Another year rushes to a close and we wonder sometimes where they go. They say it’s a sign of age, or maybe it’s just keeping busy with no time to squander. Yes, it’s been very busy ‘au Chardon’ and we have been in France over five years now, and Le Chardon has been open for two and a half. It certainly doesn’t feel that long. I was with Jeep for ten years and that felt like a life sentence!!
We managed to get away in October and drove down to Sandy and Les who live just north of Alicante. Although we haven’t seen them since 2003 we just seemed to pick up where we left off and had a super stay.
On our way back we spent two nights in Barcelona, then crossed the Pyrenees via Andorra to spend a few days with Karen and James in St Antonin. A lovely break but 3000 kilometres in ten days is a bit tiring.
To carry on from where I left off in the last bulletin, the grape harvest this year came up to and exceeded all expectations in terms of quality and will be a wine that will be worth ‘laying down’ for a few years to improve it. Normally, a Maconnais wine should be drunk within three years, but this will mature for up to five or six years (if you are able to keep it that long!). The big co-operative, the Cave de Lugny, of which the Cave de Chardonnay is a part, had a bumper harvest, despite a breakdown the very first day of the conveyor which feeds the presses. This led to a backlog of some eighty tractors and trailers waiting to offload, and a six hour queue. Fortunately the weather was not overly warm as if the grapes had started to ferment before they could press them, they would have to have thrown them away. Some 1200 tonnes – that’s a lot of wine lost!! They sorted it all out in the end, and Chardonnay rumbled with the sound of tractors pulling trailers piled high with grapes for the next fortnight. The presses were running twenty four hours a day and the smell in Chardonnay was intoxicating. I reckon even if you just drove through the village with your window open and got breathalysed the other end you’d fail!!
Every year, to celebrate the end of the harvest they all go out for a meal. This year they chose us. We had 56 people for an entrée of ‘trio of salmon’ (poached, smoked, and paté), followed by a fricassee of wild boar (now on our recipe page), then cheese and finally, to finish off, Eton Mess!!! This was specially requested, (it’s the only thing on our menu that we cannot change) but it cannot be made in advance. Thanks to Linda and Victoria we did 56 individual Eton Mess in 15 minutes.
They’d also asked if we could lay on some entertainment for the evening, something like a boules tournament. We suggested ten pin bowling – yes, seriously. Having got a taste of the Wii at Deb and Jonathan’s the last time we were in UK we bought one. It went down a storm after having to explain, in FRENCH, to most of the participants, how to bowl using the controller. The highlight was the managing director, amidst much jeering from the rest of the crowd, taking his turn and getting a ‘strike’ first go. Everybody thoroughly enjoyed themselves and went home very happy. We’d suggested at the outset, that being winemakers, they may like to bring their own wine, and we would waive the normal corkage charge. They were very happy with this arrangement and the day before the ‘do’ delivered enough wine and crémant to sink a battleship. After everybody had left, there were still some forty bottles left. What do you want us to do with them, we asked. Keep them, they are yours, they said, and thanks for a wonderful night!!
Amongst the enormous amount of people who have passed through our doors, we have welcomed old friends who have made a detour to see us. Aidan and Caron arrived on ‘Fluffy’, Aidan’s Honda Valkrie and stopped a couple of nights before heading into the Alps. Peter and Paula did likewise on their tour of France. And Denise and John arrived with Dad and Wendy for another week in the gite and were here for our paëlla night.
A group of villagers have set up an association to put on events to promote the village. This year has seen a flower sale, a ‘brocante’ (a cross between a flea market and car boot sale) and the paëlla night which we hosted. Cooking paëlla for sixty people tested my cooker to the limit – it only just created enough heat for the pan which was three feet across. I had it sitting over three burners. We had a Spanish guitar quartet who were excellent and with sixty people crammed into the bar there was a terrific ambience. We finished about 1 am and it looks like becoming a regular feature in our calendar.
As I mentioned in the last bulletin Mr Sarkozy, the French president, reduced VAT for hotels, bars and restaurants from 19.6% to 5.5%. We haven’t had to pay any VAT this last six months, in fact they owe us about 900€. Anyway, the object is for restaurants to either…take on extra staff (I don’t think so, not with French employment law)…..bring the kitchen up to latest standards (we already are)….or invest in new equipment. So we bought the hot-tub (no, we didn’t). We did much better than that!!! Becca has got her new 10kg washing machine which has halved the number of washes she has to do. Only problem being is she can’t carry the full basket of washing up the stairs from the cave to the garden (it’s too heavy). And we’ve invested in a new wine fridge for the bar. It’s awesome. It’s multi-temperature. No idea how it works as it’s just a big fridge with lots of shelves and holds 240 bottles. The thing is that you put reds at the top where it is 18 degrees and work down the temperature scale finally stacking champagnes at the bottom where the temperature is 5 degrees. Amazing. Answers on a postcard please (or e-mail). We’ll put up a bottle of Crémant for the best one – but you’ll have to drink it here!!!!
All in all, it’s been another very good year for us. True, there have been less Brits than normal, the financial crisis bringing the pound down almost parity with the euro. We are only glad that we made the move when we did as if we were renovating now the current exchange rate would have meant an extra 70.000 € to find, about 30%. There have, though, been more eastern Europeans visiting. Their journey to France is a minimum twelve hours but we have had Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Slovakians, and even a few Russians. They were very happy to find us as invariably their command of English is far better than their French.
French bureaucracy continues. I got notified of a course that I had to attend on the subject of kitchen hygiene. One day at a hotel in Chalon, lunch and diploma included, thirty euros. It was very interesting – not!! Fortunately when I arrived I fell in with a friend, Daniel Rogie, who has a restaurant not far from us. The difference between him and us is that he has the Michelin Star. One hour into the course and it became apparent that they (Brussels) are trying to turn restaurant kitchens into food laboratories. This is EUROPEAN STANDARDS they said. Then why can you still freeze fresh meat in England and Ireland but not in France? says Daniel. That’s an exception, they explained. Hey ho, we just grin and bear it!!
We finished off 2009 with our traditional carol concert. We get enquiries about it from the middle of November and usually have between fifty and sixty people for a good old sing-song with mulled wine and mince pies followed by tartiflette or cassoulet. However, this year we hadn’t counted on the snow which started falling on the Thursday evening and didn’t let up until Saturday morning. One woman from Lugny, having pirouetted down the road in her Mercedes, abandoned it in the car-park and came in. She made a couple of calls to see if someone could come and rescue her – to no avail. She ended up staying the night!! By
Saturday night it was minus 15 degrees and we had 15cms of snow. There was no change Sunday but 28 brave souls made it and we had a good evening. Marie-Eve, Colette and Dominique provided the music. The only downside was our waistlines. With a 50% turnout we were still eating cassoulet on Wednesday!!
On the Monday afternoon the temperature began to rise. By Tuesday lunchtime it was plus 15 degrees (a thirty degree swing) and all the snow vanished. Mr Cortot, who is 80 years old and has lived in the village all his life, said he had never experienced such a dramatic change in temperature.
Christmas Day looked like being a very quiet affair. Jo and Jean-Marc were off to Germany to meet up with Alex and Annabel at her parents and ours stayed in UK. However, Dick and Elli decided to come down as their son and daughter were at respective in-laws and they kindly invited us to join them. They brought all the things we can’t get out here and we had a wonderful day. They showed us a short video of a variety act from the late fifties (I think) which is shown on German television every Christmas. Hilarious!!! Go to YouTube and type in ‘Dinner for One’.
Well, that just about wraps up 2009. It only remains for all of us to wish all of you a very Happy, Prosperous, and most importantly, a Healthy New Year.