From Portland to Bandol to Assam, India -- people all over the world are paying tribute to Steven Smith, who passed away on Monday. Hats off to you, Monsieur Thé.
le thé (tay)
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Aujourd'hui nous rendons homage à notre ami, Steve Smith. Et nous levons notre tasse de thé en sa memoire. Today we pay tribute to our friend Steve Smith. And we raise our cup of tea in his memory.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
"Adieu Monsieur Thé"
News of Steven Smith's passing came as a complete shock. My husband and I were home, preparing for the last leg of our journée. At ten minutes till 4, I had to leave for an appointment in Aix-en-Provence. Jean-Marc, seated on the edge of the bed, was putting on dry socks after getting soaked in the vineyard, where he spent the morning arguing with his tractor (its unweildy "fish-tail" had knocked out 5 precious vines).
Seated near my husband, at my desk, I was shutting down my computer after reading the last comments to yesterday's blog post when I saw Elizabeth's words:
Isn't Max coming to Portland this summer to work for Steven Smith Teamakers? Sad news reported in the Oregonian, Portland's paper, that SS died yesterday from liver cancer. I assume his thriving business will continue, but sad nevertheless- he reinvented tea in the U.S. with Stash, Tazo and now his namesake.
My first instinct was to strike out the words of the messenger, whose announcement had come as a blow. A lump formed in my throat as I reread les nouvelles to Jean-Marc. We logged on to Facebook and witnessed the flood of support. Our own tears, now pinching our eyes, fell, adding to the stream of sympathy.
We met Steve and Kim in 2007 when they visited, along with 8-year-old Jack, our former vineyard in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. Max, twelve at the time, hit it off with Jack, whose French was as good as a native's. As the boys chatted about computer games or tossed the ball to Breizh, we strolled among our fruit-bare vines after harvest time.
It was Kim who had put her husband onto Jean-Marc's wine journal, which was especially interesting to Steve, Kim noted, "because he loves wine, but also is in the tea business; which has many similarities."
I was in awe hearing about the man who had sold his tea company to Starbucks. And I remember being struck meeting the smiling personnage whose curiosity and kindness outshined even his good looks. Following close on his heels as he chatted with Jean-Marc among the vine rows, I hoped some of those supernatural tea leaves might fly out of his pocket and land on us like stardust! But any super magic secret stardust Steve Smith might have wasn't something you had to wish for....
On that post-harvest autumn afternoon, as Kim and I lagged behind the vigneron and the teamaker, one of us fanning the air in favor of flying tealeaves, the other spoke out thoughtfully:
"I know wine and tea aren't exactly the same things," Kim offered, but if there is anyway we can help you, please let us know. We have a little experience in marketing and packaging. :-)"
Sometimes you receive the right offer at the wrong time. Jean-Marc was busy kicking up his own dust in the vineyard. But years would pass, with their harvests and hailstones, and meantime our son would grow up... and begin to offer a new perspective to his father.
As Max helped more and more in the vines, while taking business and marketing classes, we received a reminder from Kim: remember we are here and happy to help!
And so, for his two-month marketing internship beginning in June, Max will be taken under Smith Teamaker's wing. The other brave and beautiful wing has flown now. But if you look to the horizon, above the ethereal mist, you will trace the spectacular golden-sepia shimmer to a trail of tealeaves falling from the sky.
We send our love and support to Steve Smith's family and to all of his friends and fans.
Read the New York Times obituary for Steve, click here.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety