Paris is calling. She says she booked your apartment in the 14th for this summer.

{My room with a view}

An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it. –Leonardo Da Vinci

After living in a room that had at one time been a maid’s tiny quarters, I believe the word “studio” will forever conjure the sound of church bells, smells of rotisserie chicken cooking at the Saturday market beneath my window, memories of cooking experiments in tight quarters, and the odd sensation of stepping out of my shower into my kitchenette.

I don’t remember having many complaints about my tiny apartment. I always had everything I needed at my fingertips, the whole world right outside my door, and the freedom to banish any nonessential piece of junk, because there wasn’t any excuse to cram it into nine square meters.

(In case you still can’t envision the size, imagine this: I could “mop” my entire floor by stretching a wet wipe over a broom and sweeping for five minutes, and I could open my refrigerator without rising from bed.)

Often during the nine months I spent in that bright little place I remarked that I felt inordinately productive. I read and wrote a lot, and I learned everything I know about cooking (almost) on those two slightly slanted electric burners.

I really miss it.

Which is why, my friends, I encourage you to look into renting a hole-in-the-wall studio of your own for a bit. Maybe just a month. Perhaps a week or two.

And why not in Paris? Why not this summer?

It sounds like I have a studio in mind, doesn’t it? Why yes, in fact, I do. My friend Sophie has a little apartment – a whopping twice the size of my beloved studio, mind you – in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Luxembourg Gardens, that she would like to rent out between July 7 and August 18 this year.

Well lit, recently renovated, and furnished (futon, coffee table, chair, sheets, towels, kitchen utensils), this charming studio is typically Parisian, with views of the City of Light’s rooftops and easy access to the metro as well as trains to Orly and Roissy.

Imagine walking down the pedestrian market-street Rue Daguerre in the 14th arrondissement. Visit the tower at Montparnasse and the museum dedicated to fabulous French photographer Henri-Cartier Bresson. Stop at a café around Place Denfert-Rochereau before a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens. Just the thought makes me wish I could snap this little place up…

You don’t need much to keep you satisfied in Paris. Twenty square meters sounds about right.

The rent, including all charges, is 400 euros for one week, 700 euros for two weeks, 950 euros for three weeks, or 1150 euros for four weeks.

If you’re interested, let me know and I will put you in touch with Sophie!



Filed under Adventure, Inspiration, Paris

Saying ‘I Do’ In France, by Becoming Madame

A few months back, when I started getting questions about the differences between French and American weddings, I thought, I’ll have to write an exposé on all the differences I can drum up. But, much as I’d like to claim proficiency in all things French, I’m still an All-American girl who will have to learn these things as she goes along. When Nicolas told me wedding cakes aren’t white in France, I decided I’d be better off turning the reins over to someone who’s actually been through the process of making her very American idea of a wedding compatible with a traditional wedding en France.

That’s why today I am ravie to share a guest post from a real American gal turned French Madame! I’ve been reading “Madame’s” writing since I discovered her blog, appropriately called Becoming Madame, last year. She writes about French culture, tradition, literature, and about the art of living in Paris. (Obviously, we have a lot in common!) Because she is much more of an expert on the subject than I am, having been married to a Frenchman for several years now, I’ve asked her to enlighten us (read: me) about all the ins and outs of French weddings, from her perspective.

I’m looking forward to hearing what you think, and I highly recommend checking out Madame’s blog. Un grand merci, Madame!

Saying ‘I Do’ in France
by The Author of Becoming Madame

When my husband proposed to me, I had already been living in Paris for two years. Naturally, upon the offer of his hand in marriage, surprise and thrill and sheer excitement swaddled me in an enchanted haze of happiness, as it does with anyone, I suppose, who’s on the brink of that particular new chapter in life.

I had, by then, completed my self-imposed French immersion and was relatively comfortable in my belief that I understood French life – its customs, its quirks, and its charms. Having lived in France during those first years almost exclusively enveloped in Paris’ expat community, my boyfriend, a Frenchman down to the very last follicle on his head, was my window into real French life. Through him I was privy to the idyllic and mesmerizing world of a French yesteryear in the form of histraditionalFrench family with roots stretching back further than I could fathom. And now I was going to be a part of it.

Once I became a French fiancée, the buffer my boyfriend had proved throughout our courtship was removed and the veil lifted. I was left face-to-face with the beloved French traditions and customs I thought I had conquered; I found myselftête à tête with the wishes and expectations of my to-be belle-famille.

Not knowing any better, I naively began planning an American wedding in France. Little did I know that a wedding in North America is not a French mariage. Sure, the general elements are all present: there was to be a lovely, old, stone church; an onslaught of dust colored roses; candles everywhere; a three-tiered cake; a big white tent; a French lace gown for me; and a tuxedo for my fiancé. I’d had the picture of how all this would look in my mind’s eye ever since I was in high school. The location had changed several times over the years, granted, but the images of my wedding remained net and wrapped in romantic clouds of lace and candle light.

The reality of marrying into a large, traditional, French family truly dawned on me as I sat with my future mother-in-law, a pad of writing paper strategically placed between us, discussing how she saw the event coming together: les procédures, les formules, les traditions familiales. As I sat in a dazed confusion before her, French words incoherently flying over my head, a weary thought passed through my mind: Was this going to be my wedding, the wedding of which I’d always dreamed? Are there really that many rules?

My own mom being four-thousand miles away left me rather alone to coordinate the planning. True enough, my fiancé was present; but save for a few enlightened exceptions, I find that men are much less interested in “the wedding” than women. The former having accomplished their part by organizing a romantic engagement, now pass the baton onto their feminine halves to work out the celebratory details. My case did not deviate from this norm.

Now, I don’t want to alarm any new fiancées who might be marrying into a French family. Much of the color of my experience hails from the history and traditions of the family into which I married. And I say that with the utmost love and respect. Now that a few years have passed, we can all look back on the wedding planning ordeal and share a good-hearted chuckle about it all.

It wasn’t always so funny to me, though. I can remember periods of stress and trepidation, frustration and even a little anger. I’m sure many brides in every part of the world go through a little of this, too. Yet there are a few particular reasons why the Frenchness of my wedding led to moments of acute panic. Certain parts of the French wedding experience are just not the same as they are in North America. Here’s what I mean:

Les Fiançailles

Let’s start at the beginning. In France, the engagement is celebrated by les fiançailles, a form of engagement party, which is traditionally when the man presents the woman with her ring and when the parents meet each other for the first time. After a big meal all together, the engagement is blessed at a Mass before the congregation and the two families.

A couple of these details might strike you as quite unlike the North American custom:

Firstly, the ring is given at the fiançailles and not at the proposal. Although my husband opted for an American style proposal (to my delight), his mother was less than pleased that I was already wearing my engagement ring before the fiançailles transpired. Indeed, the French tradition is for the man and women to decide they want to marry, for the man to ask “Veux-tu m’épouser?” “Will you marry me?” If she agrees, he then asks her parents (very traditionally, the man asks her father while he is wearing white gloves). The engagement is then announced to the respective families and the couple go out together to buy a ring. Interestingly, the French call our ‘man on one knee, velvet box in hand’ proposal a “Hollywood proposal.”

Secondly, the engagement is blessed during a Mass. This is one of those details I mentioned that occurs with more traditional families. Obviously, if the couple is not going to partake in a religious ceremony or they are not religious at all, then this part would not play a role in the fiançailles.

My own fiançailles was a wonderful afternoon at my to-be parents-in-law’s property where the wedding would take place a year later. My family came over for the celebration and met my fiancé’s family for the first time.The whole event was a charming, if unexpected, prelude to the wedding itself.

Atmospheric Variances

If I was pressed to name the most significant difference between North American style weddings and those in France it would be a matter of tone. What do I mean by tone? With North American TV shows like Bridezilla and hundreds of wedding websites, a couple dozen glossy bridal magazines and thousands of professionals ready to aid the North American bride create her dream day,weddings have become more of a show, a cabaret of sorts, a service industry cash cow, more of a production than a family celebration. Although the wedding industry is inevitably coming to Europe, and to France in particular, it hasn’t reached the borders quite yet. Thus French weddings remain more low key, family-oriented affairs akin to a family reunion, more in tune with what weddings were in North America 50 years ago.

Although set in the grounds of gilded chateaux or under billowing white tents in vineyards or on rolling lavender hills in Provence, French weddings embody several degrees less of the theatrical hoopla than their North American counterparts, which is an aspect of French weddings that I greatly respect. The original meaning of the ceremony is not overshadowed by efforts to impress or outshine or dazzle. As is the case with most of French culture, the order of the day is good old-fashioned enjoyment. And because French weddings are so much more down-to-earth, in a sense, they cost a fraction of what a similar event would run State-side. Stretch limos, for instance, are rare in France. Couples tend toward renting or borrowing antique cars or a shiny sedan. Lovely flowers are arranged on the tables and there are cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and music at the reception. But the component parts add up to a totally different equation. It’s all much less ‘done.’ As my mother-in-law explained to me at one of our early planning sessions: “A [French] wedding is about the coming together of two people and by extension two families. The party that follows is a celebration of that union and must not be dwarfed by the whims of la mode.”

My wedding, by the way, was far too ‘done’ for the likes of my belle-mère even with my sincerest efforts to follow her lead and dial down most of my ideas. In the end, it became abundantly clear that the essence of what she perceived to be a proper, respectable wedding, and what I had grown up learning to desire as a wedding, were simply not the same.

Wedding Planners

Wedding planners exist in France, but as you can imagine they are rare. The industry is a budding one and the quality of services and their expertise vary greatly. I hired a planner for my wedding to overcome three very specific obstacles:

(1) I was living in Paris while I was trying to plan a wedding in Dordogne (something akin to living in NYC and planning a wedding in Kansas);

(2) Being an American, I had no contacts in France for caterer (les traiteurs – I didn’t even know the word for a caterer back then), tent rentals, florists, bands, photographers, church musicians, etc. And I didn’t know how to deal with the totally new vocabulary that comes with planning any wedding, but especially when doing so in a second language: fabric types and colors, flower names, tent types, candle shapes, ribbon fabrics – you’d be astonished how much there is to learn when you plan a wedding, even in your own language!

And (3) I needed a buffer to mediate between me and my belle-famille in terms of our rather variant ideas on how the day would progress.

After a long search, I ended up discovering a fabulous bilingual wedding planner in Bordeaux who decreased my stress level by a percentage very worthy of her commission.

Two Weddings

The second most pronounced difference between North American and French weddings is the fact that in France you are obligated to marry twice. In fact, all weddings take place at the City Hall first and then if the couple wish to do so they can marry in a church. The separation of Church and State with respect to French weddings is absolute. The two ceremonies are not combined as they are in the Anglo-Saxon traditions. It does not matter when you marry civilly as long as it is in advance of your religious wedding. You might recall that the Prince of Monaco was married back in July 2011 twice – once civilly, once religiously.  Many French brides decide to have the civil ceremony the morning of their religious wedding. I chose to have mine the evening before so as to follow the North American tradition of not seeing my groom before I walked down the aisle on the day of the religious wedding.

Paper Work

As there are two weddings in France, there is also twice the paper work.

For a civil marriage, you must supply the City Hall with all types of ID and proof that you aren’t already married. A pamphlet of all required documentation is available at the Mairie where you plan to get married. Remember, in France you have to be domiciled in the place where you plan to get married civilly. I refer you to a post I wrote all about the procedures of getting married in France. (Look here for more detailed information.)

To be married religiously in a Catholic church in France, you are required to meet with the priest of the church where you are getting married and he may request that you undergo a certain number of pre-marital sessions with your fiancé(e). My husband and I enrolled in a 14 session pre-marital course that I was quite weary of at first but thoroughly enjoyed in the end. In these meetings, we met several other young couples from our parish who have now become great friends.

“You may kiss the bride!”

Or not! In a Catholic French wedding, the priest does not say “You may kiss the bride” at the end of the ceremony. The picture that you and I have grown up imagining with the congregation clapping as the officiant smiles upon the embracing newly-weds, is not a little French child’s bridal fairytale. In fact, the bride and groom do not normally kiss until they exit the church and are standing before the waiting congregation on the church steps.

For my wedding, I was prepared to sacrifice a great deal in order to appease my belle-famille – compromise, yes, compromise –so that the celebration would prove meaningful not only to me and my family but to my husband and his family as well. However, the kiss was non-negotiable. I had my heart set on this particular Anglo-Saxon tradition which proved a real exercise in my most profound negotiating skills. The priest who married us felt that any change to the normal French wedding program was sacrilege, and right up until the week before the wedding he held on to his refusal to say those five little words: “Vous pouvez embrasser la mariée.

Le tenu du marié

I’d always pictured my fiancé waiting for me at the altar in a tuxedo with a white rose pinned to his lapel, cummerbund and bow tie in place. But that’s not how it works in France. French grooms have a choice between a jaquette (most common for country weddings) – what we in North America would call a Mr. Darcy suit – or a habit (most common for city weddings), which is what a chef d’orchestre wears with white bowtie and tails. The traditional French groom also accompanies his jaquette or habit with a top hat and white gloves. Tuxedos in the North American sense, as was explained to me by my father-in-law, are appropriate for a Parisian Ball or if you were, say, invited to dine with the President of the Republic. Save for those two elegant occasions, tuxedos are left to the waiters of chic French restaurants and they are by no means appropriate outfits for a groom. Being a musician, my husband chose the habit for himself and matching jaquettes for our fathers and his temoins.

The Wedding Party

Speaking of les temoins reminds me of yet another marked difference between French and North American weddings. In France, groomsmen and bridesmaids do not exist. Instead, the French have les temoins who are friends or family members chosen to be witnesses of the ceremony for the bride and groom. The gender of the temoins is of no importance. A groom’s temoins may include his sister just as easily as his best male friend. Naturally, as there is no wedding party, there is no procession up the aisle by paired-off groomsmen and bridesmaids. The groom enters the church just before the bride and escorts his mother up the aisle. A Best Man and a Maid of Honor also play no role in a French wedding. There are, however, les enfants d’honneur, akin to our flower girls and ring bearers, except that their job is to tend to the bride’s train.

I must admit that I changed almost all of these rules for my wedding. I chose my sister as my Maid of Honor and she walked up the aisle on the arm of my husband’s brother (one of his temoins) who stood by his side at the altar. I engaged our two nieces as flower girls and two of our nephews as ring bearers.

Given the absence of a wedding party, it follows that the North American Rehearsal is also not a part of a French wedding. Yet, since I introduced many of the associated North American elements to my French wedding, we planned a Rehearsal for the day before the ceremony.

Salon du mariage

The Salon du mariage is the one exception to what I previously mentioned about French weddings not being all about pomp and circumstance, hoopla and excessive preparedness. In fact, it is one of the benefits of planning a wedding from Paris. Posters for these Salons, which are held around the city at various times of year, begin popping up on billboards in early spring. Thousands of to-be brides flock to these expositions to sample caterers, secure a band or a photographer, sign up for their ‘liste de mariage,’ try on dresses, order invitations, pick out wedding bands and select a florist. My husband and I enjoyed walking through a few of these Salons as fiancés. They are a particularly useful resource for couples planning their wedding themselves and, shall we say, a rite of passage for all French brides.

First Dances

One the questions most asked of a newly married couple in North America is “So, what was your wedding song?” This question purports to acknowledge our tradition of the couple’s First Dance and the chosen melody that will forever be ‘their song.’ This is not a part of the French wedding tradition. Rather than the couple warming up the dance floor with their First Dance or perhaps more à la mode these days with some sort of choreographed dance routine, the French begin the dance portion of the wedding with a Father-Daughter waltz. After a few minutes dancing with this daughter, the father of the bride hands her over to her husband and the couple finish off the waltz as man and wife.

If you ask a French couple what their Wedding Song was, they will assume you are talking about the musique d’entrée which is a song chosen by the couple to be played when they enter the reception. The French tradition is that guests rise to their feet at this moment, clap their hands and twirl their napkins over their heads.

In a wave of international compromise, my husband and I combined the two traditions. We forewent the musique d’entrée, began the dance portion of the evening with a waltz to which I danced with my father who handed me to my husband. Then later in the evening, we cleared the floor and danced to our Wedding Song.

Wedding Cakes

Finally, a word on French wedding cakes. If you are anything like me, when you think of a wedding cake you picture a tiered structure likely with white creamy decoration, laden with fresh flowers, perhaps even a little ribbon, and topped with a small statuette of a bride and groom. By now, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this does not describe a French wedding cake. And what’s more, it is not easy to find a pastry shop, even in Paris, that will readily make you one. If you do find a volunteer, they want to charge you almost as much as if you were having the darn cake shipped from home in a refrigerated plane! No, I exaggerate, but only a little. I found a wonderful shop in Bordeaux that made my ivory tiered dessert for me and with Butter Cream icing, to boot, rather than the more traditional French almond paste.

The traditional French wedding cake, by contrast, is called une Pièce Montée and is made of small, golden, cream-filled balls called les choux mounted with caramel glaze into a triangular tier shape. Cutting the cake in France, as you can imagine, takes on a different meaning.


By way of conclusion, I will leave you with a short etymological tale which I found rather enlightening on the differences between French and North American weddings as well as a chart of the main cultural contrasts.

One of my future brothers-in-law asked me while I was in the process of planning my wedding what the difference was in English between the words ‘wedding’ and ‘marriage.’ “In French,” he said, “le mariage seems to signify both of your English words. We don’t make the distinction.” How insightful and astute his question was, indeed! Quite tellingly, in English we have a whole separate word for the celebration of the marriage, whereas in French the celebration and the lifelong commitment are all wrapped up in one seven-letter word.

Main Differences between North American and French Weddings:

North America                                                                                  France

Combined civil and religious ceremony Two separate ceremonies
Lots of hoopla! A whole lot less hoopla!
Tuxedos for grooms Jaquette or habit for grooms
Rehearsals and Rehearsal dinners No Rehearsal or Rehearsal dinner
Wedding parties (groomsmen/bridesmaids/ flower girls/ ring bearers) No groomsmen or bridesmaids, les temoins of either gender instead, les enfants d’honneur
“You may kiss the bride.” The kiss is on the church steps after the ceremony
Engagement Parties Les Fiançailles
Knee and ring proposals Mutual decision proposals, ring bought together
Couple’s first dance and wedding song Father-Daughter Waltz begins the dance
Tiered wedding cake La Pièce Montée

For the translation from Marie-Amelie click here: Continue reading


Filed under Culture, Inspiration

World War II and the vineyards of southern Burgundy, on E-Romantic Hotels

You’ve already met Monsieur Drouin via the teaser transcription I posted yesterday, so I know you are on the edge of your seats to know more. Let me just say, the article that came of my conversation with Monsieur Drouin is nothing like what I expected it to be. Having tasted his wine a few weeks ago, I was eager to write more about a certain Macon-Villages I found particularly refreshing and clean. In the end I didn’t even mention it!

Monsieur Drouin brought up a topic that always piques my interest: World War II. When he started talking about the impact the Nazis had on Burgundian wine tradition, I knew the article would take a different turn. I did a bit more research. I waded through articles in French. What spurred me on (as if I needed spurring!) was the absolute dearth of information on the subject in English. Such a fascinating topic, and only one primary source came up in a Google Search!

Please indulge my fascination and let me know what you think about the article on E-Romantic Hotels’ website. Thanks!

{Hotel Burgevin, Loire Valley}

While we’re on the topic: E-Romantic Hotels is a French website (with text in both English and French) founded and run by Isabelle Brigout. Isabelle’s team searches for the most charming hotels and bed and breakfasts in France and organizes them by region, featuring them in an easy-to-browse database on the site.

The three make-it-or-break it criteria for inclusion on the site? Each hotel must be distinguished by beautiful architecture, elegant interior design and decoration, and a very warm welcome.

{Résidence Dary, Corsica and Hotel Le Moulin, Alsace}

To hear Isabelle describe it in her own words — in French — visit this page. I highly recommend listening to any of her 1.5 minute weekly “Air Show” radio spots, during which she describes a featured destination. It would be especially useful if you are just learning French. She articulates beautifully and exudes the French je ne sais quoi (pardon the cliche) to a tee. Plus, there is a transcript, so you can read along if you’d like.

All photos:

Marie-Amelie’s Translation:

La Seconde Guerre Mondiale et les vignes du sud Bourgogne, sur E-Romantic Hotels

Vous avez déjà fait la connaissance de Monsieur Drouin dans le résumé que j’ai posté hier, donc je sais que vous mourez d’envie d’en savoir plus. Je vous dirai juste que l’article ressorti de ma conversation avec Monsieur Drouin n’a rien à voir avec ce à quoi je m’attendais. J’ai goûté ses vins il y a quelques semaines, j’avais hâte d’écrire un peu plus à propos d’un certain Mâcon-Villages que j’avais trouvé particulièrement rafraichissant et pur. Finalement, je ne l’ai même pas mentionné.

Monsieur Drouin a évoqué un sujet qui éveille toujours mon intérêt : la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Quand il a commencé à parler de l’influence des Nazis sur la tradition viticole en Bourgogne, j’ai su que l’article allait prendre un tour différent. J’ai effectué un peu plus de recherches. J’ai pataugé au milieu d’articles en français. Ce qui m’a stimulée (comme si j’avais besoin d’être stimulée) est le manque profond d’information en anglais sur la question. Un sujet si fascinant, et seulement une source principale dans la recherche Google !

Pitié, pardonnez ma fascination et dites-moi ce que vous pensez de mon article sur le site d’E-Romantic Hotels. Merci !

Puisqu’on en parle, E-Romantic Hotels est un site Français (avec des textes en anglais et en français), fondé et dirigé  par Isabelle Brigout. L’équipe d’Isabelle recherche les hôtels et chambres d’hôtes les plus charmants de France et les trie par région, pour les présenter dans une base de données facile à parcourir sur le site.

Les trois critères de sélection pour apparaître sur le site ? chaque hôtel doit se distinguer par une belle architecture, une décoration intérieure et un design élégants, et un accueil très chaleureux.

Pour entendre Isabelle faire une description avec ses propres mots – en français – visitez cette page. Je vous recommande chaudement d’écouter un de ses spots hebdomadaires de 1,5 minutes ‘’en radio’’, pendant lequel elle décrit une destination sélectionnée. Cela vous sera très utile si vous apprenez tout juste le Français. Elle articule parfaitement et respire à plein nez le je ne sais quoi Français (pardon pour le cliché). En plus, il y a une transcription, donc vous pouvez suivre en lisant si vous le désirez.


Filed under Culture, Language, Travel, Wine

“Only imbeciles don’t change their minds!” A conversation with winemaker Jean-Michel Drouin

{Domaine des Gerbeaux}

For my upcoming E-Romantic Hotels article, I spoke with southern Burgundy wine producer Jean-Michel Drouin, owner of Domaine des Gerbeaux. Not knowing much about Pouilly-Fuissé — an appellation with varying micro-climates that produce many unique terroirs — I got a real introductory course in the short conversation I had with Monsieur Drouin. I’m including some of my favorite excerpts from our conversation below. Read on to learn Drouin’s perspective on traditional farming versus organic labeling, a winemaker’s love for his vines (“the simple act of taking a few days’ vacation stresses me out!”), and the growing need for [real] truth in advertising.

A little background…

The estate was created in 1896 by my great grandfather, Jacques Charvet, a great lover of the vineyards. (My name is “Drouin” because my grandfather had two daughters; that’s why I don’t go by Charvet.) I know that when my great grandfather’s son in law wanted to buy a horse to work the vines, Charvet wanted to disown him! He didn’t want him to work the vines anymore because he thought a horse would ruin them, although these days we all use tractors anyway, but he worked the soil by hand. He turned up the earth with a wicker basket on his back. He was very close to nature. That was his philosophy.

After my grandfather and my father, I took over the domain. Of course, we have made mistakes, like everyone. We used herbicides twenty years ago; we also added supplementary yeast to our wines during fermentation. But only imbeciles don’t change their minds, so one day I decided to change the production methods back. Now we work our vines using only the natural yeasts from the grapes…and I am passionate about what I do…

We have 13 hectares, and on those 13 hectares we have 60 parcels of vines, the largest of which is 80 ares (just shy of two acres). We produce everything separately…I make different combinations, for example, a Pouilly-Fuissé with a terroir from Solutré (because only the grapes from the old vines of Solutré are used). I also make a Pouilly-Fuissé that’s called L’intimité du Chardonnay (I christened it such). It is a Pouilly that has never seen oak, and is comprised of grapes from two harvests from the same year. (During the first harvest we leave a few grapes and then come back 15 days later, in order to have a higher concentration of juice in this wine.)

True Love

In addition to the natural yeasts, we pay attention to press the grapes gently, so as to extract only the best juice. We harvest by hand, and bottle with minimal filtration. With the help of a lunar calendar I choose the best day to harvest and to bottle. I know each square meter of every one of my vineyards; nothing is secret to me.

The “organic” problem:

Many vintners do not tell the truth. The label “organic” or “biodynamic” is new, but my great grandfather worked his vines naturally. He didn’t talk about organic farming. He wouldn’t even know what the word biodynamic means. It’s a word that was created to separate certain wines from the others, and certain winemakers from their peers. Maybe it was the easy solution to say, “I’m organic, I let nature take its course.” But I think that letting nature take its course to the extreme is not the best way either. We are making all this commotion about organics because it’s the trendy thing to do right now. We like to distinguish ourselves from others.

There are some natural winemakers who work their vines with a horse for the photos that the journalists take when they come to their domains. But after that, they work completely differently. Maybe they even buy grapes, or juice, from other places in order to keep their volume up. Often those who are organic, who let nature take its course, can’t produce enough wine. Financially, they struggle, so they must buy other wine on the side. They then tell stories to the journalists – and everyone – and that is something we should be aware of.

As for me, I am telling you that I am honest. I work my vines as I told you: natural yeasts, hand selection, etc. But I don’t call myself organic. I use the moon, but I never call myself biodynamic. My philosophy: I am for the truth, for the real work of the winemakers. I work a bit like our grandfathers worked, but, honestly, I use modern tools – we are no longer in the age of slave labor! – I use little tractors, but I pay attention not to harm the vines.

I am not biodynamic, but I am above all not a liar. I don’t even like the word biodynamic. I like the phrase “purity of work.” I like the word “real.”

Photo Credits: Bourgeois Family Selections

Marie-Amelie’s translation:

‘’Il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis !’’ – Conversation avec le vigneron Jean-Michel Drouin

Pour mon prochain article sur E-Romantic Hotels, j’ai discuté avec un producteur du sud de la Bourgogne, Jean-Michel Drouin, propriétaire du Domaine des Gerbeaux. Ne connaissant que très peu de choses sur le Pouilly-Fuissé – une appellation comprenant divers microclimats produisant autant de terroirs uniques – j’ai eu droit à un vrai cours d’initiation durant ma courte discussion avec Monsieur Drouin. Voici quelques uns de mes extraits préférés de notre conversation. Lisez pour connaître le point de vue des Drouin sur l’agriculture traditionnelle face au label bio, l’amour d’un vigneron pour ses vignes (‘’le seul fait de prendre quelques jours de vacances me stresse !’’), et le besoin grandissant de [vraie] vérité dans la publicité.

Un peu d’histoire …

Le domaine a été créé en 1896 par mon arrière-grand-père, Jacques Charvet, grand amoureux des vignes. (Mon nom est Drouin parce que mon grand-père a eu deux filles, et donc je ne perpétue pas le nom Charvet). Je sais que lorsque le gendre de mon arrière-grand-père a voulu acheter un cheval pour travailler les vignes, Charvet a voulu le deshériter ! il ne voulait plus qu’il travaille les vignes parce qu’il pensait qu’un cheval allait les endommager, même si de toute façon de nos jours nous utilisons tous des tracteurs, mais lui travaillait le sol à la main. Il retournait la terre avec un panier en osier sur le dos. Il était très proche de la nature. C’était sa philosophie.

J’ai repris le domaine à la suite de mon père et mon grand-père. Bien sûr, nous avons fait des erreurs, comme tout le monde. Nous avons utilisé des désherbants il y a 20 ans, nous avons aussi ajouté des levures à nos vins pendant la fermentation. Mais il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis, donc un jour, j’ai décidé de revenir aux anciennes méthodes de production. Maintenant nous travaillons nos vins en utilisant seulement les ferments naturels du raisin…et je suis passionné par ce que je fais…

Nous possèdons 13 hectares, et sur ces 13 hectares, nous avons 60 parcelles de vignes, la plus grande faisant 18 ares (on est loin des deux hectares). Nous exploitons tout séparément … je fais des combinaisons différentes, par exemple, un Pouilly-Fuissé avec le terroir de Solutré (parce que nous utilisons seulement le raisin des vieilles vignes de Solutré). Je fais aussi un Pouilly-Fuissé appelé L’intimité du Chardonnay (c’est moi qui l’ai baptisé ainsi). C’est un Pouilly n’ayant jamais été en contact avec du chêne, et composé de raisins de deux récoltes de la même année. (Pendant la première récolte, nous laissons quelques grappes et revenons 15 jours après, pour avoir une plus grande concentration de jus dans ce vin.)

Un Amour Vrai

En plus des ferments naturels, nous faisons très attention à presser le raisin doucement, afin d’obtenir seulement le meilleur jus. Nous vendangeons à la main, et mettons en bouteilles avec un minimum de filtration. Je choisis les meilleurs jours pour les vendanges et la mise en bouteille à l’aide du calendrier lunaire. Je connais chaque mètre carré de chacune de mes vignes ; elles n’ont aucun secret pour moi.

La question ‘’bio’’ :

De nombreux viticulteurs ne disent pas la vérité. Le label ‘’bio’’ ou ‘’biodynamique’’ est nouveau, mais mon arrière-grand-père travaillait ses vignes naturellement. Il ne parlait pas d’agriculture biologique. Il ne connaissait même pas le sens du mot biodynamique. C’est un mot qui a été créé pour séparer certains vins d’autres, et certains vignerons de leurs pairs. C’était peu être la solution de facilité pour dire ‘’je suis bio, je laisse la nature faire son travail’’. Mais je pense que laisser faire la nature à l’extrême n’est pas non plus la bonne méthode. Nous faisons tout ce tumulte autour du bio parce que c’est la tendance en ce moment. Nous aimons nous distinguer des autres.

Certains vignerons naturels travaillent leurs vignes avec des chevaux pour les photos que les journalistes viennent prendre dans leurs domaines. Mais après cela, ils travaillent complètement différemment. Peut être même qu’ils achètent du raisin, ou du jus, à d’autres afin de maintenir leur volume. Souvent, ceux qui sont bio, qui laissent la nature faire son travail, ne peuvent pas produire suffisamment de vin. Financièrement, ils luttent, ils doivent donc acheter d’autres vins à côté. Ensuite ils racontent des histoires aux journalistes – et à tout le monde – et nous devons avoir conscience de cela.

En ce qui me concerne, je vous dis que je suis honnête. Je travaille mes vignes comme je vous l’ai dit : ferments naturels, sélection manuelle, etc. Mais je ne me considère pas bio. J’utilise la lune, mais je ne m’appelle jamais biodynamique. Ma philosophie : je suis pour la vérité, pour le vrai travail des vignerons. Je travaille un peu comme le faisaient nos grands-parents, mais honnêtement, j’utilise des outils modernes – nous ne sommes plus à l’époque de l’esclavage ! – j’utilise des petits tracteurs, mais je fais attention à ne pas endommager les vignes.

Je ne suis pas biodynamique, mais surtout, je ne suis pas un menteur. Je n’aime pas vraiment le mot biodynamique. J’aime la phrase ‘’pureté du travail’’. J’aime le mot ‘’vrai’’.

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Los Monitos’ Wine and Language series made the news (Hear me say, “I would like some wine, please!” in French)

Man, these morning shows are like clockwork and a rapid fire gun show combined.

When Bill from Los Monitos Language Center called to tell me our Wine and Language series — the French part of which I’ll be teaching next week — was going on the air, I said I’ve always dreamed of being a star.

Hardy har.

Our four point two-five minutes of pure fame flew by so fast I didn’t even have time to check out the cool teleprompters. We sat down on that skinny grey couch and no sooner had I been hooked up to a mic and shaken the hands of Terry and Rachel, than the cameraman announced “ten seconds” and we were live.

I have no idea how I remembered my French.

But I did! Which leads me to believe I just need more time in front of the camera to get comfortable…

I’d love it if you got a chuckle out of the video…and I’d be even more thrilled if my Louisville readers made it to Vint next week for wine and French on the patio.

Hope to see you there!


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Clif Family Winery: bringing new meaning to “wine” and “bar”

I’ve been a fan of Clif energy bars ever since my dad started eating them for breakfast about ten years ago. (Yes, for breakfast.) Organic and packed with fiber and protein, not to mention very tasty, they were a staple during my college years, and I battled to limit my consumption to pre-workouts with the crew team.

As much as I loved the bars, it was news to me that the Clif “family” has a winery too. I met Phil Roberts, regional sales manager for Clif Family Winery, last weekend at the Cincinnati Wine Festival and was pretty impressed with the lineup. I tasted Kit’s Killer Cab and Gary’s Improv Zinfandel, but I was most intrigued by their Climber Pouch series: an unoaked Chardonnay from Northern California and a Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, both packed in hiker-biker-explorer friendly pouches.

“They’re convenient and they last up to one month after opening,” Phil explained. “You should write about it!”

In the spirit of full disclosure, I can honestly say there was no other solicitation.

“You’re right,” I said. “I should!” I jotted myself a “clif note” on the back of Phil’s business card.

So here I am, still pretty taken with the whole pouch idea. Most of you know I consider myself traditional when it comes to labeling and bottling. I’m not into little black dresses on wine labels and I steer clear of most non-glass packaging (boxed wine: egad!). But I like this idea. It’s pioneering in an organic, CSA way, rather than in the manipulative, chemistry experiment way that is getting a bad rap these days.

Clif is a large company with a line of products including Luna Bar and a range of services, like their weekly Community Supported Agriculture efforts, which deliver fruits and veggies to locals in the St. Helena, CA area. Despite its size, however, the brand does a good job standing by the down home image evoked by “Clif Family Farm.” They aim to create “unique regional wines” with a taste of terroir and what seems like a healthy dose of fun. (The description for Kit’s Killer Cab includes “cherry cola and spice” among its flavors!)

I appreciate that they don’t take themselves so seriously, and that the “all terrain wine transport” pouches made it through to production. Coming from the Clif Bar people it makes perfect sense. Gary and Kit are both adventurers, and the idea for the Climber wine had its origins in biking trips in the French and Italian Alps. Can you blame them for wanting to make such a beverage more portable?

So yes, for a girl who likes to write about good old fashioned French wine, this concept is pretty out there. I like it though. In my opinion, there’s a place for all kinds of respectfully made wines. Given this company’s sustainability philosophy and the sheer convenience of the Climber pouch, I’d say Clif Family Winery should have a place in every outdoorsy explorer’s heart!

PS: Notice that the climber on the front of the pouch seems to be scaling a stream of flowing wine. Genius, I tell you!

Photo credits

Click here to read the translation from Melie! Continue reading


Filed under Wine

Wine is not a cocktail, it’s a condiment

Wine is alcohol, so wine is a cocktail.

It’s 8:00 pm and I’m in my running clothes, sitting on the floor with wine books around me. The phone is tucked between cheek and shoulder as I bend over a piece of scrap paper and take notes. Daniel, whom I think I can rightly call my wine mentor by now, is on a roll, spouting out facts and figures, recommending wine writers, and coming up with publishing analogies to make sure I get what he’s talking about. (Alluding to the value of studying wine before I am professionally involved in the industry, he says “it’s like a writer going into publishing. The job becomes less about writing and more about marketing.”)

I struggle to write fast enough, getting only fragments of sentences down before Daniel switches gears and is on to the next subject.  Tonight he stresses the importance of understanding the American mentality toward wine, and how people in the industry must react to that perspective.

“Americans don’t drink wine before they are in their 30’s,” he says definitively. He pauses, but not long enough for me to mention I’m an exception to that rule.

“First of all, there is no wine culture for us before we are 21, because it’s illegal. That means many of us get our introduction to alcohol in college, where we drink sugary concoctions to mask the cheap liquor taste. But we get used to it. Most of us are raised on sugar anyway, so we might actually like it. Then, out of college, we stick with what we know, which is syrupy sweet. When it is finally appropriate for us to drink wine (let’s face it, college kids associate it with snobbishness), we want it sugary, or big  and alcoholic, and we want to sip it like we sipped our cheap cocktails. But wine is not a cocktail to be sipped. It is a condiment.”

I wasn’t expecting that. Wine is a condiment? The first thing that pops into my mind is a big, red bottle of ketchup on a picnic table. Wine is a condiment?

But I have no time to protest.

“I like to call it synergy,” Daniel says. “Food-wine synergy.”

I write it down.

“You wouldn’t eat ketchup by itself. You wouldn’t sip salad dressing. Wine is like that. It always goes with food.”

I’m surprised he doesn’t have any qualms with referring to ketchup and wine in the same context. “A condiment, Daniel?” I ask. “Really?”

With a shrug I can imagine over the phone, he acknowledges my hesitancy with pure confidence. “Really,” he says. Period.

“We have to reach out to the consumer with this in mind, always encouraging them to expand their palates. We have to talk to them about terroir and sub-appellations, and the fact that southern French wine pairs perfectly with Herbes de Provence for a reason; that Muscadet is made for mollusks because its grapes are salted by the Atlantic.”

Remembering my famous bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges, I mentally add Burgundy pinot noir with the local sauce à l’Epoisse to the list.

“As people start to get to know wine,” Daniel continues, “they can choose which best complements their meal. But if they don’t try a lot of wine, they’ll stick with what they know. And we have to get them away from the unfortunate wine-as-cocktail schema!”

I chuckle to myself. Wine as ketchup is better than wine as cocktail?

But what he says is true, and I respect Daniel for using the unflattering term “condiment.” It brings the whole subject of wine down to earth and forces us to wonder in which context wine is at its best. It really is meant to be drunk with food. The French philosophy that it is best to beraisonableapplies here: is it ever very reasonable to drink without at least a little something to eat at the same time?

As our conversation concludes — five pages of notes later — I think about the experiences I have had drinking wine in France. Call it the power of suggestion, but a host of pairings comes to mind: Chignin and fondue, Nuits-Saint-Georges or Aloxe Corton and coq au vin, vin jaune from the Jura and a slice of comte cheese, Champagne and popcorn, crepes and cider… Every region has its wine, and every dish has its drink! It has been fun to learn about the pairings, and to branch out from the old, and very general, standby of white wine with fish and poultry, red wine with dark meat.

If you’ve recently experienced great food-wine synergy, let me know. If not, what are you waiting for?!


Click here to read the translation from my future belle-soeur! Continue reading


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