Vineyard tour & lunch Châteauneuf-du-Pape with my Little Sister

Kelley Brad and Fraternity brothers  and wives
One of the prestations Jean-Marc offers within his wine business is Provence vineyard tours. Sometimes I get to join him--especially when my sister is the customer! Read on in today’s histoire.

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. 


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?

*       *       *

Table at Chateau Maucoil

Bernard DuSeigneur Kelley  Kristi vineyard lunch
Bernard DuSeigneur serving his wine from Chateau Maucoil on this lovely terrace with a view.

Kristi and Kelley
A smiley ouistiti for our father, Kip from Kristi and Kelley.

To comment on today's story, click here. Would love to know the town you are writing in from!

The definitions, below, are in context, and the words may have multiple meanings.

Language pronunciation: Click here to listen to the French and English terms

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 =
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")

Jean-Marc Espinasse barrel tasting chateau maucoil
Would you like to join Jean-Marc on a Provence Wine Tour? Click here or simply hit return and send a note if reading this via email.


Wholehearted thanks to readers who sent in a blog donation following last week's post. Your support means a lot, and I am truly grateful! Amicalement, Kristi

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Harvesting grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape when the kids were little.

Jackie in chateauneuf-du-pape
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.

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

etre dans la lune

Across from Domaine Banneret in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (c) Kristin EspinasseOn being on the moon in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Today's subject is absentmindedness....

être dans la lune

    : to be lost in one's thoughts, to be absent-minded ("to be on the moon")

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

De temps en temps elle ne porte pas trop d'attention. Elle est sur la lune.
At times, she doesn't pay attention. She is on the moon. 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

The Absentminded Confessor

We took the day off, yesterday, to join friends in the wine-making town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Chief Grape had called ahead to reserve several vineyard visits, which would be especially interesting for our friends, each of whom is involved, in one way or another, dans le mêtier du vin.

Wine is not my passion, but that did not keep me from tagging along with the grape enthusiasts. Sure, all that vine talk might get boring, but I could always enjoy the company of friends—and then there would be that delicious midday pause (lunch at La Mère Germaine!). There would also be plenty to see—eclectic village windows, sleepy stone façades, and other such camera candy. So what if that meant suffering so many oenopoetic arguments on appellation and vin nature

...At least I think those topics were brought up, then again, how can I be sure? For I did as I always do during a swarm of French conversation: I escaped into the recesses of my mind, letting the foreign chatter dissolve into an agreeable murmur.

The French have an expression for this kind of "absentmindedness" (I prefer a more dignifying  term—such as "mind travel"... or even "thought voyaging", for the hint at adventure... ). For we who lapse into a cognitive retreat, the French say: elle est dans la lune!

Et c'est vrai. There, in the apex of my mind... on that luminous half-moon, my two legs dangling over the golden edge, I can best view and appreciate my surroundings. Removed from the chaos of chatter, the world around me softens up... into a romantic still life. Though I no longer hear, I see: there are French lips flapping—but no voices, arms-flailing—but no words to ride them. When I dip back into conversation, or "come in for a brief landing", I find the opposite to be true: I hear voices... but no longer see those fabulous flapping lips, I understand words... but no longer notice the flailing arms. Perhaps some senses shut down with the opening of others? In that case, one has to choose: between seeing and hearing. Which do you choose?

I used to feel self-conscious about this tendency to float away from conversation, in favor of returning to my lunar perch, where I could swing my legs over the slivered moon's edge and watch the animated scene before me.

I began to have a sneaking suspicion that my inability to pay attention to a conversation might be evidence of a low intelligence quotient. I wondered, was I dumb?

And then I heard about a character called "The Absent-Minded Professor"! I began to feel hopeful: if an academic could be nearly perpetually absent-minded, then maybe I wasn't slow after all? And maybe I didn't have to try so hard to conceal my own attention lapses? If worse came to worse and I was caught, I no longer had to feel like a space cadet; I could brush off the incident as "an academic interlude"... and happily return to outer space pour être sur ma lune, as the French say.

That is not to say that embarrassing situations don't crop up. It is a risk an absent-minded one just has to take. Yesterday in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, for example, at the tail-end of our first vineyard visit, I decided to "land" in the current conversation. It looked as though the tasting was wrapping up, so I asked what I thought to be a "safe" question:

"Quelles sont vos horaires d'ouverture?" My intention was to share the vineyard's location and opening hours with others. 

My husband snickered. Confused, I searched the faces in our group for any clues of dissent.

"Why is that a stupid question?" I asked.

Thankfully the women in the group—friends Gilda and Caroline—stood up for me: "It is not a stupid question! In America," Gilda explained, "there are no stupid questions." 

"But in France," Caroline offered, sympathetically, "every question is a potentially stupid one!"

How true! I thought about cultural differences and, once again, I was off... to ponder that thought.


Post note: For many of us, listening is a core value. I do agree! But I find that it becomes difficult to listen, for long stretches, to French conversation. At the end of a dinner party (in French), many French language learners feel like their heads are about to explode. Is it any wonder that some of us float off... to decompress sur la lune

 P.S. And one more embarrassing incident (and an apology to Caroline, from Perth): Earlier that morning, as I wished my friend "Happy Australia Day!" Caroline admitted to having celebrated by enjoying Vegemite on her buttery croissant. I had thought that was so funny... Vegemite on a croissant! Only, hours later, it didn't stop me from asking Caroline, "What did you have for breakfast?" to figure out how much of this is absentmindedness—and how much is forgetfulness?

(The above confession was also an excuse to wish our Australian readers a belated Happy Australia Day! Do you like the idea of Vegemite on a buttery croissant?)


Le Coin Commentaires
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dans le mêtier du vin = in the wine business

une appellation or vin d'appellation
= a wine carrying a guarantee of origin 

vin nature = natural wine

il ou elle est dans la lune = he or she is on the moon

et c'est vrai = and it's true

Quelles sont vos horaires d'ouverture? = what are your opening hours?



Our visit began here, at Domaine Bois de Boursan. That's owner Jean-Paul Versino up on the ladder. 


Jean-Marc Espinasse, Chateauneuf du Pape (c) Kristin Espinasse

We visited Uncle Jean-Claude's cellar in Chateauneuf-du-Pape....



Only a grape enthusiast could appreciate this. To the rest of us... it just looks like spit! 


And here is Kiwi The Dog, my cousin Audrey's charming chien. (Hi Audrey xoxo). Kiwi is admiring Gilda's wonderful coat--by the way Gilda and Robert Camuto joined us for the day. Read about another tasting we did here (wine lovers will not want to miss this story!)

Jean-Marc Espinasse (c) Kristin Espinasse

Chief Grape, a.k.a. Jean-Marc. I wrote, in the beginning of the story, that we took the day off... but do wine makers ever take the day off?



We also visited Laurent Charvin at his Domaine Charvin. This interesting arbre (which resembles a gigantic grape vine) is really a mulberry tree. Be sure to call ahead to visit any of the vineyards mentioned in today's post!


Blossoming in Provence

 S'il vous plaît...

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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.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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