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Grele: Solidarity during a devastating hailstorm at winemaker Raimond de Villeneuve's vineyard

1-raimond de villeneuve
Un vrai bonnard. Don't miss this inspiring story about a winemaker's comeback following a devastating storm. Pictured: Raimond de Villeneuve. Photo montage from Google images.

la grêle (grel)

    : hail

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

Un orage de grêle détruit en deux minutes deux années de récolte de raisins. A hail storm destroys in two minutes two years worth of grapes.

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

I  have an inspiring lemons to lemonade story for you now. It's about local winemaker Raimond de Villeneuve who came over for lunch yesterday.

"Il est bonnard!" Jean-Marc said of our guest, assuring me not to worry about what to cook. But depending on what bonnard meant, I would serve french fries or soufflé.... I was betting on the first hunch (bonnard = fun-loving?), and that this meant a comfort meal was in order. Nothing complicated.

Coincidentally, the night before, I'd made a dish by chef and winemaker Jamie Oliver. I couldn't remember the exact ingredients, but having made the braised cabbage last year, I winged it (je l'ai fait au pif)--sauteing red onion, one chou rouge, and 3 golden apples....

I had found some dried figs in the fridge and chopped those up, tossing them in, adding salt, pepper, and coriander seeds. The result was encouraging but something was missing. So before our guest arrived, I doctored up the dish with some soft chestnuts (hadn't Jamie added those?), chopped and mixed in for texture and even more comfort.

From the new living room window that looks onto the front yard, I spied our guest, who threw back his head as he laughed with Jean-Marc. Yes, bonnard had to mean fun-loving. Today's relaxed menu would work.

The two men bounded into the house, heading toward the kitchen. As I was on the other side of the door when they entered, our guest didn't see me. Amused, I followed quietly on the stranger's heels, curious to see how long it would take to be found out.

Only a step behind the rugged man with the curly black hair, I could have reached out and tapped him on the shoulder--but resisted. And when Raimond de Villeneuve finally turned around we both burst out laughing.

"So you are the genius winemaker!" I said. "Jean-Marc has told me so much about you." 

Raimond's smile was a mixture of elegance and mischief. His blue eyes twinkled as he considered a response to my greeting, finally settling on more laughter. And then, elegance won over.

"Enchanté," Raimond said, kissing my cheek. 

I was a little star-struck but any misplaced emotion was quickly replaced by steam. My cabbage was on fire! I dashed past our guest, and landed beside the kitchen range--in time to save the side dish.  

Joining the two men at the table, I wanted to hear all about how this young winemaker managed to turn around a natural catastrophy. Raimond's latest vintage, called "Grêle," was thoughtfully named after the devastating hailstorm that stole his future harvest at his Chateau de Roquefort. If that isn't bad enough, it hijacked the next year's grapes as well--for when hail hits the vines its damage affects the vine's constitution.

As we sat down to eat, Raimond told us the story. "In seven minutes I had lost everything!"  

Facing bankruptcy, Raimond was surprised by a miracle. It began when one winemaker offered him a couple cases of grapes....

Then another vigneron encouraged Raimond to harvest several rows of vines at his domaine, never mind it wasn't in the same appellation (Bandol). Similar offers began pouring in across southern France until Raimond realized what was happening: people were coming out of the woodwork to help. And not just people--extremely busy winemakers who should normally be working round the clock to meet their own harvest deadlines!

With this kind of encouragement and support, Raimond quickly learned not only to accept the handouts, but to encourage them. In order for the gifted grapes to amount to something, he would need enough fruit to fill his tanks so that he might have the chance to entirely replace the lost vintage.

To organize such a feat is one thing--getting it to clear nit-picky customs is quite another. The grapes were rolling in from all over the Mediterranean--and from Bandol all the way up to Chateauneuf-du-Pape! Normally this would be an evil customs' officers hayday (those notoriously strick bureaucrats, in charge of controlling wine production, seem to love to find the glitch. And here, there were enough broken rules to land all the renegade winemakers in the principal's office.)

But an astonishing thing happened. The customs officers closed their eyes on all the grape-schlepping! What's more, they seemed moved by the sweating effort and sacrifice of the winemakers. In what could be a competitive field, winemakers were now sharing more than their grapes, they were sharing their machinery, their cellars, their lunches, and their savoir-faire.

One of the unexpected rewards about this organized effort was the chance for Raimond to work in so many different wine cellars, while accepting all the handouts, and to see how everyone made wine. "It reminds me of how chefs work--each with his own method of cooking a great meal."

As Raimond recounted his story, he paused here and there to pick up the lambchops Jean-Marc had grilled. "You don't mind if I use my hands?" he asked. 

"Bien sûr que non!" I insisted. Still, I couldn't determine whether or not the braised cabbage with chestnuts was a hit or a miss with our guest... And when, finally, he turned his attention to the side dish, shoveling it down with glee, I felt as relieved as the winemaker must have, the day every lost grape was retrieved.  


Post note: Hopefully there will be another story about Raimond, who will use his grafting expertese to help us plant our new vineyard this spring! Stay tuned.


Raimond de villeneuve3
Another group of empathetic winemakers who contributed to Raimond's "Grêle" vintage. The sign they are holding offers this heartwarming message: "Du Mourvèdre de la Tour du Bon pour Raimond!" (Some mourvèdre from the Tour de Bon for Raimond!)

To comment on today's post, click here. If you enjoyed Raimond's story, send him a note here in the comments section

You can visit Raimond's website, with information about his Chateau de Roquefort wines, here.

French Vocabulary
bonnard = fun, easy to get along with, cool
il est bonnard = he's a good guy
au pif = by guesswork
je l'ai fait au pif = I winged it
à la bise = in "bise" fashion (la bise, or faire la bise, is to kiss someone on both cheeks)
le vigneron = winemaker 

Listen to A French Christmas and "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 

You were asking how the dogs were getting along with the cats...

So I leave you, now, with these photos....

Left to right: Mama Braise ("brez"), her son, Smokey, and that's Lily the calico.

You are wondering where Lily's brother, Pancho, is? No worries. He wasn't eaten. 

Pancho was watching the scene from above. Happy holiday season to all! 

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Oh, no -- I've never seen Braise look so sad. She usually has a look of love in her eyes. Not any more :-(

Teresa Person

Those are the sweetest pics of the dogs and the cat ... Brought my first smile of the day to me..

Fay Plauche' Butler

Perfect Christmas story; people coming together not only to make wine but lemonade. ;o)

In your area, at least, there is peace on Earth and certainly good will among men. In the face of so much unrest, it is a joy to read about.

Fay Plauche' Butler

Chris Allin

Random acts of kindness. It doesn't get any better than that!
(I experienced one four days ago ...very humbling.)

Braise and Smokey have the sweetest, softest brown eyes.
Such seemingly gentle dogs....


Such a lovely heart-warming post - thank you. Have a wonderful festive season with all your family and friends.

Janine Burge

Wow! Bonjour Kristen,

Je suis une novelle ami de cette media sociale. J’ai eu un chat qui était calico et son nom était Lili aussi ! Nous nous avons reconnaît en animal de compagnie. Malheureusement, elle est née en deux mil six. Ma famille et moi nous l’avons adoré. Actuellement, nous avons cinq chats.


Heather in Arles

This was such a wonderful post for the holidays. And I have to say that I love it when I am wrong! I certainly imagined the wine world as "cut-throat" and "chaqun pour soi" after seeing Mondovino. Raimond's story is fantastic and I bet the wine is incredible!!!

And of course the photos just melted my heart. We are so lucky to have Goldens (or wise :). Perhaps I am wrong but beautiful Braise just looks like she is trying really hard not to move a muscle!

With all of my Best from Arles,
PS. I will make the side dish as I am on a cabbage kick, thank you!


The kittens are gorgeous and adorable! I love seeing them with the dogs, it is enough to melt one's heart!!!

Sue jean

Parfait histoire. Je suis veuve maintenant, mais mon mari et moi, nous avons visité les vignerons de France fréquente, et toujours nous avons trouvé que ils sont très gentil.

Après 12 années je encore reçois une lettre de Geoffroy et Marie-Odile Choppin de Janvry de Domaine Albert Morot, qui décrit le récolte etc.

Please forgive my mediocre French.

Cheryl in STL

I love your story! It always warms my heart to hear about people reaching out to help each other, providing support in ways that are somtimes unimaginable (like the government turning its head!). Thanks for sharing it!

On another note, your side dish sounds wonderful!!

Edie Schmidt


A great story about Raimond and sweet pictures of dogs and cats!

Joyeux Noel to you too!

Edie from Savannah



What a great post have inspired me once again with your beautiful words and outstanding photos. I already adore Raimond, and I am hoping Jean-Marc will take me to visit his Chateau de Roquefort on my next visit. I ´searched´all the info I could find on Raimond - wow! - the history of his Chateau is amazing. I can´t wait for a visit, I want to paint his pigs!!! In the meantime I think I´ll paint off the photo from his web site. J.M. could you please secure two (2) bottles of Raimond´s ¨GRELE´for my stash, my wine trunk is in Kristi´s office down by your boule court. I loved, loved this story - I am filled with so many happy thoughts and dreams because of your sharing today Kristi.

I also think I might paint Raimond at the beach, what a photo that was, I have never seen anything like it.



Bill in St. Paul

What a great story about the kindness of other vignerons, they were probably realizing that it could have just as easily been them! Braise does look a little sad, but she's probably wondering how long those cats are going to be here - surely, they're not staying! Smokey, on the other hand, seems to be saying "don't worry, Mom, I'll protect you from these fierce cats!"

Cynthia Gillespie-Smith

Kristi, this is my all time favorite post. The story of Raimond is incroyable -- such generosity in the wine business astonished me. And your lovely kittens are growing so fast! I'd like to try your cabbage dish, but hmmmm, don't know if I can find chestnuts in Puerto Vallarta.

Sandy in FL

Very nice story about Raimond and I love seeing the new pictures of Smokey, Braise, Lily and Poncho - a delightful start to my morning. Merry Christmas to all of you (2 legs and 4!!)

winn gregory

Please always do this column. You better than wine are getting better every year and in the most respectful way you are a beauty inwardly and out. Raimond Jean et votre famille, ils sont les tresors, sans doute. Je agree incroyable. Je ne agree pas that Braise looks sad. Thank you so very much for this Christmas story. I have forwarded it to almost everyone I know. Love to you both and Joyeux Noel. AND OH how do we order Rouge et Bleu et Grele, aussi? Here in our little town it is not on the shelves even though I have asked.


What a wonderful story! Just recently, a devastatingly cold storm bearing more snow than anyone ever needed swept through the northern US. Ranchers in North Dakota experienced crippling livestock losses. A rescue effort was mounted all over the West, with ranchers donating cattle to North Dakota ranchers, others arranging for transport, and still others donating funds to purchase more cattle to donate. People are good.

Jan  Hersh

Man's humanity to man is one of my favorite themes and breaking through the French bureaucracy is another. Brava!

Cynthia Lewis (Eastern Shore of Maryland)

Wonderful touching post today……one of my favorites, also, but then each post seems to be my favorite. I cannot choose. Lily and Pancho have settled right into the Espinasse household! Such lovely photos….many thanks for them and for sharing Raimond's story which renews one's "faith in mankind".


Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story. I just bought 6 bottles of Grele 2012 in the USA and can't wait to give them as gifts. FYI - Woodland Hills Wine Co in NY uses GSO shipping to California, Arizona and Nevada, so my overnight shipping was $17 for 6 bottles!! I can't wait to see the label which lists every vineyard who donated grapes. BRAVO to all the caring, compassionate people involved.

Please pass along our best wishes to Raimond.

Gros Bises, Smiley in Scottsdale

Lisa Sangster

A perfectly inspiring story and beautifully written. I was in tears. I love how God turns our mess into a message.

Lisa Sangster
Colorado Springs, CO

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
I love today's story of winemakers coming together to help out one of their own. What a sweet story! I also love the photos of the dogs and cats. The one of Braise, Smokey and Lily is precious! I love Braise's sideways glance at Lily.... wondering if Lily is going to move in for good on her dog bed!

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Thanks Kristin for a heartwarming post. It made my morning! I love the story of the winemakers ---- such grace.

And I adore the photos of Braise, Smokey & the kittens. They are sweet and so loving.

Have a Merry Christmas!

And be well.......

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Thanks Kristin for a heartwarming post. It made my morning! I love the story of the winemakers ---- such grace.

And I adore the photos of Braise, Smokey & the kittens. They are sweet and so loving.

Have a Merry Christmas!

And be well.......

gerry o.

Beautiful story. It is amazing to see that when we humble ourselves to accept assistance how broad the response is and that gratitude permeates throughout everyone and it will probably even affect the vintage.


Our dear Kristi,
You could not have given us a more lovely gift than that of your post today..How beautifully written,what beautiful sentiments,sharing a wonderful meal with a friend,one you and others have helped to return to his livihood.
There could not be inspiration more than this kindness.Truly what life is about.
Your cabbage sounds like heaven!(my belle mere used to saute down the whole cored,chopped head in alittle water and oil/butter..till it got almost crunchy.Then top pasta or fried potatoes with it.)
Bless you and your dear family always.
Natalia. xo

Lorrie Kazan

Beautiful pics and wonderful story. Thank you, Kristi!

susan klee,

I winged it (je l'ai fait au pif)--sauteing red onion, one choux rouge, and 3 golden apples.... // and a partridge in a pear tree//! my musical brain could not help adding at this time of year.
A nother great tale of life among the grapes and a nother great bit of French (faire au pif!) we would never learn at the Alliance. Merci mille fois all over again, Kristi.


My comments are often little but I adore reading Kristi, her stories are wonderful with a little french to help all who are new to this lovely language. I want to tell you all a little story of my own. Begging! Yes, I'm one who often stumbles "should I, should I not, with a coin out of my purse. I have come across three persons that stick in my mind. The first was a young man who just wanted to play music at the Cognac jazz Festival, he begged for a little money to feed his loyal companion, ' a dog '. My second in our local market, a very young man, well spoken & begging with his hat on the ground. I watched this young man going around the local supermarket, with a small cardboard box he placed inside it one packet of biscuits, pain; cheap table wine, sandwich, dried food for his dog. All in all the selected items were around €6. He was just so humble in every aspect. My third man is elderly, he just sits outside the post office with his cap on the ground, he really ask's for nothing just the odd coin if you can spare it 'please'. On first seeing this elderly man well, yes I passed him by! Thinking 'oh yes,' money for 'beer, wine & cigars!! Oh how very wrong I was/ These people are really homeless, I mean homeless. NO, fuel: No electric; Toilet, Shower, Freezing cold, nothing.Please next time you pass someone in the street, think again it could be like the story above, how wonderful people rallied around with the offerings of grapes to help Raimond

Carmel Balchin

What a wonderful story Kristin, so full of hope and encouragement. Your pets are beautiful and I love the look of "oh alright it can sit there" on Braise's face and Smokey's tongue is hilarious!
My son, thank God, safely returned from 6 months in Afghanistan this year and is taking 12 months off to study french this coming year. I too will take a course and expand on my 'schoolgirl' knowledge. Such a beautiful language. I keep your vocabularies they are excellent.
My best wishes to you and your family for a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful and healthy 2014. You keep so many people happy with your newsletters, thank you!


So LOVE hearing stories about how KIND and WONDERFUL people can be to one another instead of the other way around! Think these are the stories we all need to hear more of instead of the other way around!! :-)

Georgia Schall

It is so heartwarming to hear of such caring colleagues in the wine industry! A story of kindness and support at this time of the year was just what the Dr. ordered!

And those precious pics of the dogs allowing Lily to cuddle with them if with a wary eye! That was fast to find some kind of harmony in a relative short period of time. I have a hunch that it just may have something to do with a kind family!

Best wishes for a delightful holiday season!


A heartwarming wonderful Christmas story. Thank you, Kristi.

Sandy Vann

Such a lovely and uplifting story for this Christmas season...bravo to your new friend and to all who rallied to support him.
The photos of the petite chats and dogs are adorable. Room for all at the inn? :)
Joyeux Noel to you Kristin and your family.

Diane Young

"Good Christian Men, Rejoice!" came to mind on reading your lovely story about the kindness of strangers who rallied to help. The French folk that you tell us about so often seem to have that quality of helping their neighbors. I think it's part of the genetic makeup of certain regions, similar to the farmers who rally around to help someone raise a barn or round up lost livestock. When you live in a certain situation, you can relate to others in a similar one and reach out to help without thinking twice. It's a wonderful quality to have and you are blessed to live in that world. It's a great way to begin Advent in preparation for the birth of the Christ Child, isn't it?

Lorraine Whitten

When your little calico kitty,Lily, has kittens, she may have a little male orange tabby like my beloved Dante. Who,for eight years, has patrolled the neighborhood and kept the field mice and salamanders at bay and providing us with many stories and lots of laughs. Enjoy! They look as if they really love each other. We should learn from them.

Debbie Houston

I had surgery on my right foot in October. I am still in a cast. I get around precariously on a scooter. Wherever I go, people are kind and accommodating because of the foot. Especially they open doors for me at restaurants or wherever I go. But I wonder. How many people walk around with wounds of the heart that we can't see? How nice it would be to accommodate one another at all times.

Nancy, San Antonio, Texas

That sauté sounds wonderful- will try this week. As always, thank you for a delightful peek into life in France. Hope you are having a wonderful day!!


What a great story ! And lovely pics (dogs & cats "in perfect harmony" !
Regarding what you said : "à la bise"... I never heard such an expression in France (and as you know I'm french !). Maybe it's... local ?! But not from the South.
As for "choux", in your text it's not plural, so no "x" !
Next and last stuff (actually it should have been the first !) : "bonnard" can easily be translated into..."cool", very often used in french as you surely know !!
Sorry for all that, but I'm very pleased to read your stories and... I love languages, especially your native tongue.
Have a very nice Sunday with that wonderful - but rather cold - weather !

PS : sorry for the mistakes I could have made...

M. Raimond's story is heartwarming. How extraordinary to see so many potential rivals and functionaries "step up to the plate" and help one in a crisis like this. Even at 86, most of us have not accumulated many stories like this, of true compassion and generosity.

Suzanne Dunaway

Le "bonnard" is VERY dishy.......
I'm sure you'll have more requests for cabbage with apples and chestnuts!!
If you wish to zap any dish, practically any dish at all, add a dash of lemon juice.
You'll never taste it, but the dish will.

gail bingenheimer

Il le dit à qui veut bien l'entendre. (He tells it to anyone who (to whoever) is willing to hear it.

june furey

Kristi thank you for your up lifting story about Raymonde, as always you never fail to uplift me with your beautiful stories, its not just the content but the natural way you are able to write. I am so grateful to have your emails coming to me each week, may the festive season be full of joy and happiness for you and your family merci
June artiste ami, Qld

Mary James

Is Raimond de Villeneuve connected to the Villeneuve family of Les Arcs and Sainte Roseline....truly he has a great protecter. I would love to purchase you think it is still available?

Sandy Maberly

Raimond sounds like a really nice, genuine fellow. I'm sure you will all become fast friends! My husband always says that I look for the best in people, sometimes naively so, but your story today supports my beliefs. I love stories that confirm the goodness of people! Thanks for sharing that and for the pictures of the fur babies! Looks like Lily & Pancho are ruling the roost now. Sweet!


What an inspiring story of good people helping others! Thank you!

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