Where has the year gone?
It doesn’t seem very long ago that we were basking in Autumn sunshine and the vendange (grape harvest) was in full swing. We are now descending into the depths of winter and have already had two falls of snow. And as the first fell at the end of November the locals say that it will snow seven times before the end of February. We’ll let you know.
The vendange this year was late due to a poor summer as in 2007 they had finished before they even started this year. The harvest was smaller than last year as well as a north wind at the end of August had the effect of drying the grapes as they were ripening. This is not a bad thing as it concentrated the juice so although there was less the quality will be better.
The first indication was the Beaujolais Nouveau, bottled and sold eight weeks after harvest. Normally it’s pretty dire (just a big novelty marketing ploy) but this year was quite exceptional with a good nose and lots of fruit. The upshot is that the 2008 vintage will be a wine that can be laid down for a few years and will improve in the bottle (if you can keep it that long). The downside (for the producers) is that they have 25% less wine to sell which for the bigger independents equates to between ten and fifteen thousand bottles.
So what have we been up to? We kept pretty busy right through to the end of October when we returned to the UK for a rest. We spent four days catching up with friends, sharing some wonderful meals and, I think for the first time ever, doing some ‘touristy’ sightseeing in London!! For the whole time (sixteen years) that we lived in the Hampton/Twickenham area we only went up to London on business or perhaps to go to the theatre or do a bit of shopping. This time, however, Sophie had brought along her friend, Mathilde, to keep her company and so we did Hampton Court Palace one morning and the next day took the train to Waterloo, walked the embankment up to the Golden Hind, passing the Globe Theatre on the way. We crossed the Thames by way of the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s, had lunch in a Dickensian pub and then decided to catch a number 11 bus to Trafalgar Square. We were so lucky! The first number 11 to come along was a Routemaster!! It was one of four buses they bring out of the museum from time to time and this one was on its only route of the day. Even better there was no fare to pay!! From Trafalgar Square we walked down the Mall to Buck House, and then caught a cab to Harrods, which we all found a bit disappointing. Then another cab back to Waterloo and home to Sunbury.
The next day we were up early to park the car at Gatwick, jump on a plane to Fuerteventura in the Canaries, and put our feet up for a week. 23-25 degrees, drank too much, ate too much, the usual thing. Becca and I went off to the beach every day while Sophie and Mathilde posed round the pool attracting anything that caught their eye (mostly mosquitoes). We had a really good time and flew back to spend a few more days with friends and family before coming home to France. On our last day Sophie and Mathilde were taken to Thorpe Park by Warren (her cousin) and Nicola whilst Becca and I met up with Peter and Paula in the Bricklayers Arms in Teddington to watch the rugby international. Pubs are probably the only thing we miss here in France!! And the Chinese and Indian take-aways, of course!
Back in France we discover that a friend has bought a house in the village. Max Bourguelle, a charming ‘gourmand’, had retired to Burgundy and bought a beautiful 16th century fortified farmhouse just north of Tournus some years ago. He adores Scotland, going there two or three times a year and had called his house ‘Glencoe’. Max used to work for Mumm Champagne, he says he was (ir)responsible for the export department (type his name into Google and read The New York Times article that appears first!) and he knows so many chefs and restaurants. He first came here last year to eat at lunchtime and has become quite a regular. We were invited to dinner at his place and he served haggis!! Anyway, he came in one day and announced that he was so fed up with his neighbours that he had put the house on the market and bought the old hunting lodge in Chardonnay. It’s a beautiful house with a big garden (or do I mean park) with lovely views. It needs quite a bit of updating but Max has great taste. He wants to convert one of the old barns into a typical English pub bar!
Sophie celebrated her 14th birthday which in France means you can be let loose on the road on motorised transport. She had passed her theory test at school so in July we had bought a 50cc trial bike for her. (Present for finishing first in class again plus early Birthday and Christmas present). The idea was that she could get some practise in the vines and the lanes around Chardonnay before taking her test. It worked well (for all of us) as Becca and I both used to have motorbikes and if we needed to pop anywhere local the bike was the obvious choice!! Early in October came the big day and Sophie went off for the DAY to take her bike test. She had to pass another theory exam, than show control by weaving in and out of cones, stopping and starting. After lunch they went out onto the road for the first time (it rained all day, poor thing) but she passed. We couldn’t believe it when she said the test route was from Tournus to Cluny and back. That’s thirty kilometres each way over one of the biggest hills in the region.
So now she can go off to visit friends on her own although she doesn’t like to stray too far and if the weather doesn’t look too good the car comes out!! Roll on Spring.
November and the beginning of December were fairly quiet but Christmas kicked off on the 8th December with the illuminations in Tournus. They closed all the roads to traffic and all the clubs and associations set up stands selling food. It was packed. We met up with Jo and Jean-Marc worked our way up the high street. There were oysters, fish soup, braised calves head, tartiflette, snails, fromage fort, boudin noir (black pudding), sausage cooked in red wine, andouillette (a sausage made from pigs intestines ‘very good’ honestly, you have to try it!), waffles cooked in cast iron moulds over a wood fire and served with butter and sugar, red & white wine mulled, kebabs, frogs legs, and none of it more than 3€. A fabulous evening enjoyed by all. The only thing that slowed us down was the fact that we know so many people now that we had to stop every five metres to say hello and chat to practically everyone.
Our Carol Concert on the 21st December was a sell-out. Last year was good with about thirty people for mulled wine and mince pies but this year we went a step further by doing a tartiflette (check out the recipes page) or cassoulet followed by Christmas pudding. We ended up with fifty five people!! And despite a small worry over the Christmas puddings (did we have enough?) it all went very well. The only problem is that there are not many French carols but we managed to find four or five so with a 50-50 mix of French and English in the room plus five Swiss-Germans. The best of all was ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ & by the time we (the English) contingent had got to ‘seven swans a’swimming’ everybody in the room (with a bit of help from the mulled wine) had got the hang of it and joined in with gusto!! We already have quite a few people reserved for next year.
Ruth and Ryan came for Christmas and New Year and Jean-Marc’s younger son Julien flew home from Cairo with Maud and their one year old daughter Jeanne for the festivities. Julien works for Lafarges, a French cement company who have the contract to supply cement for the new Cairo metro. We joined them all at Jo’s on Christmas Day together with J-M’s mother and aunt and sat down to roast ostrich. Again we have managed a turkey-free Christmas and New Year!
It will be interesting to see what 2009 brings. ‘La crise financi’re’ is having its effect in France and people are ‘battening down the hatches’ although being in the countryside is a far cry from living in a city and I think because most people we know make their living from the land the downturn is felt somewhat less. The Talmards said that they did not sell as much wine at Christmas as usual but they will still have run out by the end of the month!!
Let’s finish the winter bulletin at the end of January as the weather looks like it’s going to improve from now on and the days are already longer, getting dark around 6 pm and they have almost finished pruning the vines. We had a hectic end to the month as the region’s annual wine festival came to Chardonnay for the first time ever. St Vincent is the patron saint of winemakers and every year the organisers pick a village to celebrate it. Fifteen wines from the region had been chosen for a massive wine tasting in Chardonnay and we were told to expect 10,000 plus people during the weekend!! How on earth were we going to cater for it? If we did a menu we could have done probably 70 covers per day so that was not going to work. It was decided to get out the barbecue and cook sausages, andouillettes, fromage fort (a sort of welsh rarebit & cheese on toast), chips and vin chaud (white mulled wine). We ordered a marquee and were doing everything outside, the bar closed except for friends and family.
But first we had to cover the Friday evenings Burns Supper for which we had 53 people coming. The haggis (12kgs of it) was ordered from Scotland via UPS on the 12th January and as I write it still hasn’t arrived!! It was last scanned entering UPS’s warehouse in Paris from where it has yet to emerge! As a last resort Nick bought 10kgs of sirloin steak and roasted it to serve with a whisky sauce, neeps and tatties. It went down very well.
We had thirty plus French and the rest a mix of English and Swiss including our residents. All the rooms had been booked for the wine festival and the occupants were very happy to have celebrated their first Burns Night. Our local Celtic band was very much appreciated. Henri Pornon and his daughters Violaine and Elise did a great job with bagpipes, harp, flute, and guitar.
We got to bed at 2 am and had to be up at 6.30 to get the bread for the day, do the breakfasts and get ready for the weekend.
They closed the roads for the weekend (pedestrian access only) so we had to be out early to get our 100 baguettes each day. We worked solidly all day Saturday and still had to do dinner for 30 people that evening. Sunday was bedlam and we finally called it a day at 9.30 pm. The result was as follows:- we sold 450 andouillettes, 200 sausages, 6 kgs of fromage fort, 55 kgs of chips, 40 litres of vin chaud plus another 45 litres of wine, plus 20 bottles of cremant. We slept well Sunday night, did twenty lunches for the people dismantling all the marquees in the village and shut Monday evening at 7 pm. We didn’t open again until Thursday morning, giving us a bit of time to recover. A big thank you to Sophie, Victoria, Linda and Bearnice, without whom we wouldn’t have managed.
It just remains to wish you all a belated Happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Let’s just hope that although there may be a recession, 2009 will be a year for good health and happiness because they don’t cost anything.