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

Bedroom-balcony
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!
 

MAS DES BRUN: A DREAM-COME-TRUE VINEYARD IN BANDOL

    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.

View-from-bedroom

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you regularly enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am commited to sharing a sunny update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France, while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


trinquer + photos of winetasting

Harvesting grapes at Domaine Rouge-Bleu
My favorite harvester, Jackie, from Scotland.

Today's Word: TRINQUER

   
: to clink glasses, to toast

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

Trinquer. Venez chez nous ce soir. On va trinquer à notre santé.
To toast. Come over to our place tonight. We're going to toast to our health.

Photos from our recent winetasting...

 Youngvines-sign
Baby vines at Mas Des Brun 

We sold Domaine Rouge-Bleu to Caroline and Thomas in the summer of 2012. Since, Jean-Marc and I have been building another vineyard and starting a permaculture garden behind our farmhouse, or mas. Little by little, we are getting our grounding here in "appellation Bandol."

Recently, we organized our first public wine tasting here at "Mas des Brun" and guests have been sending in photos ever since. What a pleasure it is to see our vineyard through another's eyes! Thank you, Dorothy and Steve Pancoast, for today's images which help us to see beyond the daily task list. Looks like those chores have added up and this place is looking snappy!

Mixed in with this group of pictures are a few snapshots from readers Nick and Jill. And, recently, Anita and Meiling, who met each other at the tasting, sent in some extraordiary shots! I hope to show you those photos at the next chance. If I forget, please bug me about it and I'll get on it dar dar!

Click here to see the photo album with some of the pictures from our first winetasting at Mas des Brun.

Amicalement,
Kristin

Olive-tree
Photos in this post by Dorothy and Steve Pancoast. Click here to see the entire album.

Recent review of my book "First French Essais"
"Kristin Espinasse is an American from Arizona who moved to France several years ago to marry her French boyfriend, Jean-Marc who she lovingly nicknamed "Chief Grape" since he's into the winemaking business. As one who reads the author's blog, "French-Word-A-Day.com" I pretty much knew what to expect since the "French Essais" in this book were taken from some of her blogs written over the years.

First-French-Essais-book-coverHer book (and her blog which is also written in English) take us to some of her interesting adventures in a foreign country and sometimes through trials and tribulations in living in France while trying to adapt to a new language and a new culture while raising two kids. Through Kristin's stories, we also meet some of her neighbors and colorful locals. What I didn't expect was the many beautiful photos throughout this book that the author has taken and they're all in color!"

To order your copy of First French Essais, click here.

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you regularly enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am commited to sharing a sunny update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France, while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


fourmi

P1090485
A kind of borie (there is a well inside) exists peacefully in the field above us, here in our new domain--where olive trees grow. Beyond, Jean-Marc will plant grapes, appellation Bandol. He'll tell you about that later. Today, read a letter from the new owners of Domaine Rouge-Bleu! The story column follows.

la fourmi (for-me)

    : ant

More fourmi terms, expressions, and whatnots (add your own in the comments box):

l'Homme-Fourmi = Ant Man, a superhero
faire un travail de fourmis = to do a job meticulously well
la Cigale et la fourmis = The Cicada and the Ant (read the famous fable in French and in English) 
avoir des fourmis dans les jambes
 = to be restless (antsy), wanting to move on; also, to have a prickling sensation in the legs or, dans les bras (in the arms)

Reverse dictionary:
to have ants in one's pants = ne pas tenir en place 

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence, from Wikipedia: Download MP3 or Wav file 

La fourmi d'Argentine(Linepithema humile),originaire d'Amérique du Sud, forme une supercolonie qui va des côtes italiennes aux côtes espagnoles en passant par la France. The Argentinian ant, originating from South America, makes up a supercolony that goes from the Italian coast to the Spanish coast, passing through France.

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

Aimless—now there might have been a good word of the day... but for the ants! And, anyway, instead of focusing on my current weakness (floundering), I'd do better to turn my eyes toward another's strength: that of the Argentinian fourmi.

La fourmi d'Argentine, with which we share our new environment, is anything but aimless. Watch them trail up my nightstand, about to circle the rim of my tea cup (is it the miel they're after?); see them scale the sack of croquettes de chien—to Smokey and Braise's dismay! Notice the tickling sensation as they march over your eyelids, at naptime. Gently reach up and brush them away. They're harmless enough (they don't bite).

Observe how they advance, nose-to-tail, neatly along the outdoor clothesline. I tried plucking them off one by one—tiny things!—only to give in by throwing the sheets, the shirts, the jeans and the socks right over them.  (Sounds mean but I knew they'd bounce back.) Returning several hours later to collect the dried laundry, I see the invaders have lost no time re-establishing their queue along the tops of the flung sheets. I have to brush them off as I fold the laundry, there on a table beneath a wise old olivier. (Do olive trees snicker? or is that just the rustling of branches?) Invariably, a dozen or so ants hold on, no matter how wildly I shake the linens, and are so carried into the house to be transferred into our sock drawers and our armoires. For a time the ant-agonists will be dispersed and in the dark. This much we have in common.

This time last year I had no idea our little colony would be moving. The harvest ended, autumn, too, and at the start of the new year my husband admitted he wanted, needed rather, to move on. I was very unhappy, at the time, about this decision. But it happened fast as that, fast as my swooping up those ant-laden sheets and carrying them into the house with the dried socks, the jeans and things. 

*   *   *

There in the tiroirs and the armoires, squashed between the newly-dried linens, the ants are disoriented—but quickly working themselves back into formation. Jean-Marc is too. He's got a new permit to grow vines, this time appellation Bandol, and he's quickly re-establishing his personal and professional contacts after leaving the area 17 years ago, when our son was not yet 6 months old.

I should be so industrious. Instead I avoid my computer station and wonder, instead, What I will do today? In which direction do I set out? 

If I were to opt, this morning, to march along the clothesline... and you, dear reader, were to opt to throw a sheet over me, I might just lie peacefully beneath it--grateful for the empêchement, or obstacle. (I could teach this trick to the ants!)

Not to sound sad or even regretful--oh no! I am enjoying this new environment very much--how quickly it now feels like home! And I am relieved by this current break from the thrice-weekly newsletter, which, apart from the storm it takes to create it, takes up a lot of time to maintain.

This break is giving me more time with my family--especially my daughter, who is having a harder time than anticipated integrating into a new school. As for Max, the one who was supposed to be depressed by the move, he is doing fine. He's signed up for boxing in Bandol and he is eyeing the girls at school! 

Tomorrow my Mom arrives, clad in Frida. That ought to shake things up. See you next week with the scoop. Meantime, here's another view of that cape--at the end of this post.

Amicalement,

Kristin

 To leave a comment, please click here. Thanks for your positive letters and comments. We will try to answer many of your questions in the upcoming posts!

 

  Bar toutous

The day of the double-signing we gathered, afterward, at the new house. Almost everyone involved in the transactions was present: our buyers, Caroline and Thomas, our sellers, Maggie and Michael, our notaire, the Safer representatives, and our realtor. It was a unique moment!

DSC01821
We are so grateful to Maggie and Michael Moss, and to Maggie's brother, Ian, for allowing us to buy their home--after collecting memories there for nearly half a century.

DSC01815
Jean-Marc opened one of those big bottles of champagne...

P1090492
Another view of that borie that we saw in the opening photo. Our home is just below, to the right. We might plant fruit trees in this spot. What to you think? They might mingle with the fig trees there.

P1090502
One of the fun gifts that Maggie and Mike and Ian left was a well organized store room. I delight in returning everything to its place, each time I use something new. More photos to come.

P1090521
The balcony off our bedroom looks over the oliveraie. The Mediterranean forest is alive, this morning, with hunters. I think I'll be driving Jackie to school, instead of taking the little path beside the forest. Yesterday, the sound of gunfire began when we were half-way to school, and I had to sing all the way home "je passe... je passe, la-la-la... JE PASSE!" I'm passing by, I'm passing by--la-la-la--I'M PASSING BY!

P1090483
Jackie, swinging from the fig tree outside our home, is doing much better. The kids at her school are so warm and welcoming. And she loves her class, feels so fortunate! It's just that she really really misses her friends. The tears just won't stop flowing. "You are such a good friend!" I tell her. It cheers her and she is looking forward to showing her longtime friends around. Always look forward, sweet girl!

To comment on any item in this edition, or to correct something, please click here. Thanks. Do you know anyone who might enjoy these stories from France? Please forward this post, which includes this sign-up link.

*    *    *

An Update on Domaine Rouge-Bleu, which we sold last month to a wonderful Franco-Australian couple. Meet Caroline and Thomas, below, and be sure to subscribe to their Domaine Rouge-Bleu Facebook page  (click here) to keep up with their first year on the vineyard--may many more follow! 

Bonjour a tous! Hello all!

Merci to Kristi for posting this little message allowing us to say a warm hello and assure you all that Domaine Rouge Bleu shall continue with the same spirit that it was given by Jean-Marc and Kristi, Max and Jackie, Braise and Smokey, and by you all, whether you have been to visit, tasted a bottle, helped with les vendanges or followed the experiences here on French Word-A-Day.

We shall continue to host tastings underneath the mulberry tree, starting with Saturday 22nd September at 4.30pm (this will be in the middle of the harvest, so you can see the winery in action). Also, watch out for a re-vamped website (coming soon). Meanwhile, feel free to contact us via email for any more information:

Caroline@rouge-bleu.com, or Thomas@rouge-bleu.com

Finally, bonne chance to la famille Espinasse for their exciting new life by the sea, and thank you for entrusting us with this wonderful place. We will miss you in Sainte Cecile!

Amicalement,
Caroline & Thomas

Don't miss Caroline and Thomas's Domaine Rouge-Bleu Facebook page -- with photos and updates about their exciting vineyard adventure.

 

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you regularly enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am commited to sharing a sunny update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France, while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


s'installer

0812 19-001
Mas des Brun, where we moved to last week.... and where the seagulls sing (or maybe that's the neighbor's chickens?) Photo by Michael Moss, taken in December 2008 after an exceptionally rainy November (we hear the grass is not usually this green!)

s'installer (san-stal-ay)

    : to settle in

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence, in French: Download MP3 or Wav file

On s'installe tout doucement au bord de la mer. We're slowly settling in beside the sea.

 

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

It's day six at our new* home and we are settling in nicely. On s'installe tout doucement, I keep reminding Jean-Marc, who seems to want to have every box unloaded hier, yesterday. I understand his excitement, but I also know about the need for some endurance: some sprinting, a little jogging, a bit of catch-your-breath walking—and we'll soon make it to the finish line. Then we can twiddle our thumbs.

After the initial flurry to get each major item in its place (the kids' beds, the armoirs, the canapé, nightstands, dogs, and télé, we are now taking our time to déballer the rest. As I type, Jean-Marc continues a steady stream of industriousness: putting in wifi receptors, hooking up the telephones and, just now, dangling over the balcony to prune a giant, fruit-laden figuier. I watch as he takes down just enough branches to reveal a Mediterranean mosaic: from our bedroom window, I now see an olive tree, a cypress, an amandier, and several pines. Soon we'll see the meadow with more centuries-old oliviers, in groves.

Walking Jackie halfway to school this morning, I noticed the ground outside is covered with pine needles. The scent brings me back to my childhood, to weekends spent at Kohl's ranch in Arizona. Exploring these new stomping grounds, just as I explored the Arizona forest, I am as delighted as that 9-year-old, by the unexpected discoveries: the thousands of asparagus that carpet this Mediterranean floor (hello les omelettes d'aspèrges)—and there are enough fallen leaves from the old olive trees to start a mulch factory (oh happy potager! But do olive leaves make good kitchen garden soil? Maybe the fig leaves would be better... I see Jean-Marc has built piles of them!).

Another bright discovery is all the cactus growing here. After ignoring the nutritional value of those cactus pears that dotted the desert landscaping of my enfance, I can now experiment in the kitchen with the figues de barbarie that are nestled in around our new property (a YouTube search reveals that the cactus pads are edible too. Let's make nopales stew or even cactus couscous!). Having learned the hard way, I will wear gloves this time, when harvesting—to avoid being stabbed by a thousand invisible, hair-thin needles. It was no fun tossing and turning, during a noon time nap, only to discover the needles had followed me all the way to bed. Aïe aïe aïe!

Trial and error. It is all part of the adaption process. Off now to harvest some cactus for lunch. Will wear gloves this time.

 ***

 * "new" home: this mas dates back to 1875.

 French Vocabulary

on s'installe tout doucement = we're slowly settling in

hier = yesterday

le canapé = sofa, couch

la télé = TV

déballer = unpack

le figuier = fig tree

un amandier = almond tree

un olivier = olive tree

une omelette = omelet

une asperge = asparagus

le potager = kitchen garden

une enfance = childhood

la figue de barbarie = cactus pear

nopales = a vegetable made from the pads of a prickly pear cactus

aïe aïe aïe = ow ow ow

  P1100651

How are the dogs getting along? Just fine! They sleep inside at night. By day, they have good shelter in this former cabanon de cochon, or pig hut. Don't tell Braise, but we'd love to put a few chickens there...

P1100665
Jean-Marc, pruning the figue tree.

P1100670
Mom's paintings need to be hung. Meantime, they look like a work of art sitting there on an old trunk.

  P1100685

Some chaos and our 17-year-old, who started school today. He'll be at the lycée in la Ciotat. 

P1100681
The kitchen and some swiss chard, or blette. There are maraîchers on every corner! Have you ever had a swiss chard smoothie?

P1100683
A yellow canary melon, some roasted peppers, and a few thirsty dogs drinking from their gamelles.

P1100691
Jean-Marc and Jackie preparing for a game of boules. Smokey and Braise looking on.

Bar toutous
Thanks, Caroline, for taking this picture of the ceremonial "opening of the new house". Caroline and Thomas, who bought our home in Ste. Cécile, were with us on this special day. Handing me the keys, were Maggie and Michael Moss, who sold us this memory-filled home. It was a tearful and exciting moment and I am so happy these women thought to make a ceremony of it, for I would not have thought to. Thanks again Caroline and Maggie! Michael Moss also took photos of this scene, as well as the gorgeous opening photo, at the top of this post.

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you regularly enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am commited to sharing a sunny update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France, while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.