French for "from scratch"

Jean-Marc Espinasse Wine Spectator

Taken from The Wine Spectator magazine, the line just above, inspired today's expression...

from scratch

    : à partir de rien, de zéro

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

Créer un vignoble à partir de rien, c'est pas commun aujourd'hui.
Starting an estate from scratch has become rare around here.

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

When our alarm rang at 5:45 this morning I mumbled "Good night!" in French.

"Bonjour,"Jean-Marc replied. The creaking of our armoire, a wedding gift from 20-years ago, was a splash of cold water to my face and now my mind was percolating away as my husband pulled on his threadbare jeans and searched for a warm enough shirt. Early mornings in the vineyard are cold, even if the nearby beaches are already hot with Bardot lookalikes.

Thankfully my husband has eyes only for vines. That is why we call him Chief Grape. I waited until Chief left the room to stretch out over his side of the bed. It's not fair to rub it in, when you get to sleep in.

Next I heard our coffee-maker, which sounds just like Jean-Marc's prehistoric tractor. Both machines hum like dinosaurs! Come to think of it, this all must be music to my husband's boyish ears--a thundering overture for his daily grape adventure.

Just like a kid Jean-Marc ran back into the room this morning, to share an exciting discovery: an article about his labors in the Wine Spectator!

"I can't wait to read it!" I cheered.

Returning to bed now, with a cup of Tyrannosauras Joe, I clicked open my email to search for the link Jean-Marc had promised to send me.

I found it, and a whole lot more. My husband's note read:

Thank you for making my dreams come true

I Love you


*    *    *
Here is the link to that wonderful article on Jean-Marc and I leave you with a few photos taken over the years, just after today's sponsors.

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Jean-Marc's first harvest (at his own vineyard). He was stick thin, having put all his weight into his first cuvée.


He gained back those kilos, along with experience as he continued to make his prize-winning wine


That serious look! His mind is so often on his grapes.


Serious look and seriously cramped working spaces -- all in the name of wine!


2007, in a cramped kitchen full of harvesters. That first year was the most trying, as evidenced by the scarecrow figures smiling back at you. Jean-Marc was NOT blessed with a vineyard wife, a tough broad who works beside him in the vineyard, then hurries back to the kitchen to make lunch for the entire crew. But that didn't stop Jean-Marc from making the leafy crown you see above, and naming me Queen of Harvest--La Reine de la Vendange--an award given to the one who tries, all the same. It was generous and thoughtful of Jean-Marc to write me that note this morning. But it is he who made his own dreams come true, with all that hard work and determination. So proud of you, Chief Grape!

Kristi at harvest
2007. In need of a good strong cup of Tyrannosauras Joe. 

To comment on this post, click here.

Thanks for sharing this post, and for reading the article about Jean-Marc.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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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! 

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littoral or coastline near Agay (c) Kristin Espinasse
Le littoral, or the coastline, near Agay. If you enjoy these scenes from France, perhaps a friend would too? Forward this post. New friends, sign up to French Word-A-Day by clicking here. Begin growing your vocabulary, illico presto! 

Today read about the fascinating process of turning grapes into wine! Jean-Marc takes us through the step-by-step process, from gleaning a nearby grape field, to stomping the fruit with his feet, to punching down the "cap" worn by those tanks of fermenting raisins

littoral(e) (lee-tohr-al)

    : (noun, masculine) coast
    : (adjective) coastal

le littoral déchiqueté = rugged coastline

Audio File: If you haven't yet, you may listen to Jean-Marc's story, below, in French. Enjoy his recording:  Download MP3 or Wav file

A Day in Chief Grape's New Life...
a wine-maker  takes a break from a pressing work schedule... to chill out by the sea

Mercredi dernier, je suis allé courir avec Maxime. Notre parcours nous a fait traverser le magnifique vignoble du Domaine de la Nartette, propriété appartenant au Conservatoire du Littoral (organisation qui a pour mission de protéger le littoral de toute "pollution immobilière" en rachetant des terrains) et situé sur l'appellation Bandol.

Last Wednesday, I went for a run with Maxime. Our itinerary had us crossing the magnificent Domaine de la Nartette vineyard, a property belonging to the French Coastline Conservancy (an organization with the mission of protecting the coastline from all "real estate pollution" by buying land) and situated in the Bandol  appellation.

Images intégrées 1

En passant à côté d'une très belle parcelle de vieux Mourvèdre plantés en coteaux,  j'ai remarqué qu'il restait encore beaucoup de raisins, malgré le fait qu'elle avait déjà été vendangée.
While passing by a beautiful parcel of old Mourvèdre, planted on slopes, I noticed there remained a lot of grapes, in spite of the fact that it had already been harvested.
Je n'ai alors pas résisté à contacter le responsable pour lui demander le droit de glaner les raisins. Après son accord, j'ai emprunté des caisses à vendanges et des sceaux au Chateau Pradeaux (un de mes domaines favoris), qui avait terminé ses vendanges et nous avons ramassé de quoi remplir une cuve de 500 litres (soit environs 400 kgs de raisins).
I just couldn't resist contacting the person in charge, to ask him for the right to glean the grapes. After his agreement, I borrowed harvesting crates and some buckets from Chateau Pradeaux (one of my favorite vineyards), which had just finished its harvest, and we collected enough to fill a 500 liter tank (or roughly 400 kilos of grapes).
Comme je n'avais pas de fouloir, j'ai du utilisé mes pieds pour fouler les raisins.
As I didn't have a wine press, I had to use my feet to tread the grapes.
La fermentation est partie naturellement bien que j'avais prévu d'ensemencer la cuve avec quelques litres de vin en fermentation que le Château Pradeaux m'avait sympathiquement donné.
The fermentation began naturally even though I had planned on inoculating the tank with a few liters of fermenting wine that Château Pradeaux had kindly given me.
Depuis, je plonge manuellement le "chapeau" (ce sont les raisins et les rafles qui sont poussés vers le haut de la cuve pendant la fermentation) tous les deux jours de façon à extraire tout ce que les raisins peuvent offrir.
Since, I manually dunk the "cap" (these are the grapes and the stems that have pushed up toward the top of the tank, during fermentation) every two days, so as to extract all that the grapes have to offer.
Cette cuve va finalement produire environs 300 L de vin une fois la fermentation alcoolique (transformation des sucres et des levures en alcool) sera terminée. Il sera alors mis dans une barrique de 225 L et le reste servira à remplir la barrique lorsqu'elle perdra un peu de vin soit environs 1,5 L par mois, ce que l'on appelle "La part des Anges", car ce sont les Anges qui boivent le vin qui s'évapore. Il titrera environs 13,5%, ce qui n'est pas très élevé mais très intéressant. 
This tank will eventually produce around 300 liters of wine, once the alcohol fermentation (or transformation of sugars and yeast into alcohol) is finished. It will then be put into a 225 liter wine barrel and any leftovers will serve to fill the barrel when it loses a little wine each month, around 1.5 liters, or what we call "The Angels' share", for it is the angels who drink the evaporating wine. It will measure around 13.5%, which isn't very high but is very interesting.
En effet, la plus part des raisins étaient des "grappillons" qui n'avaient pas été ramassés lors des vendanges car les raisins n'étaient alors pas assez mûrs, ce qui explique qu'ils ont été laissés dans les vignes. De fait, il y a une très belle acidité dans ce vin et cela me ravi, moi qui ai un palais très Bourguignon. 
In fact, most of the grapes being "baby grapes" that were not collected during the harvest because the grapes were not ripe enough, this explains why they were left in the vines. As a matter of fact, there is a beautiful acidity in this wine and that delights me, someone who has a very Bourguignon palette.
Il a aujourd'hui de jolis arômes de fruits rouge (cassis) après avoir initialement eu des notes de mures. Il termine par des arômes de poivre bien typiques du Mourvèdre. Je l'aime beaucoup et il sera, quoi qu'il arrive, un vin très spécial puisque c'est le premier vin de Bandol que j'aurai fait.
Today there are some lovely aromas of red fruit (cassis) after the blackberry notes it had at first. It ends with pepper aromas, so typical of Mourvèdre wine. I really like it and it will be, whatever happens, a very special wine since it is the first Bandol wine that I have ever made.
Il faudra, le jour venu, trouver un nom à ce vin... Peut-être que vous pouvez m'aider à cela. J'aime bien tout ce qui aura une connotation maritime. A vos claviers donc...
One day I will need to find a name for this wine... Perhaps you can help me with this. I really love everything having a "maritime" connotation. To your keyboards, then... 
To comment on Jean-Marc's story, click here. You may use the same link to name this new wine. To see some of the names readers have submitted, check the previous comments box.


In other news... Timber! Attention à l'arbre qui tombe! Jean-Marc and neighbor Jean-Mo are busy felling a few pines not far from the front porch. The men are soaking wet, but the rain doesn't seem to bother them. 
La Ciotat 8.16.03 047
Ma fille et moi (2003). Random photo -- don't miss the story Le Frisson. Click here and thanks for reading!
Best Tips for Learning French
In this post from the word a day archives, readers share their best tips for learning the language. Don't miss it, here

Where to Rent a Car in France?
In this post, readers tell where they go to reserve a car rental. Click here.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! 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.


"Rooster Thief" (c) Kristin Espinasse

"The Rooster Thief". The French sure have a way with window drama, as seen here (see the full photo, below). Today, read about an American chick in a French autoparts store... or try your luck... with the anecdote on offer in the following story column!

Please forward today's post to a dog lover or a wine lover or a France lover! Thanks!

Yabla French Video Immersion.
The fun way to learn French

châtier (sha-tee-yay)

    : to punish, chastise

châtié = polished (verse, style)
le châtiment corporel = corporal punishment 

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these words: Download MP3 or Wav file

Qui aime bien châtie bien.
Spare the rod and spoil the child.

Books, books, books! There are 12 or 13 rotating "book shelves" at the French Word-A-Day blog. Check out the current selection of French-themed reading, in the side-columns of the blog, here.

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

Ain't Misbehavin!

Since the harvesters returned home, Jean-Marc has worked long days in the cellar, all on his own, but by the way he argues with the barrels and the vats and the wine--you'd think he was in good company!

I sometimes hear him, through the thick, 300-year-old walls that separate our home from the cave, as he hollers after those grapes! And I have to laugh, thinking of that favorite proverb of his: Qui aime bien châtie bien, or "Who loves well punishes well". Ouch, that does not sound like a good translation: how about this one: "Spare the rod, spoil the child"?

While Chief Grape has been busy disciplining his wine (and, by the way, did you notice that the last three letters in "misbehaVIN'" = "wine" in French? Enough said)... Yes, while Chief Grape is keeping his wine in line, Smokey is discovering what the harvesters have left behind. In addition to gâteaux and vêtements and chausseurs (we'll add them to The Glad Rags Bag!), there was this chapeau!...  


Smokey says: Thank you, Caroline, for this hammy-down! (Caroline was this year's harvest queen. See her photo, below). By the way, Smokey would like to add, "Did you see my mom in the background? Elle s'ennuie! = She's bored!"


Tattered chairs and tattered tongues. 


Chut! Shhh! Don't tell Chief Grape where I am... Discipline is for grapes, not Goldens!


Smokey says: "Even dogs have scars!" Most of you have read about Smokey's accident in 2009, when, as a two-month-old he was attacked by two big dogs.... Don't want to read about that? Then read about my parents "Great Escape": the story of Sailor Sam and Braise's honeymoon.

Le Coin Commentaires

Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.


French Vocabulary

la cave = wine cellar

qui aime bien châtie bien = spare the rod and spoil the child

le gâteau = cake

le vêtement (les vêtements) = garment (clothing) 

la chaussure = shoe

elle s'ennuie = she's bored

chut! = shhh!

*Zee End: Au Revoir just now...* 

End Note: When you buy any item at Amazon, using the following links to enter the store, your purchase helps support this free French word journal. Thanks for keeping this in mind!

French Christmas
French-themed pin cushion...with wonderful typography on the back! A perfect gift at under $20! Click here to order this or another item via this link.



Une dragée = sugared almond. At every celebration (weddings, baptisms... ) these traditional French Almond Dragées are gobbled down by even the slenderest femme fatale (by the way, did you read my femme fatale story... about the ex-girlfriend that showed up at my wedding? Don't miss that one, click here! Even better when read while munching these dragées. Order the almond dragées or any other item, via this link

  Capture plein écran 28022011 085453Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France (My book! Dreams do come true!) "Beginning students of conversational French will profit from many of these brief entries, and supplemental tables of expressions go far to demystify French idioms for anyone wishing to speak and write more fluent French." -- Mark Knoblauch Tip: read the 10-page intro to this book... and learn about why Jean-Marc bought me a one-way ticket-along the lines of It's over, Baby!--back to the States!


Window Whimsy (c) Kristin Espinasse

Photo taken last August, in Serre Chevalier, in Monêtier-les-Bains... (near Briançon)


Every year, Chief Grape takes time out from the busy harvest to make these leafy crowns for his harvest "hot shots" (those vendangeurs and vendangeuses who really shine among the vines!). He also makes the diplomas, like the one Caroline is holding. He really is proud of his entire team and it is never easy for him to have to choose a harvest king or queen. Félicitations, Caroline, for earning this year's leafy trophy! (To see our harvest king, click here and scroll to the end of the page.)


Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! 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.


I've seen a lot of corks in my day (...), but have never seen them so displayed... picture taken in the village of Nuits St. Georges, in Burgundy.

aviner (ah vee nay)

    : to rinse one's wine glass with wine before sampling another wine

Audio File (no file today... a little mouse ran off with my microphone... ugh, teens and their interactive video games! Update: that little mouse made up for it by making a video tape of today's word and expression. See it at the end of this post. If reading via email, you'll have to click over to the blog!)

Example Sentence:

Avant de déguster un nouveau vin, il faut aviner le verre.
Before tasting a new wine, you must rinse your glass. 

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

Expensive Spit

Yesterday we were late, late, late, to a very important Burgundian date! "Je déteste être en retard," Jean-Marc admitted, as he circled the car round the block once again in search of the exclusive address. You wouldn't know it by the neighborhood, where clunky cars such as our own were parked (where was the private jet landing and where were the Jaguars?). And the (abandoned) front office--which we would eventually find--with its modest table and chairs, would not give away this vineyard's forte: that of making the rarest wine on the planet.

Found loitering beneath the rain in the parking lot, Jean-Marc and I apologized as we were escorted, dripping wet, down some steep concrete stairs, into the subterranean tasting room. Almost slipping off a step, I was glad to have worn sensible shoes--and not the high heels that I'd wanted to.

Coming out of a dark corridor, rows of dusty bottles behind us, we stood peering into the sacred room, which stood, VIP after VIP, peering back at us!

Jean-Marc and I "sklunked" like thieves into the small stone-vaulted salle de dégustation.  I don't know whether it was our lateness or a feeling of out-of-placeness, whichever, we were very fortunate to take part in this private tasting... having been smuggled into the appointment by a wine writer* and friend.

I watched Jean-Marc kiss Robert, then proceed to greet the others in the group. I followed my husband's example, planting two bisous on our friend's joues... and I kissed the next VIP and the next, quickly changing to handshaking when I realized my gaffe (Jean-Marc had only kissed those he knew, c-à-d, the other wine-makers smuggled in by Robert, characters we'd had the chance to meet last year in Sicily).

From here on we tried to quickly and discreetly blend into the group, which was currently being asked to "aviner". "Pardon me," I eventually asked, wondering whether it was wrong to break the silence... "but what does "aviner" mean?" I could not resist the urge to know this verb.

The man with the houndstooth coat and silk scarf lowered his chin and studied me, his eyes now perched above his glasses: "it means to rinse out your wine glass". 

Robert broke the silence by conjugating the verb and so putting it to practice: "Avinons-nous, everyone?" and with that glasses were rinsed. Because I had no glass to rinse (having turned down the offer to taste the rare wines--I hoped this was not Gaffe Number Three), I stood and watched, awkwardly. That's when Robert handed me his camera. "You seem to know how to take photos," he said with a smile. "Would you like to take a few for me?" What a relief it was to find employment! I set off to capture the event, now feeling very much in my element. 

But when the man in the beautiful coat and the low-lying glasses mentioned: " are for your private collection only..." I nodded obediently. It was dommage to not be able to share these images, but I was grateful, nevertheless, to keep my job! 

Driving home that evening, I couldn't help but ask my husband, Chief Grape, about the rare wines he had tasted: were they really that good? Jean-Marc confirmed that they were.

"Gosh, it must have cost ten bucks a sip!" I pointed out, only to notice the amused look on Jean-Marc's face. "Let's just say that each time a guest spat out the wine into the spittoon, it was like spitting hundred dollar bills!"

"Sans déconner!"" No longer did I wonder about my "missed chance" to taste the exclusive wine. I was just thankful not to have wasted one cent!


Postnote: In the car ride home, as Jean-Marc savored the wine, which lingering on his tongue, I was savoring another rare and precious commodity: .... well, maybe more about that later...  

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, questions, and comments of your own are welcome in the comments box. Don't be shy, join us in this cosy community corner! Click here to leave a message or to guess where this wine tasting took place


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References &French Vocabulary

* read about wine writer and friend Robert Camuto, just below...

je déteste être en retard = I hate being late

la salle de dégustation = wine tasting room

bisous = kisses

la joue = cheek

dommage = too bad

sans déconner = no kidding!

c-à-dire (c'est-à-dire) = that is to say

Update! (this just in from Suzanne, a reader): I think deconner comes from the word "con" ... so it's a stronger and more vulgar meaning than "no kidding"! When I was growing up in Cote d'Ivoire, my French mom would have washed my mouth out with soap. I know it's commonly used, I say it all the time, but it's more like " no shit!" . " "Sans blague" or "sans blaguer" is what I would say...but I definitely cracked up when I saw "deconner"!!


Anti-Trivia (like antipasti!): Who were the other Sicilian characters in today's story? Find them here:

Ciro Biondi, his beautiful wife Stef, Cristiano Garella (wish I had a link for you!...), and Alberto Graci.



And many thanks to Robert Camuto (check out his latest book), for inviting us to join the Sicilians in Burgundy! Robert will begin a USA book tour next month. Don't miss it! Check out this page for details.




Capture plein écran 23022011 101519
In other books: Paris Café by Noel Riley Fitch:


In this droll, delicious little volume, Fitch and Tulka provide an affectionate portrait of the Select Cafe, one of those famous Paris eateries that have served as candles to intellectual moths--French, American, and otherwise--for nearly a century.


Order a copy and help support this French word journal. Note: once you have entered Amazon feel free to choose any book or product (from books to dog biscuits!). Your purchase of any item will help support this free language journal. Click here to enter Amazon.

This is our 15-year-old, Max. Behind him is one of our cement tanks, where visitors have signed their names :-)

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! 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.

mauvaise herbe

"Chief Grape". Meet Jean-Marc in DC this coming March 8th for a tasting of his wines or later in many other US cities

mauvaise herbe (moh vayz airb)

    : weed

arracher les mauvaises herbes = to pull weeds

Audio file: (check back later... will update the site this afternoon!)

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

The sun is shining, cutting through the haze that hovers over the field of vines just outside my office window. I've opened the fenêtre to let in some air and, with it, some sounds from the parcel just below. More than to birdsong I am treated to the enchanting chitter-chatter of the vineworkers from a neighboring farm. I hope our own workers will be as jovial this morning.... 

The sun's rays are now hitting my back, warming it completely. It feels almost like le printemps.... Earlier, as I drove Jackie to school, I noticed the amandiers were in bloom, their white blossoms adding a floral pop! to the still hibernating countryside. 

While some, like the almond trees, are coming to life, others are being read their last rites! It's going to be a mean morning for les mauvaises herbes! But justice must be done! After all, they are choking our baby vines! (As many of you know, Chief Grape is lenient on weeds: he'd rather keep them and let the mature vines struggle for water, and, in so doing, strengthen. The alternative (herbicide) is not an option for this gentle farmer. But things are different for the baby vines, which are too weak to hold their own against the weeds. Therefore, this morning certain weeds are meeting defeat!).

Two 'executioners' arrived last night from Belgium, friends of Chief Grape who are already out working in the vineyard. I imagine their feet are sinking into the cold, wet earth. If I squint my eyes, I can just see the men at the end of the field, hunched over one of the knee-high voleurs d'eau, or water thieves. With gloved hands they tug at the thorny weed....

I guess about now--almost two hours into the torturous task of weeding--the men, c-à-d "Erik" and "Olivier", are wondering about the charm of Southern France, wondering what particular spell it had over them, wondering, after all, what Provence has on Brussels (???) -- where the din of city life is beginning to sing to them, chanting melodiously as are the birds in the vineyard trees and the other worker 'bees' who chitchat and work with longtime expertise.

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, questions, commentary, and stories of your own are most welcome here in the community corner. P.S.: today I'm making chicken thighs & rice & Provençal tomatoes, salad... but I'll need help with tomorrow's lunch: does anyone have a good (fast, easy!) recipe for pork tenderloin or le filet mignon de porc? We'll have a stomach-smashing gratin dauphinois to go along with it! Please put the recipe or tips in the comments box!


Desherbant I hope you'll have a moment to read this story about an exotic "herb" I found growing in a nearby vineyard... It includes a very embarrasing garden moment! Click here to see it.


 VIDEO: and do not miss this video of Jean-Marc planting his beloved baby vines. The footage always brings tears to my eyes!

French Vocabulary

la fenêtre = window

le printemps = spring, springtime

l'amandier (m) = almond tree

la mauvaise herbe = weed

le voleur d'eau = water thief

c-à-d = c'est-à-dire

Coquilles, etc... ("Typos etcetera")

gagant-gagnant (and not gagné-gagné)

Thank you, Jacqueline, for the gagnant-gagnant correction (from the previous "two hits with one stone" edition). And mille mercis to Newforest, who followed up on Jacqueline's comment. Newforest writes:

---> About the 'win-win' situation: yes, it is indeed "gagnant-gagnant" (from the verb "gagner" = to win)

---> On the other hand, in a 'no-win' situation / 'lose-lose' situation, there are choices, but, unfortunately, there is no benefit and no way of getting anything that works out. This situation, is "perdant-perdant" (from the verb "perdre" = to lose).

---> There is another expression formed in the same way - it is: "donnant-donnant" (from the verb "donner" = to give. This is a 'give-and-take' situation with mutual concessions, compromises and agreements.

jet lag et compagnie...

Newforest added a few vital words to my "décalage horaire" - jet lag translation:

I think "jet lag" should be translated in French by
--> "le syndrome du décalage horaire"

to suffer from jet lag
= souffrir du décalage horaire.
"Je souffre du décalage horaire"/ "je supporte mal le décalage horaire".

A short bio on Newforest, written by fellow comments box buddy "Candy in SW KS"
"Newforest always regales us with great vocab lessons which are informative and fun. "


Mille mercis to those of you who share... in le Coin Commentaires. Don't miss this cozy commmunity corner, which comes to life after the edition goes out. 

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! 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.


La Treille (c) Kristin Espinasse
Trellised vine in the town of Sarrians.  Never miss a word or photo, subscribe to French Word-A-Day

la treille (treye) noun, feminine

    : trellised, climbing vines, vine arbor

le jus de la treille = wine, lit. "the juice of the vine"
treillage =lattice work

Audio File: (the francophones are absent... so you are stuck with my pronunciation of the word of the day... listen at your own risk!) Download MP3 or Download Wav

Les vendangeurs doivent cueillir les grappes qui pendent à la treille.
The grape-harvesters must pick the grapes that hang from the trellised vines. 


Old sign-2

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

A storm is brewing outside my window and the vines just below are whip-roaring. Stirred up by the southern wind, they will soon lose their leaves to autumn.

My mind moves back to a smooth summer day. I am watching my husband train his vines. No commands are needed (as with the dogs): no sit (assis!), lie down (couché!) or gimme a paw! (donne la patte!). Iron and string are all that is required to get the vine branches to follow the wire.

Old sign-1
(Jean-Marc took this photo yesterday morning... on a Sunday drive to Rognonas for Max's first basketball game of the season.)

I love watching Jean-Marc tend to his vines, especially the unfruitful ones. It takes a lot of love to care for something that produces nothing... except good shade! The vines on our back deck, therefore, give ombre offerings, shady splendor on a hot summer day. 

Now in their third year, the vine branches are spreading out into a great, leafy parasol with the help of the off-duty vigneron (grape vines are his day job, climbing vines are his leisure).

I watch Jean-Marc reach up, up, up to the pergola above. Nothin' doin'. He must come into the kitchen for a chair and step up to these vines in the air. Next, he begins tucking in and weaving so many vagabond vine tendrils, which then continue on track to the end of la treille.

What satisfaction on the vine tender's face after helping so many errant ones 'step' back into place.


 Le Coin Commentaires

Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome. Click here to leave a message.

Jean-Marc's latest article! When not writing for his Rouge-Bleu blog, Jean-Marc is penning posts over at Bonjour Paris. Read the first here!


French Vocabulary

 assis! (asseoir) = sit

couché! (coucher) = lie down

donne la patte! = give (me) your paw
l'ombre (f) = shade

le parasol = umbrella

le vigneron (la vigneronne) = wine grower 

la treille = vine arbor

When you buy any item at Amazon (via the links listed below--and at no additional cost to you) your purchase helps support this French word journal. Merci!

All Three French Square Pillows 

Three French pillows. Click here to order.

Jean de florette

In Film: Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring. Order here.


Great gift for a writer: click here to order notebook 

Vintage Typewriter Cavallini Small Notebook

And finally...

The grape crush goes on....

Daniel (above and below, left) and Alexis (far right) returned last night to help with the crush. They were out there, knee-deep in grapes, until their dinner turned cold on the table.... Thanks for all your hard work!



Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! 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.



Smokey says: Give her a hand -- help her out by buying her book!

Yes indeed, step right up and have a look at the la book! When you click over to the book page you will:

  • Enjoy a 15-page preview -- including a favorite quote of Kristin's and pictures of Smokey "R" Dokey's dashing dad!
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Word-A-Day: the book! Don't delay, click over to the book page here, thisaway! The 120-page second edition is full to the brim with French photos and there are even a few family recipes! The book makes an excellent:

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Thank you for your purchases, which are helping to boost this free language journal into its ninth year!

Today's Word: rabais

rabais (rah-beh) noun, masculine

: discount, reduction

Listen to our daughter, Jackie, pronounce these words: Download MP3 or Download WAV

Obtenez un rabais de $7 dollars quand vous achetez mon livre.
Receive a $7 dollar reduction when you buy my book. 

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

Yesterday was a BIG day for Chief Grape. His wine cellar expanded twofold! Space has been one of the biggest issues (or casse-têtes!) since Jean-Marc decided to produce wine here at the farm. For the past three years he has littéralement worked around the problem: crawling on hands and knees over the cement tanks (the tops of which double as storage space...) and squeezing in and out among the cases of wine which line the center of his cave. Lately, things have become so pinched that it's all he can do not to suck in his stomach when inching past the equipment. Pardonnez-moi for these little amplifications of the truth, but if Chief Grape hasn't exactly had to rentrer le ventre, he has indeed been pinched for space.

The space problem may not have caused the accidents that he has had in the cellar (in particular, the one in which he fell off the grape press... and the other in which he was nearly knocked out by a piece of heavy, falling equipment), no, these accidents were due more to fatigue than to lack of space. But what is sure is that lack of space has greatly led to fatigue! 

After studying several space-expanding possiblities—all too pricey or legally dicey (for in building an extension to the cellar some rules might be overlooked...)—Chief Grape settled on a unique solution: the maritime shipping container!


These former cargo containers, or conteneurs "Dernier Voyage" (so called after their retirement from years of ocean travel) are a welcome addition to our eclectic grape farm!  Jean-Marc will soon fit them with a heating and cooling system, while Uncle Jacques will take care of insulation. Eventually these dented "dernier voyagers" will be stocked with farm equipment and wine!

Initially skeptical of their ability to feng shui or groove with this Gallic winery... a recent revelation has me thinking that they are not the eyesores I thought they would be. Perhaps this has to do with their history... and all those bumps and bruises they sport (for who can help... but feel compassion for their sort?). 

So bienvenue dear, retired seafarers! Do make yourselves at home, here in the wild and windy Rhône.  


Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, questions, and comments are most welcome here, in the comments box. Click here to leave a message. 

French Vocabulary

le casse-tête = headache (problem)

littéralement = literally

la cave = wine cellar

pardonnez-moi = excuse me

rentrer le ventre = to hold in the stomach

When you buy any item at Amazon, via the following links (and at no additional cost to you) your purchase helps support this French word journal.

I Know How To Cook The bible of French home cooking, Je Sais Cuisiner, has sold over 6 million copies since it was first published in 1932. It is a household must-have, and a well-thumbed copy can be found in kitchens throughout France. Its author, Ginette Mathiot, published more than 30 recipe books in her lifetime, and this is her magnum opus. It's now available for the first time in English as I Know How to Cook. With more than 1,400 easy-to-follow recipes for every occasion, it is an authoritative compendium of every classic French dish, from croque monsieur to cassoulet. 



Sweatshirt "Provence-Alpes-Cote D'azur

English Grammar for Students of French: The Study Guide for Those Learning French

France Magazine subscription

Easy French Reader: A fun and easy new way to quickly acquire or enhance basic reading skills

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.

Cartes-postalesCartes Postales: an album--with vintage flair!--for post cards 



Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! 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.


The walls may need paint but the grapes are now pressed... and in bottles!

échantillon (ay-shahn-tee-yon) noun, masculine
  : sample, tester (product)

In French reference books: the French/French dictionary on my desk. I'm just itching for an updated version like this one.

On our kitchen table I see échantillons,* shiny and black! Row after row of unlabeled bottles behind which a very weary Frenchman stands--there, in the back...

Chestnut tresses, once close-cut and well-kempt, fall almost to his shoulders which slump in ressentiment:* to every hair however stray, those shoulders seem to say, "Halt! We can carry no more weight! Go away!"

The belt around his waist is loose, though fixed at its last notch; it is as if the lost pounds--all twenty--have poured forth from a heavy heart and into those bottles: blood, sweat, and tears preceded the wine inside, and behind every passion there is pain.

I study my winemaker husband, who seems oblivious to his success. "Aren't you proud of yourself?" I say. "Look at what you have accomplished!" Jean-Marc searches the kitchen for a permanent marker: he has 60 bottles to pack and ship--and under 48 hours in which to do it!

"Oui... oui chérie..."* he assures me, unconvincingly.

As I stand there, trying to understand my husband's behavior, my eyes lock on the rows and rows of bottles whereupon my vision blurs; when it returns I see not bottles... but books! The box beside the table now reads "Simon & Schuster". Fifty hot-off-the-press books stare back at me. My name--in all caps--is written across the cover of each and every bound biography. I touch the books and wait for that On Top of the World feeling to hit. I wait, and wait. I give up and go and do some laundry.

Two years later and here I stand. Arms around my husband, we look over a small sea of bottles: the Fruits of Labor. I think about how fruits are overrated. It is the labor that lends meaning.

There, in the silence, Jean-Marc and I share the unmystical moment: holy unto itself. You know the worn-out saying--"worn" being key: "It is the journey and not the destination." As well:

It is the work and not the final presentation
It is in the blood, sweat, and tears --
that one feels that deep-seated rumble of elation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

un échantillon (m) = sample; le ressentiment (m) = resentment; oui...oui chéri(e) = yes... yes dear

      Families of the Vine: Seasons Among the Winemakers of Southwest France

:: Audio File & Quote ::
Listen to my daughter pronounce today's French word:
Dieu ...est l'Universel, le Vrai même, et tout le reste en est un échantillon. God... is the universal, the true itself, of which all the rest is an example. --Friedrich Hegel
Download echantillon.mp3
Download echantillon.wav
FRENCH in 10 minutes a day is a fun, dynamic and engaging way to begin your love affair with French.
French Country Diary 2008 (Calendar)
French cosmetics: Caudalie: A true Vinotherapie® Spa experience
French film: La Vie en Rose
Wouldn't that make a great book title? For now, it is the headline of an invitation... to you! Jean-Marc & I will be touring the US west coast next month, presenting wines from Domaine Rouge-Bleu--we'll have books* with us, too. Click here for more information.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! 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.


Though we still don't know if our loan has been approved, or if our home will be mortgaged, Jean-Marc has gone ahead with the plans for his wine cellar.

hypothèque (ee-poh-tek) noun, feminine

Une dette flottante est un navire hypothèque.
A floating debt is a mortgaged vessel.
--Jean-Charles (French humorist)

At the Crédit Agricole bank I tugged on the perfect green leaf of a benjamin ficus tree. The plant looked real enough but just as I was about to stick my finger into the terracotta pot to check, the banker returned.

"Thanks and we'll be in touch," the banker said, handing us back one French and one American passport, just-copied documents to be added to a five inch thick folder full of information on our vineyard project.

Jean-Marc had spent the last hour trying to convince Monsieur Thomas to lend us the money for the viticole* property. Though we have signed promise papers to buy the vines and handed over the five percent down payment, we are unable to write a check for 95% of the purchase price, due sometime in March.

"If we find a buyer for our own home in the next week, will you reconsider the hypothèque?"* Jean-Marc asked, trying to avoid the short-term mortgaging of our home and the astronomical fees involved. Considering our house had been on the market almost two months it wasn't likely to sell anytime soon, certainly not in off-season. I stared at the hopeful expression on my husband's face, surprised by his wishful thinking. The banker seemed positively amused.

Not five days later, as Bacchus is my witness, a man and a woman walked onto our property and offered to buy our home. On December 30th we signed papers promising to sell it to them.

Until the ink begins to dry on the final contract, the bank loans having come through, we won't know if this vineyard dream is for real or if, like the perfect green leaves of the banker's tree, illusory. Only Bacchus, god of vine and wine, grinning up there in the Ste. Cécilian heavens beyond, knows who will collect those sweet grapes come harvest time.

References: viticole (adj.) = wine, wine-growing; une hypothèque (f) = mortgage

:: Audio clip ::
Hear the French word for mortgage in the following expressions: Download hypotheque.wav

lever l'hypothèque = to take away the obstacle
prendre une hypothèque sur l'avenir = to mortgage the future
hypothèquer = to mortgage, hypothecate, to secure (by mortgage)
une hypothèque à taux variable = variable rate mortgage
une hypothèque de deuxième rang = a second mortgage
une hypothèque sur les biens mobiles = chattel mortgage
un contrat d'hypothèque = mortgage deed
purger une hypothèque = to pay off a mortgage

In books and gifts:
Monet's House: An Impressionist Interior

Travel accessories: silk money belt for travel.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! 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.