To be in limbo
French Etiquette: Did you know about this rule for cheese? I sure didn't!

Before We Move... The Story of How We Came to Live at Mas des Brun

Picture of the balcony off our bedroom. It was my dream to live in a stone house and, in 2012, this rêve came true--with a view of the sea to boot!

TODAY'S WORD: sourire

    : (noun) smile
    : (verb) to smile

AUDIO FILE: Listen to the following quote: Download MP3

Ne pleure pas parce que c'est fini, souris parce que c'est arrivé. - Dr Seuss
In recent posts, I have been showing you photos of our farmhouse and vineyard, which we are in the process of selling. I thank you for your messages, including Dr Seuss' words, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." As I think about the four years spent in a most endearing place, there are tears, certainly. But oh, the sourires!


    by Kristi Espinasse

When Guy Hibbert, France Today’s editor-in-chief emailed me, mentioning that he’d planned a press trip to Provence and asking whether he could visit our vineyard, Mas des Brun, I panicked. "Vineyard" was suddenly a very big word! How exactly did it translate in my would-be visitor’s mind? Did it conjure up an image of elegant iron gates, beyond which a gravel path led up a hill dotted with vines, each row decorated with a heritage rosier?

At the end of this manicured chemin, would Guy spot a courtyard lined with topiaries? Would his eyes, tickled by the sculpted trees, then feast on a Provençal bastide? And would the chatelaine then gracefully appear, before immense carved-wood doors flanked with antique urns and some sort of noble moss flowing out. Indeed, is moss noble?

I don’t know. But there is such a thing as noble rot! And that’s how we ended up here, in this vineyard by the sea. But let us step away from the excitement of the moment – follow me, now, back to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where a life-changing harvest was underway…

“That’s noble rot!” exclaimed Uncle Jean-Claude, who waved his clippers as a sign to go ahead and drop the moldy grapes into my bucket. We were picking the classic ‘13 cépages’ at my in-law’s vineyard, the Domaine du Banneret. It was September of 1995 and my second vendange.

“Keep them! They’re the best grapes!” my husband shouted, relaying the message down the line of pickers – a motley crew of family members, ranging from our firstborn, Max, to Jean-Claude’s mother, Marinette, who wore a floral-printed apron and kept an eagle-eye on everyone.

I can still hear the thunk of metal handles hitting the sides of the buckets each time we set them down beside another heavily-laden vine. The trunks being goblet-shaped, we had to crouch down, level with the smooth galets. The stones were heated by the afternoon sun, but we were freezing from the ankles up as the Mistral wind tore through the vineyard, carrying off our sunhats and whirling my hair around my head, effectively blinding me.

“Watch your fingers!” my husband, Jean-Marc, called out. I could barely see him through my sun-bleached blindfold. The girl next to me, who would become godmother to our unborn child, spit windblown hair out of her mouth, and swore, “This is my first and last harvest! Quelle torture!”

I spied my husband one row over, tending an old Grenache vine. The look of rapture on his face was unmistakable. The realization hit: there would not be a last harvest for me, ever…

Jean-Marc quit his fluorescent-lit auditor’s office in Marseilles for the sunlit campagne Aixoise. Over the coming years he would work as sales director for two prestigious wineries. His new career involved traveling outside of Provence, where he met cavistes, restaurateurs, importers and other key figures in the wine world.

Switching wineries in 1998, we now lived in the grounds of a 12th century château, a stone’s throw from Saint-Tropez, where our apartment overlooked orchards and vine fields. Our children – we now had a beautiful baby girl – would spend the next few years chasing each other through the vines and playing cache-cache among the olive trees. On lazy family walks around the domaine, Jean-Marc often paused to tuck an errant branch into place along the wire or pull a greedy weed from the foot of an ageing syrah. It was clear just where in the world of wine he needed to be: at ground level!

A Vignoble Quest

Jean-Marc wanted his own vines and he knew exactly where. A boyhood spent swimming in the calanques and hunting oursins, or sea urchins, along the Mediterranean held a trance over him. He set his sights on a  modest vignoble in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, but we soon learned that buying a vineyard in France wasn’t a straightforward procedure.

All agricultural transactions had to go through SAFER (Sociétés d’Aménagement Foncier et d’Établissement Rural), the government entity which controls all farmland purchases. We were assigned a representative, who seemed to favour our profile. Thus encouraged, we began sketching where the cellar would go and scouting the countryside to see where our kids would be schooled and where we would buy our morning baguette. But our hopes were dashed when a call came from SAFER: the buying rights would be given to a local farmer. The next months were bumpy – Jean-Marc was let go at work, but the good news was that his lawyer succeeded in winning him damages for unfair termination.

It was while perusing a viticulture journal that Jean-Marc noticed vines for sale at Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes in the Vaucluse – prime Côtes du Rhône terroir. The grapes were being sold to the co-op, but once we purchased the property – 23 investors and a bank loan later – Jean-Marc created a winery-sur-place, naming it the Domaine Rouge-Bleu, after our Franco-American union.

The salesman-turned-farmer learned from the ground up, living the emotional highs and quirky lows of winemaking. The wind broke his vines, the locals stole his compost and the tractor nearly cost him his life when the brakes went out, sending him and a ton of grapes hurtling downhill toward traffic! However, the newbie winemaker persevered and put a price tag on his first bottles which made area winemakers jealous. And when they snickered at his unusual ideas, calling him an hurluberlu, or nut, for practicing biodynamics – he was steeping horsetail plant tea for his vines and concocting field sprays made of cow manure – Jean-Marc was too busy receiving the good news to care. His first vintage, ‘Mistral 07’, received a gold medal from the Paris International Agricultural Show and 91 points in The Wine Spectator!

Towards Provence…

However, after five years in the Rhône, that soulful yearning for la mer returned. We began looking for a vineyard in Bandol, a search which proved impossible until a local winemaker gave us a tip about a unique property. There was just one catch – it only had olives, no vines.

The 20-acre domain safeguarded an ancient oliveraie. Historical restanques – or stone terraces – ascended the hillside, whispering the property’s raison d’être. Here was an amphitheatre for the grapes that would make Jean-Marc’s very own Bandol wine! He wrote to the owner, introducing himself, his family and our collective dream. Encouraged when the propriétaires responded, supporting our project, we began – once again – to envisage our dream estate, the children’s school, the morning baguette… when another hope-dashing call came!

By progressing with our plans, we’d somehow set off an alarm at SAFER headquarters and now the French government was interested in the property, too! Irony of ironies, for it was their job to help us locate farmland and now they might take our finding away and, according to buying rights legislation, provide it to a “fitting” candidate.

Our situation was all but hopeless and there was nothing to do but cooperate. After all, each party had something to lose: if SAFER bought the property then they risked not being able to sell it right away as the farmer they had in mind didn’t want the house that belonged with the land. In the end, we came to an agreement: the two best parcels would be sold to the local. We could now buy les restes

Let me now return you to the opening scene of our story, at our budding vineyard, where we’re anxiously anticipating the visit of our editor-in-chief, in the middle of a storm. On the upside, it was too dark and grey outside to tell whether we have a manicured courtyard or just some old wine barrels hosting a gaggle of daisies. And as for the antique door and heritage roses, well, our honored guest hurried in out of the rain so fast that he didn’t realize they were missing! In any case, at that point, our collective attention was focused upon the kitchen door, beneath which a flood was rushing in.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Hibbert!” Throwing Guy some towels, I explained that we’d just need to stem the flood until Jean-Marc arrived. Just where the devil was he, I thought? He was due here an hour ago for this interview! In the meantime, our eminent guest looked relaxed, even amused – if a bit damp – as we sloshed wet towels around the makeshift tasting room.

Although I’d tried to imagine the perfect setting for this crucial meeting, the eventual disaster possessed a charm all of its own. And when Jean-Marc appeared in time to dig a trench – re-routing the torrent to a future vine field – Guy may have recognized him as a true paysan, ever at the mercy of the weather and French bureaucracy, but who – if worth his wine – is willing to labor through all such uncertainties.


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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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In addition to my family, I am so grateful for you and your family. You have provided an insight into what REAL French life is like. The joys, the sorrows, the good times and the not-so-good. You have given life to my dream of one day living in Provence.
I wish you and Jean-Marc the very best in whatever ventures present themselves to you, and I hope you will continue to share your lives with all your fans.
Milles bisous!!

Janet Hulstrand

Kristin, This is just beautiful, beautiful writing. (And living.) Bless all of you, Happy Thanksgiving and don't stop telling your stories! (I know you won't) :-)

John Hawke

Beautiful story. We must all be thankful for every minute of every day and enjoy friends and family. Thank you for sharing yours and thank Jean-Marc as well.

Patricia Sands

I echo John Hawke's words in his comment above, Kristi: through the good and the not-so-good days, every one of them is a gift for which to be thankful. What a treasure trove of memories you have! Thank you for continuing to share them in your inimitable fine fashion. Voyons ce que l'avenir sera fait!


What a beautifully written memoir. Merci, Kristin. Who knows what the future will bring. We will all be keeping positive thoughts for you and Jean-Marc. Perhaps another home by the sea? All best wishes to you on this day of Thanksgiving, and bon courage for the future.

Suzanne Codi

Thank you Kristi, as always , for sharing your family's life with us. I know your readers live vicariously through all your and Jean-Marc's dreams, and that we will continue to do so as long as you continue to share them with us! I loved this post, filled with sweet memories, and also with anticipation for your next adventure! I am thankful for my wonderful family and for every healthy day that we live on this beautiful earth. Also thankful for our many friends who are like family and for the positive energy that hopefully will keep us all going in these very uncertain times! Bon courage a vous tous, et joyeux Jour du Merci Donnant !!! ( Art Buchwald's famous translation of Thanksgiving, hysterical reading! )

J. Christina

Kristi, thank you for sharing your lovely and intimate story about your life, family and vineyard in France. We all have so much to be thankful for today and always. I get your husbands love of the land and all that it encompasses. I live on my families Christmas Tree farm here in the Midwest, and the deep love that goes with the heritage of a place that has been in the family for over 150 years.

Wishing you and your family the very best moving forward today and always.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Thanks, Kristi, for your literary thoughts so skillfully presented via this blog!

As a chronologically challenged couple, going on 54 years together, Sharron and I are thankful for our good health and the successful outcome of Sharron’s recent heart surgery.

To all. . . . . . . . .

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!


There is so much to be thankful for - crisp cool air, my home, family, Yogi and Goldie, Ac and heat, hot and cold running water , etc. all the niceties we take for granted every day. Including your wonderful writing and courage of your family to follow dreams and begin new ones. Merci.

Geraldine Ventura

Happy and blessed Thanksgiving, Kristi! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I hope you and your husband complete your dreams in the near future!Always look forward to your blog with all you share about your wonderful life!

Bruce in NW CT

We longtime readers know most of the story already — even so, this retelling is touching and wonderful. Now I'm feeling all wistful.

Also, the transition to the flashback was so smooth, I didn't even notice it. Well done.

P.S. "favour"? Really?!

Deb Locke & Gary Vines

This Thanksgiving morning (a winter nomad in the Arizona desert) I am grateful to you, Kristi, for this beautiful re-telling of your vineyard's beginnings. Thank you for the reminder that although our own lovely old stone house in Sablet will be a chapter, not the whole story, it will still have been a most beautiful gift to have once lived in a village in Provence. Be thankful today and cherish every moment. Our best wishes to you and Jean-Marc as you write the next chapter together...

Kindred spirit

Kristi and Jean-Marc...
Beautiful restrospective follow-up today to your last post. Who among us wouldn't be grieving your loss of such inspiring dreams, romantic scenery and life plans. I too grieved moving from our beautiful colonial reproduction family home in Pennsylvania. It took 13 years past retirement and much exploration before deciding on our next step. Once it was time and I was ready plans fell quickly into place. Fifty years of mementos, photos and collectibles found new homes as well. Now my life's downsized, focused on grandchildren, my passions and exploring a new place. It's a win win situation. I love the sentiments of Eleanor Roosevelt who encouraged us to focus on lighting a candle, not cursing the darkness.
So this sadness too shall pass.
May light, love and life grace you on this Thanksgiving Day.

Trina from St. Petersburg, FL USA

Oh, Krisiti. I so needed those words of Dr. Seuss today. Thank you!!


So this has been bothering me for over an hour must clarify. The government can tell a property owner who he/she can and cannot sell to?

Adeline from Reunion Island

Thank you for this beautiful text, as ever, thank you, thank you! Pas le courage d'écrire en anglais ce soir, mais après quelques mois "perturbés", j'ai enfin pris le temps de reconnecter avec ce merveilleux blog. J'ai connu moi aussi cette période de turbulences et je sais par expérience maintenant que les paroles du Dr Seuss sont vraies! Mais... moi aussi j'ai versé quelques larmes! Change is a chance! Heureux Thanksgiving à vous tous. Je vous envoie mes meilleures pensées.

Faye LaFleur

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for the gift of life, for this magnificent universe and everything in it.

Lovely photos and I thank you, Kristi, for your stories. I always look forward to receiving them!

Gretchen Dawson

What a beautifully written retrospective...reading it soon after I woke up made for perfect start to my Thanksgiving Day. Thank you for sharing your story and your dreams. I hope that the future holds the best to come for you and your family. I am grateful for your inspiring posts and for the life lessons you teach us through them. Wishing you many blessings and joy.

Pam Wing

I remember when you posted the first pictures of the farmhouse and how how lovely you have made it. I marveled at the amount of work that was put into creating a vinyard. It has been a joy following you and your family, seeing your children grow and begin to find their own way, and now you are off to a new life of your own.

Please let us continue to follow you. I look forward to your blog.

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,

Your voice has always brought us hope in face of adversity and change and continues to do so, especially as you go through a tremendous change in your life.
We also understand having the dream and the opportunity to live it. The experience and the memories can become part of our very fiber and who we are. This story describes the "stuff" you and Jean-Marc are made of. A new story bringing new strengths will emerge to once more weave into the fiber of your lives.

As George and I prepare for our family dinner today (easier to do after roasting and peeling 10 pounds of fresh chestnuts!) we are thankful for so much, especially the opportunity you and Jean-Marc afforded us that so validated our love for our past life in France. We wish you both and your families blessings at this time of Thanksgiving. And hopes that each careful step forward as the universe unfolds brings you closer to peace and serenity.

Chris and George

Sue Lennox

Merci l'histoire, Kristi, et un bon fete des pelerins a tous!


Blessings come in all shapes and sizes, yours is painting in beautiful words. They paint wonderful pictures of your life. On this Thanksgiving Day, thank you for shareing your family life with us. May life bless you with great joy and happiness.


Happy Thanksgiving!!

It occurred to me, couldn't you sell shares to your vineyard, or make it a co-op, and thus
get the funds to find adequate help. etc.?? Instead of selling.

Katherine Albrecht

Kristin, I am thankful for your beautiful writing and great story of how you came to be where you are from the beginning of your vineyard experiences with Jean-Marc's family. What an adventure of a married life you have led! It seems as though more curves and ups and downs are in your future, but those twists and turns keep us ALL alive and fighting for balance and satisfaction and meaning in our lives. Thank goodness you write so beautifully and we get to share in your progress! AND you get to do it in our beloved France. Here is wishing you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving from San Francisco.

Judi in Lake Balboa

I'm thankful for you! I'm also , of course, very thankful for all the time I had with my husband and for our beautiful daughter, her husband, and our sweet almost one year old grandson, little Christopher. For every life, there is a season. May you and your family be well-blessed in this season of change!

Joanne Ablan

Bonjour, Kristin,
I am thankful for my adult son who got up early this morning to go cheerfully to work. I am also thankful for my extended family with whom I will share a phone call and for my neighbors with whom I will share our noon meal. Many thanks to you and yours for sharing the adventures of your lives. The challenges have been inspirational. Wishing you a long life and a family home filled with many grandchildren and friends in attendance at many more Thanksgiving celebrations. Joanne


Superb, Kristi, Superb! Aloha, Bill

Marianne Rankin

I am thankful for so much - life, love, family, friends, experiences of all kinds - and the chance to help those less fortunate.

I'm thankful for having been born in France (though I'm American), and the "second heritage" that has given me.

Specifically, I am thankful for Les Espinasses, and French Word-A-Day, and hope someday to meet the whole family in person. I'm thankful for Jean-Marc's visits to the USA, and the couple bottles of Rouge-Bleu that I still have.

I am thankful that your lives have gone well so far, and pray that the next chapter will give you many opportunities to be thankful for whatever lies ahead.



I am thankful for the good moments I have in life that arrive quietly between the tough moments. I am thankful for my family even though there are times they drive me crazy. I am thankful for knowing you.

Take care

Janet Sephton Bailey

I love reading your stories about your family.
Your memory is amazing and the retelling of
your life is at times hilarious but always
thoughtful. Thank you for sharing.


Thank you for sharing your beautifully written story! Happy Thanksgiving!


Our dear Kristi,
Once again your beautiful words and gifted storytelling have wrapped themselves around our hearts and all of us in hugs.
You never fail to give us inspiration and, especially today, to count all of our blessings,especially for the gifts of health and time with our loved ones.
Please know we keep you always in our prayers; and now asking for a good outcome for tomorrow's possible sale of your home.
All will be well.
Natalia XO
PS Herm,we share in your gratitude that Sharron's heart surgery was successful.

Dana Ivey

At the end of Thanksgiving Day in Southern California, one of the things I'm thankful for is your site and the insights you have shared.
What will you do now? Is this blog to cease?
Good luck with selling your dream house and moving on.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,

Thanks for sharing! I never knew this whole story and thankful for you and your family. You all are so open to sharing with all of us!

Happy Weekend!

Leslie NYC

I am that grateful that Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a certain way. I was working in the morning, then with friends at night. Meanwhile my mother was resting in a hospital 250 miles away. I was anxious. We were both grateful for what was going well in our lives, and today she is home. Yeah!
I want to share this website today, as I think it is a great antidote to Black Friday!
Bon weekend a tous!


Thank you Kristi for sharing your story. Life takes us down interesting paths as we follow our dreams. You have a lovely way with words that allow us to feel like we are sitting across the table from you. Best wishes to you all as you continue to move forward and decide what path to take next.

Diane Young

Always thankful for you and your sharing your life's adventures and emotions with us. Have a blessed Advent and Christmas.

elizabeth taza

Kristi et Jean-Marc, It was very interesting to return down memory lane and to, today's date. What a journey , But like you say " with tears & smiles . True, The making off " Life's Time Book ". I wonder why your chosen destination now heading more east-bound ? I wish you both many, many happy years in the exciting new journey of your life & many more exciting stories you will have to tell.
My fondest of wishes, elizabeth Taza

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