Grele: Solidarity during a devastating hailstorm at winemaker Raimond de Villeneuve's vineyard

1-raimond de villeneuve
Un vrai bonnard. Don't miss this inspiring story about a winemaker's comeback following a devastating storm. Pictured: Raimond de Villeneuve. Photo montage from Google images.

la grêle (grel)

    : hail

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

Un orage de grêle détruit en deux minutes deux années de récolte de raisins. A hail storm destroys in two minutes two years worth of grapes.

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

I  have an inspiring lemons to lemonade story for you now. It's about local winemaker Raimond de Villeneuve who came over for lunch yesterday.

"Il est bonnard!" Jean-Marc said of our guest, assuring me not to worry about what to cook. But depending on what bonnard meant, I would serve french fries or soufflé.... I was betting on the first hunch (bonnard = fun-loving?), and that this meant a comfort meal was in order. Nothing complicated.

Coincidentally, the night before, I'd made a dish by chef and winemaker Jamie Oliver. I couldn't remember the exact ingredients, but having made the braised cabbage last year, I winged it (je l'ai fait au pif)--sauteing red onion, one chou rouge, and 3 golden apples....

I had found some dried figs in the fridge and chopped those up, tossing them in, adding salt, pepper, and coriander seeds. The result was encouraging but something was missing. So before our guest arrived, I doctored up the dish with some soft chestnuts (hadn't Jamie added those?), chopped and mixed in for texture and even more comfort.

From the new living room window that looks onto the front yard, I spied our guest, who threw back his head as he laughed with Jean-Marc. Yes, bonnard had to mean fun-loving. Today's relaxed menu would work.

The two men bounded into the house, heading toward the kitchen. As I was on the other side of the door when they entered, our guest didn't see me. Amused, I followed quietly on the stranger's heels, curious to see how long it would take to be found out.

Only a step behind the rugged man with the curly black hair, I could have reached out and tapped him on the shoulder--but resisted. And when Raimond de Villeneuve finally turned around we both burst out laughing.

"So you are the genius winemaker!" I said. "Jean-Marc has told me so much about you." 

Raimond's smile was a mixture of elegance and mischief. His blue eyes twinkled as he considered a response to my greeting, finally settling on more laughter. And then, elegance won over.

"Enchanté," Raimond said, kissing my cheek. 

I was a little star-struck but any misplaced emotion was quickly replaced by steam. My cabbage was on fire! I dashed past our guest, and landed beside the kitchen range--in time to save the side dish.  

Joining the two men at the table, I wanted to hear all about how this young winemaker managed to turn around a natural catastrophy. Raimond's latest vintage, called "Grêle," was thoughtfully named after the devastating hailstorm that stole his future harvest at his Chateau de Roquefort. If that isn't bad enough, it hijacked the next year's grapes as well--for when hail hits the vines its damage affects the vine's constitution.

As we sat down to eat, Raimond told us the story. "In seven minutes I had lost everything!"  

Facing bankruptcy, Raimond was surprised by a miracle. It began when one winemaker offered him a couple cases of grapes....

Then another vigneron encouraged Raimond to harvest several rows of vines at his domaine, never mind it wasn't in the same appellation (Bandol). Similar offers began pouring in across southern France until Raimond realized what was happening: people were coming out of the woodwork to help. And not just people--extremely busy winemakers who should normally be working round the clock to meet their own harvest deadlines!

With this kind of encouragement and support, Raimond quickly learned not only to accept the handouts, but to encourage them. In order for the gifted grapes to amount to something, he would need enough fruit to fill his tanks so that he might have the chance to entirely replace the lost vintage.

To organize such a feat is one thing--getting it to clear nit-picky customs is quite another. The grapes were rolling in from all over the Mediterranean--and from Bandol all the way up to Chateauneuf-du-Pape! Normally this would be an evil customs' officers hayday (those notoriously strick bureaucrats, in charge of controlling wine production, seem to love to find the glitch. And here, there were enough broken rules to land all the renegade winemakers in the principal's office.)

But an astonishing thing happened. The customs officers closed their eyes on all the grape-schlepping! What's more, they seemed moved by the sweating effort and sacrifice of the winemakers. In what could be a competitive field, winemakers were now sharing more than their grapes, they were sharing their machinery, their cellars, their lunches, and their savoir-faire.

One of the unexpected rewards about this organized effort was the chance for Raimond to work in so many different wine cellars, while accepting all the handouts, and to see how everyone made wine. "It reminds me of how chefs work--each with his own method of cooking a great meal."

As Raimond recounted his story, he paused here and there to pick up the lambchops Jean-Marc had grilled. "You don't mind if I use my hands?" he asked. 

"Bien sûr que non!" I insisted. Still, I couldn't determine whether or not the braised cabbage with chestnuts was a hit or a miss with our guest... And when, finally, he turned his attention to the side dish, shoveling it down with glee, I felt as relieved as the winemaker must have, the day every lost grape was retrieved.  


Post note: Hopefully there will be another story about Raimond, who will use his grafting expertese to help us plant our new vineyard this spring! Stay tuned.


Raimond de villeneuve3
Another group of empathetic winemakers who contributed to Raimond's "Grêle" vintage. The sign they are holding offers this heartwarming message: "Du Mourvèdre de la Tour du Bon pour Raimond!" (Some mourvèdre from the Tour de Bon for Raimond!)

To comment on today's post, click here. If you enjoyed Raimond's story, send him a note here in the comments section

You can visit Raimond's website, with information about his Chateau de Roquefort wines, here.

French Vocabulary
bonnard = fun, easy to get along with, cool
il est bonnard = he's a good guy
au pif = by guesswork
je l'ai fait au pif = I winged it
à la bise = in "bise" fashion (la bise, or faire la bise, is to kiss someone on both cheeks)
le vigneron = winemaker 

Listen to A French Christmas and "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 

You were asking how the dogs were getting along with the cats...

So I leave you, now, with these photos....

Left to right: Mama Braise ("brez"), her son, Smokey, and that's Lily the calico.

You are wondering where Lily's brother, Pancho, is? No worries. He wasn't eaten. 

Pancho was watching the scene from above. Happy holiday season to all! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
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la goutte

Abandoned Beauty (c) Kristin Espinasse

Beauty in abandoned places. Beside the bricked-in, condemned windows, a random poppy bouquet, born in the cracks of concrete. Photo taken in Bollène (Vaucluse) (with a handy pocket camera I'm using a lot these days (click here for more info)

la goutte (goot)

    : gout

Note: our family is about to begin bottling wine now (see story, below)... no time to go on... but there are other meanings for today's word, goutte. See some related terms and expressions here!

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following words (Download MP3 or Wav file)

Cette fois-ci, j'avais une crise de goutte dans la main.  This time, I had a gout attack in my hand.


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

A Farmer is Never Hors Service (Even When His Limbs are!)

Today we will bottle 12,000 units of our Domaine Rouge-Bleu wine! Adding to the excitement and chaos is a surprise visit from my husband's pire enemi: la GOUTTE! 

Yes, gout! Jean-Marc has suffered from the "kind of arthritis" for the last 15 years. (It runs in his family.) The attacks, which are usually concentrated on the foot area, always strike at the most inopportune moments--just before a road trip (so that driving is out of the question) or just before an important mise en bouteilles--such as today's!

And so it is that Chief Grape is partly hors service (given that his hand has doubled in size, painfully so, after this latest attack). Thankfully, Uncle Jacques stopped by to help prepare the area for the bottling. And now that Max is a buff (time to embarrass our teens again, la honte!) almost-16-year-old, he is able to be an even more dependable main droite for his father.

Meantime, The Chief is doing what he can to speed up the healing process: he's asked me to help apply an argile, or clay, emplâtre to diminish the swelling in his hand. To cover the wet clay, we made a cutout from a bag of Harry's American Bread (those of you living in France will recognize the colorful packaging!). 

The homemade cast was tied together with some elastic string normally used in training our baby vines. And, speaking of entrainment, Chief Grape's hand, trussed this way, has a certain "punch" to it... wouldn't you say?


P.S. What, you may be wondering, sets off one of these gout attacks? Though wine is most often cited, for Jean-Marc les asperges is another pire ennemi! And, this time of year, they are everywhere, those menacing green spears! (Hidden in soups, unrevealed in risotto...) 

Le Coin Commentaires
Comments are welcome here, in the comments box. Thanks in advance! 

                                      Chief Grape, multitasking.

 French Vocabulary

hors service = out of service

pire ennemi = worst enemy

la mise en bouteille = wine bottling

la main droite = right-hand man, woman

l'argile (f) = clay (click here for story)

emplâtre (m) = plaster (medical)

l'entrainement (m) = training

les asperges (f,pl) = asparagus

also: les pointes d'asperges  = asparagus tips



Smokey (standing next to me as I photograph his mama, Braise), says:

"Her eyes were closed. Could you please take another?"

Me: "Of course Smokey-Dear. And good of you to look out for your beautiful mom!"

Smokey: N'est-ce pas qu'elle est belle, ma maman? (Ain't she purdy, my mama?)

Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics bestseller on French pronunciation and how to pronouce French words correctly! (click here)


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
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Eagle (c) Kristin Espinasse

When vines talk... the "Eagle" (left) is being told by the "Shusher" (right, finger on "mouth") to be quiet, "It's not the end of winter yet... nature is still sleepy." And you, do you believe that vines are more than wood stalks? The characters in today's story do... and they make wine according to the moon!

le caissier (kay-syeh)

    : cashier, teller

feminine: la caissière (kay-syehr)


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

When your husband asks whether you would like to volunteer for Friday night's professionals-only dégustation, smile and reply "tout ce que tu veux, cheri"... never mind that you aren't active in the local wine scene, that you won't recognize names or faces, that this dernier détail could lead to embarrassment.

Capture plein écran 07032011 083603 Request, quand même, not to be in charge of the caisse.

Arrive at the mind-blowing Domaine Viret. Ascend the massive stone stairs to the mind-blowing cave. You have never seen anything like it! If this is a biodynamic's cellar, then the Egyptian-inspired reaching-towards-the-galaxy "wine cathedral" must be a tribute to la Voie lactée!

Be amazed by the floor-to-sky vats, the ancient amphorae, and the 20 walkin'-to-their-own-(and-to nature's)-beat winemakers who are busy setting up shop.

Search for the woman who has been helping your husband with PR... Check her out: assess any threat as she strides up and listens to your husband's introduction: "Voici ma femme".  

Wonder whether to kiss or to shake. Notice how the other woman is studying you: were you what she expected? Older? Younger? Bolder? Weaker? Chopped liver?

Study Other Woman, who is wearing that secret magic glittery powder that all beautiful French women wear. Regret the pharmacy "flour" that now feels like dough on your own face. Wish that you'd worn a skirt, as she has done, and black-heeled boots, as she has done... and earrings and a pretty barrette in your thick brown hair! 

Feel like chopped liver for two-seconds flat, in time to pull the full length of body skyward. Nod like a princess when you feel like une grenouille.

Spend next half-hour worrying whether Other Woman likes you or not, sees you as competent or not, would rather you be here or not....

Then get over yourself! After all, you are here to help!

(From this point on refer to Other Woman as "Colleague". Much better. Plus, hope that if she's reading she's not offended by your carefree reporting...)

Follow Other Woman, or "Colleague"... over to cellar entrance, where a small table is set up. Notice cagnotte. Cagnotte!!! Be eternally grateful when Colleague says she'll handle the money.

Nod head enthusiastically when given the easy-peasy-French-cheesy task of distributing the wine glasses. One per paying customer. You can handle that.   

Listen to lowdown: five euros for guests who've reserved (whose names are inscribed on The List); ten euros for those who have not reserved. Wonder why you are listening to The Lowdown, after all, you are only in charge of easy-cheesy glasses-distribution... n'est-ce pas???

Watch Colleague in action: "Sorry, sir, but you have not reserved. That will be ten euros."
Observe as Colleague uses her charm to save a sale "but it is only ten euros for the tasting and the dinner! C'est quand même pas mal, non?!"

Back up Colleague, chirping "Quelle bonne affaire!" ("Affaire"? Attention to word choice, which comes back to haunt you!)

Watch Colleague as customer hands over a 20-euro note. "Vous avez de la monnaie, Monsieur?" "Do you have anything smaller, Sir?"

Be impressed when Colleague gets customer to hand over two fives. Smart woman. Realize we'll need all the fivers/change we can get.

Stare, stunned, when Colleague leaves you to man the stand, with a breezy "I'm off to try some wine..." Regret that you are not a wine-trier, then quickly get over it...

Jump into action!: greet customers, request fives/change, defend the ten-euros entrance fee to those concerned...

Watch, amazed, as the line piles up, with everyone suddenly being related to the winemakers. "Sorry, yes, perhaps, but the entrance fee is still ten euros!... or five, depending!).

Feel mortified when you attempt to charge the owner's wife the 10-euros fee....

Swear you will never again assume that a cashier has shortchanged you... when three times in the evening you accidentally cheat a customer! (Listen like a thug to the reprimand and the tsk-tsk of "Madame, je vous ai donné un billet de vingt!") 

Wonder where in the Milky Way did your Colleague stray? On second thought, be glad for the chance to man the stand. You've learned a lot: for one thing, you are not the pushover you thought you were. Just look at how you plucked up those line-cutters who tried to steal behind you in time to swipe a glass and sneak into the tasting room! Boy, are their butts going to be sore!!!

Learn to decipher journalists (remember what Colleague taught: journalists are not used to paying. Let them by -- just remind them about a write up... hoping one of them will eventually write an article...

Be the One of Them to eventually write the damned article.


Le Coin Commentaires
Join us here, in our community corner. Respond to today's story, offer a correction, or ask each other questions about French or France! Click here to enter the discussion or simply to learn from it.


French Vocabulary - Click one of the following links to listen to this vocabulary list: MP3 file or Wav file

-> la dégustation = tasting

-> le dernier détail = last detail

-> quand même = even so, nevertheless, all the same, really

-> la caisse (money context) = the till, cash register

-> la Voie lactée = the Milky way

-> une barrette = a hair clip

-> la grenouille = frog

-> la cagnotte = the kitty (in a different context -> the jackpot)

-> une bonne affaire = a real bargain!

-> de la monnaie = some change

-> un billet (money context) = a bank note

-> un billet de vingt = a twenty Euro note

-> ..... "n'est-ce pas"? .... isn't it so?
used at the end of a sentence as an expression of affirmation after a statement - equivalent of 'tag question' in English.

-> "Tout ce que tu veux, chéri"... = 'whatever you want, darling'...

-> "C'est quand même pas mal, non?!" = It's not bad really, is it?!

-> "Vous avez de la monnaie, Monsieur?" = 'Do you have anything smaller, Sir?'

Chief Grape.

Check out these helpful France guides--filled with travel tips by our readers:


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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la veuve de la vendange

Winter Cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo of a modern cabanon with its carpet of white mustard flowers. Don't you just want to lose yourself in it?

la veuve de la vendange (lah vuv deuh lah von danzh)

    : crush widoww

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

I learned a new term last fall, while guiding yet another enthusiastic and brave bénévole out to the vine fields to help my husband, Chief Grape, with the work load.

"Yeah," said Eugenia, sympathetically, as she sped-walked (we wouldn't want to keep the Wine Chief waiting!) beside me in well-worn jeans and a grape-stained tee. "There is even a term for it!" 

It must have been in the way I looked: a little desperate? And I hadn't meant to show any evidence of exasperation. After all, the harvest and its flurry were over... and yet we were still soliciting helping hands (including Eugenia's) for tying up any harvest loose ends. 

"The harvest just keeps on going... and going... and going... At first it was two weeks, then four, then six. We began this harvest eight weeks ago!" I explained to our latest helper, as we dashed out to the field, buckets and scissors in hand. (I would leave Eugenia with Jean-Marc and our other volunteer, Jeffrey, in time to run back to the kitchen and stare into the fridge, wondering just what to throw together for an impromptu guest lunch. I didn't dare serve last night's noodles: a collection of scraped-from-the-kids'-plates pasta... fit for a close-knit family, but nowhere near appropriate for our volunteers! 

Huffing and puffing our way out to the field farthest from the house, Eugenia disclosed to me the well-known term used in the wine industry. "They call women like you "Crush Widows"!

Crush Widows! It was one of those "Aha! moments". So I was not alone in this very lonely state: the grape harvest: when vintners disappear from their wives and from the home and can be found somewhere out in the field or in the "cave" for the remains of the day. 

But what Eugenia didn't tell me was that Crush Widows don't suddenly lose their status—and regain their lost Love—after the grape crush. No! They wear their vine veils on into winter.... when their husbands are busy juggling the sales of their wine, the accounting, the bottling, the PR, and the pruning of their vines!
Pulling into the driveway last night I stopped in front of the cellar and lowered my window. I was lucky to find Jean-Marc outside and not lost to the depths of his cave

"Want to eat early tonight?" I had in mind a movie on T.V., one we could watch after an early meal... 
"I'll be at the vintners' meet-up. Remember?"
"Oh... that's right! (How I managed each time to forget...) Do you want us to wait for you for dinner?"
"I don't know when I'll be back..."
Voilà, une petite illustration of the term Crush Widow, which could well be a song by Ani DiFranco. I'd love to sing it now, with a feisty French accent!

This morning I woke up and checked the pan on the stove. His portion of rumsteak aux champignons was still waiting for him. I imagined Chief Grape had filled up on crackers, olives, and nuts during last night's vigneron meeting. This was all he needed to do! Join another Cercle de Vignerons!!!

Just then, my inner "Fairness Mediator" cleared her throat in time to remind me of the thousands of hours that I had given to starting up a website and filling it with stories. I remembered the day when Jean-Marc marched up to my computer and mumbled something about all my time being thrown into cyberspace... and for what benefit?!
I could be patient with Chief Grape. I could learn, as he eventually had to, to allow another's dream, and to do so encouragingly. And for what benefit? As Ani says, for the joy it brings.
Corrections are appreciated and comments are "one of those joys that writing brings". Click here to leave a message on the blog.

Jean-Marc & Kristi (c) Sophie Roussel Bourreli
He loves me. He loves those grapes. He loves me. He loves those grapes!

French Vocabulary

bénévole = volunteer
la cave = wine cellar
le rumsteak = round or rump steak
le vigneron = wine maker 
aux champignons = with mushrooms
cercle de vignerons = wine society

Audio file: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: (Click here to download MP3 file). Tip: can't hear the audio file? Try changing browsers (from Chrome to Firefox or...) or updating your audio software.

On les appelle "Les Veuves de la Vendange", ces femmes qui "perdent" leur mari chaque année en septembre, pendant le ramassage des raisins. We call them "Crush Widows", these women who "lose" their husbands each year, in September, during the grape harvest.

Name This Photo (That's Smokey, taken one year ago... when there was snow).
When you shop at Amazon, entering the story via any of the links below, your purchases help to support this free word journal - at no extra cost to you! Thanks for keeping this in mind. Here are some on my picks:
The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It
,,, The Widow Clicquot. Highly recommended! Both Jean-Marc and I loved this book, and took turned yanking it out of each other's hands during summer vacation. Click to see the reviews.
Kissing Bench
A cozy kissing bench for the garden. I'm looking for one of these in France, meantime, for US readers, you can get one at Amazon!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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On Day One we peddled our wines (meeting with an importer) at the Piccadilly Market in London...

~~~~~~~~~~~~ Language Learning ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oxford Take Off In French: (CD-ROM): Follow an integrating course including activities and dialogues with native speakers so you can feel confident in day-to-day conversation.

foire (fwar) noun, feminine
    : fair
    : trade fair

[from the Latin "feriae" = holidays)

Note: this seems to be one case where a look-alike verb does *not* reflect the same meaning as the noun ("foirer" means "to have the runs"! Then again, some might argue that processed foire food is the missing link between the noun and the verb!)

Update!: turns out there *is* a second meaning to "foire":

A related Latin noun, "foria", means "diarrhea" and the word "foire", or "fair", eventually came to be used figuratively as a place where disorder and confusion reign. "Faire la foire" in contemporary French means to abandon oneself to a life of debauchery.

--from the book "Gender on the Market: Moroccan Women and the Revoicing of Tradition"

Don't miss the "Terms & Expressions" just after the shopping section below...

At the French Winegrowers' Fair in London, the participants were looking defeated. Fluorescent lighting added to the pasty pallor that we wore on our faces like death... that is: the death of wine sales!

Fair goers just weren't buying. (But, boy--oh boy!--were they ever "trying"! With clinking glasses and a "slur" in their step, the crowd proceeded to sample... and sip. "Thanks a lot," they said, the wine in their glasses now spent. "We'll just have a look around now... and get back to you in a moment."

At a stand in the next aisle, two sales women wore upside down smiles. I looked over to my "stand sisters" across the way and they puffed out their lips, commiserating "Ce n'est pas vrai!"*

By day two the French winegrowers had resorted to new sales-garnering tactics: one, in the form of a towering, blue-eyed brunette, and another, via some seductive pâté aux cèpes!*

I glanced over to our stand sisters across the aisle who, leary of all that, uncorked their bottles and (glug, glug, glug) mumbled "down with the hatch!"

*     *     *

Post note: Thankfully, for Jean-Marc and me, we were saved by a Francophile coterie.* Many thanks to those of you who responded to our invitations and, even more, showed up with friends! It was lovely to meet you all. And thank you for letting us snap your photo. I think we captured most of your smiling faces (except Misha's!... which reminds me: mille mercis to Alicia Weston and to Mikhail Kalinichev--our warm and doting hôtes*: I hope one day to find in me a host as graceful and gallant as these!

View London Photo Album (part one... more photos on the way...)

Comments, corrections, and suggestions welcome here.

ce n'est pas vrai
= this just can't be happening; le pâté (m) aux cèpes = porcini mushroom pâté; la coterie (f) = a circle of people with common interests; l'hôte (m) = host (l'hôtesse = hostess)

In Music: A French Christmas
Cèpes / Porcini Mushrooms
In film: Joyeux Noel

Childrens' book: "Three French Hens". The three French hens from the familiar Christmas song are sent by a Parisian lady to her boyfriend, Philippe Renard, in New York. Alas, the hens wind up in lost mail, and when they can't find Philippe in the phone book, they think perhaps they should translate his name: Phil Fox.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Hear French Words~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sound file: Listen to today's word, "foire" and this expression: "la foire aux vins" Download FoireDownload Foire

Terms & Expressions
la foire aux plaisirs = funfair
le champ de foire = fairground
la foire agricole = agricultural show
avoir la foire = to have the runs
faire la foire = to party hardy
la foire d'empoigne = free-for-all

Do you know of any related terms and expressions? Please share them, for all to see, in the comments box.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

la mère porteuse

Jean-Marc Espinasse (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jean-Marc who earned the title "Chief Grape" after years of caring for his precious "babies". Read about them, in the following story. 

la mère porteuse (mair-por-tuhz) n.f.

  : surrogate mother

(One who carries a child for a couple or for a single person is also called "une mère accoucheuse")

Click on the following French sentence to hear it spoken by Jean-Marc:

La législation concernant les mères porteuses est encore assez floueThe legal position concerning surrogate mothers is still quite vague. 
--from Insider's French: Beyond the Dictionary

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

Three days each week my husband can be found two-and-a-half hours north of here, in Sainte Cécile les Vignes, caring deeply for somebody else's grapevines.

While I am needed here at home, unable to join Jean-Marc during this exciting time, he does his best to share the experience with me.

"Oh, they are healthy!" he says of the vines, like a proud mother-to-be who has just received a clean bill of health from her midwife. Jean-Marc puts the portable phone to his belly, level with the tall vines, and I can just hear our "children's" heartbeat: it is the creaking of the dormant, woody vines as the wind whips through the valley of the Rhône.

"But isn't it cold?" I worry.

"The wind is good for them--keeps them dry and free from disease!" Jean-Marc assures me, as a mother-to-be might assure her husband that all the ice cream she is eating (calcium!) is, in fact, good for the fetus.

Lately, I see Jean-Marc as the surrogate mother. While he isn't actually carrying a baby, he is caring for someone else's grape, touching and nurturing vines that we hope will one day be ours. Our new vine babies are still in the womb, so to speak, as we cannot yet hold them--or rather "hold title" to them--and while we are hopeful to get the bank loan, we have yet to sign the final purchase papers.

But back to our surrogate mom who, I might add, positively glows these days as any woman with child would. I can't help but compare these very different, yet similar periods of gestation: just as Jean-Marc was helpless to assist when I was "with child," trusting me to eat right and get enough sleep, I must now trust that he is making the right decisions for our future "children".

"I am not going to use pesticides," he declares over the phone, in yet another long-distance call from our future vineyard. It is as if he has said "I am not going to give the children antibiotics!"

"But won't they fall ill?" I fret, a couple of hundred kilometers away from being able to help out (or to intervene!).

"It is important to build their resistance!" he says, rather protectively.

Hanging up the phone, I feel a sort of envy that only helpless husbands can feel for the glowing mother-to-be, maker of so many delicate and vital decisions. I want to participate in my "children's" development, yet can't. The only one I can care for is my tired and moody, ice-cream-guzzling "wife".

Returning home after another weekly trip north, our surrogate mother complains.

"Oh, j'ai mal au dos!"* he groans, taking off his heavy pruning belt. "Be careful with your back," I warn, fixing him a cup of tea, adding an extra bit of milk....

Tired as he is, our glowing mère porteuse* has already got the "nannies" lined up (a few calloused-handed men in steel-toe boots) and has given them their orders: no harsh chemicals, only organic supplements such as copper and sulfur.

"Be sure to feed them good minerals!" he orders, wondering if he should really trust others to care for his young'uns.

If all goes according to plan, we will hold title to twenty-one acres of vines by the end of March. For now, there is nothing for a future caretaker to do but to trust and wait; I must relax, letting my wife bring those grapes to term. The needy vines will be here soon enough, hungry, crying to be held (pruned), changed (harvested), and fed a careful and regular measure of minerals--at which point I will be left with one exhausted partner, moaning about how the past two trimesters have wreaked havoc on his once lithe body: "Oh, my chapped hands! Oh, my aching back." And I'll shake my head and think to myself, Oh, women!

Update: 1n 2012 Jean-Marc adopted some olive trees... and is now caring for them and planting more vines at Mas des Brun, near his beloved Mediterranean Sea. Read his journal here.
avoir mal au dos = to have a backache; avoir mal au dos = to have a backache; la mère porteuse (f) = surrogate mother

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