TODAY'S WORD: La Prestation
: a service, offering, performance
Translation of opening sentence into French:
L'une des prestations que Jean-Marc propose dans le cadre de son entreprise autour du vin est la visite de vignobles.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
C’est la rentrée and Jean-Marc’s vineyard tours are off to a promising start this fall season thanks to an unexpected client: ma soeurette. (Not to be confused with ma soeur aînée, Heidi in Denver.)
My little sister Kelley, her husband, Brad, his 5 fraternity brothers, and their wives are here visiting from Seattle, renting connected villas in Roussillon. Because the group shares an appreciation of fine wines, mon beau-frère et petite soeur asked Jean-Marc to show them some typical southern French wine estates.
Mais avec plaisir!
Last Friday in Châteauneuf-du-Pape the skies were a rich Provencal blue and the air refreshing after the recent canicule. Fields of leafy green vines flanked the narrow chemin leading up to the partly-standing chateau. Cruising towards this historic landmark, we were suddenly engulfed in a familiar scene: tractors, buckets, secateurs, and vendangeurs…. This visceral environment we were now experiencing was none other than our old stomping grounds—et c’est le cas de le dire.
Excited to be back during harvest time, I lowered my window to inhale the scent of crushed grapes as Jean-Marc sped toward the chateau ruins, where our tour was about to begin.
Entering the Southern Rhone village from the north side, Uncle Jean-Claude's caveau, came into view and it was like passing through a movie set. This part of town was untouched, as one had left it decades ago…. From the passenger seat I recognized the patina of old stone buildings which filed by in a blur of nostalgie. What a privilege it was to have spent so much time here during harvest--even if, back then, the overriding feeling was when are we going to stop picking grapes for the day? And stop sniffing for "la pourriture" or Noble Rot?
Here we were back, now, as tourists, having swapped our grape-stained t-shirts and caps for linen and straw hats. Pulling into the chateau parking lot I spotted my sister Kelley! A giant hug soon bridged our one-year separation. My brother-in-law, Brad, joined us, followed by his fraternity brothers and their wives. After a warm introduction, Jean-Marc stood in front of the massive ruins of the old castle for a brief history about Châteauneuf-du-Pape terroir and an overview of our imminent excursion…and just like that we were off to the grape fields, in a curious convoy of three rental cars and one all-terrain vehicle.
On the way, we passed through Châteauneuf-du-Pape again, via le centre ville. How it had changed! I saw high-tech cellars, modern cafes, and chic boutiques. No time to shop we were headed for Le Bois de Boursin, to see Syrah vines planted among large galets roulés. Carefully stepping out of our vehicles, I noticed all the ladies made it across the large, smooth stones in their sandals, which meant the next two fields would only be easier to navigate (for the girls anyway... as for the rental cars we’d see about that….).
Pulling into the next lieu-dit, "Grand Pierre" (to witness Grenache in sandy soil) wasn’t a problem. But when it came time for all four cars to back out of the narrow path at the top of the field, that took skill (one thing the fraternity brothers were actively demonstrating. But were they ready for the final challenge?).
On our way out of Le Grand Devès (having viewed Mourvèdre planted among limestone) Jean-Marc and I, in our 4x4 Jimny, headed the convoy. Suddenly the dirt path turned into a deeply-creviced, rocky, inhospitable terrain. “Jean-Marc,” I said between clenched teeth, “I don't think this is a road…at least not for rental cars!” Glancing into the rearview mirror, I could see the rest of our group through the dust, bobbing up and down when miraculously those cars morphed into hot rods! I guess they were determined to finally taste the world-renown wines they’d been hearing about for the past hour.
A BARREL TASTING AND MICHELIN-STAR LUNCH
At the recently-acquired Château Maucoil, owner Bernard DuSeigneur offered our dusty group a warm welcome, followed by a barrel tasting in the cellars. He then escorted us back to the chateau’s terrace, to a long table set with fine linens and adorned with greenery from the gardens—a beautiful backdrop for the 5-course meal to come. We were amazed this vineyard owner, along with three helpers and one lively chef, would be serving us throughout this mouthwatering déjeuner sur la terrace.
I could go into detail about every bite—the soupe au pistou that rivaled my belle-mere’s, the delicate cod on a bed of fennel and seaweed, the roasted guinea hen cooked in the estate's wine, the artful cheese plate and its zucchini-ribbons—but the chef merits the extended commentaire. Animated, flirtatious, and full of saucy anecdotes, Jean-Claude Altmayer was what my belle-mère would call sacré—as in sacré Jean-Claude. I’ve never entirely understood the meaning of that word, but never mind. Here we were immersed in one sacré experience, among family and new friends including the vineyard owner himself.
We raised our glasses, toasting to a return to this magnificent table in three years' time….I hope everyone will rent four-wheel drives then. Who knows where Jean-Marc will take us next?
* * *
The definitions, below, are in context, and the words may have multiple meanings.
la prestation = service
l’histoire = story
c’est la rentrée = it’s back to work
la soeurette = younger sister
la soeur aînée = older sister
le beau-frère = brother-in-law
la canicule = heatwave
le chemin = road
le vendangeur = harvester
c'est le cas de le dire = you can say that again
le caveau = cellar
le terroir = soil, land
le centre ville = town center
le galet roulé = pebble
le lieu-dit = location, site, locale
sacré = 1. quite the character (person)
sacré (repas)= 2. On hell of a (meal)
Ouistiti! = Cheese! ("smile for the photo")
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Natalia & Rod & Les Mignons
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Happy birthday to Jackie who turned 26 on Monday! Here she is some 20 years earlier in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. To comment on this post, click here if reading via email.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety