I have to get up early to buy our paella and baguette from the boulangerie before they sell out. Life changes, but goes on, and we feel lucky to be together to experience whatever the future holds. Thanks for allowing us to continue to share our story with you.
Avec notre amour,
Ken, Felicia, Paige and Ryan Wallace
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All images © 2014 Ken Wallace Films LLC. All rights reserved.
We are getting very close to le vendange in Provence and we are now starting to see some growers begin to pick their grapes. Bédoin is in the Côte-du-Ventoux growing region, which is a close neighbor to the more famous Côte-du-Rhone wines from such villages as Gigondas and Châteauneuf du Pape. I'll miss seeing the delicious deep purple bunches of ripe grapes hanging from the vines as I drive the kids to and from school each day!
le vendange = the harvest
The first thing you notice as you approach the village of Bédoin is l'église de Saint-Antonin. This imposing church sits atop the village and is one of the more unusual churches in this part of provence. Built in 1702 in the Jesuit style, and restored in the 19th century, its bell tower still rings the hours 24/7. We can hear the chime of the bells (and see the church) from our home about a mile away--handy if you have forgotten your watch!
l'eglise de = the church of
It has been nearly six months since I wrote "American Croissants" and baked up la bonne idée of moving our family to France. I think I can speak for the whole family when I say that the months since have been the most intensely challenging of our lives. We worked around the clock to sell our house and most of our belongings, gained visas for our extended stay in France, and fretted over which items were important enough to ship across the Atlantic.
There were sleepless nights, sore backs, tears and moments of doubt and panic. But we made it.
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”