Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Terrace is a Lovely Thing

I will never get over the joy of having a garden and a terrace. Living in a city with neither for over ten years has given me a level of appreciation I couldn't imagine. The gift of spring is reveled in, soaked in, bathed in when you have access to it so easily.

We are eating outdoors now, every noon and night. Gaetan does his homework outdoors till the sun sets. Filou and his best friend Saline are there at our feet. There are no mosquitoes as yet (only the one or two that fly around in the bedroom at night). The birds sing, the neighbors are quiet.

I'm aswirl in the momentary pleasures enjoying the boys, a simple meal, my slowing blooming roses, the setting sun beyond the cypress trees.

Life could be a lot worse.

Acacia Beignets

What a glorious world this is that provides such lovely possibilities for my kitchen and my table!

The blossoms are coming in on many a tree, and yes, they are edible. A special treat at this time of year is Acacia flower beignet. The Acacia flowers grow like grapes and Wysteria, in hanging clumps. They are comestible and delicious. So, I sent the kids out to gather a few and prepared a simple beignet batter with:

2 eggs
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup milk
1/3-1/2 cup water

I whisked this all together till it was of a light cream texture. Then I heated up some frying oil (cold-pressed, organic sunflower), dipped my flowers into the batter and began frying. It took no time at all to have a tray full.

I sprinkled them with powdered sugar and brought them out to my hungry crowd.

Oh what a pleasure!

Alongside the Acacia was my elder tree coming into bloom. I gathered the elderflowers, along with a few of the acacia and made syrup as I do every spring. Do see my post from last year on the many possibilities of syrups for the kids from my garden:

Elderflower syrup

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Life Lessons continue through Friendship

I’m sitting with Isabelle, formerly my goat cheese maker, in the sun in front of her home. She is now in a wheel chair. Too weak to walk where just two weeks ago, or maybe three? She had been doing the dishes and able to descend the stair case. It has been a steady descent since her epileptic fit just a month ago. I was lucky to see her as I did – alert, present, if without a memory to follow a conversation or remember where to put the compost.

She is sleeping more and more. Brief moments of waking are greeted with calm joy and presence by Paul Pierre, and other friends at her side. Meals are taken when she is ready. Gently, one by one, Paul Pierre guides and encourages her to eat, first the salad, commenting on the sauce made by their good friend, then some pea pods, a bit of lovely organic beef raised by a favorite farm, onwards to some cheese, perhaps a bit of fruit salad, wine, chocolate. It is no more than a bite of any of these, perhaps two. One of five of these bites she is able herself to bring to her lips. A gentle commentary accompanies each moment of the meal, nothing too profound, simply a moment of good humor, an appreciation of the texture and taste entering her mouth. Paul Pierre is reinforcing the present to her, accentuating the sensations of her body, perhaps keeping her with us on this plane?

During my last visit I had spent time showing her pictures of the children, JP, the goats and more. I attempted a similar offering today with photos of Venice and our mutual friend the beekeeper. She seemed to awaken and participate, enjoying the visuals as they passed upon the screen, but within ten minutes she was wearied. This tumor is ever evolving, and her presence is ever dimming.

As we sit outside, she drifts off to sleep. The dogs are at our feet: her wonderful Bearnese sheep dog, and Filou. Both have tendered their affection, their moist noses towards Isabelle, reached for a moment of grace as she patted them, felt them, saw them.

What is life after all? How many books and pod casts will I read and absorb when here the lesson is so deeply incised? What truly matters? I am selfishly living alongside, absorbing the blessings of their company. I am seeking answers for my path, my choices, my values. And here, so much of the noise, the blurry world simply falls away. I am in the warmth of a loving and caring group. I am in the warmth of a world warming into a full spring and soon summer. I am in the color of the flowers and the sounds of the buzzing flies, wasps, birds and snoring dog.

I'm aware of my effort to be there but not too much. My natural energy is ebullient, and here I need to be calm. I am sensitive to the energy, but not always able to control my speed of speech, my leap into movement. Her nap is precious, sacred, protected by all. Her need for sleep encouraged where I would speak with her, encourage connection. I'm not in sync, though my love is there. I'm in that state of "trying my best." There is a disconnect.

Will this be the last time that I visit? I shall offer again next week, but I know that I am not the most reposing of individuals. I bring tales, chatter, images, a chance for sharing. But she and Paul Pierre are past this now. It is a time to simply be at her side, d'assister à sa vie, to speak softly and lovingly, to rearrange her pillows and help her go from bed to wheel chair and back again. New information, a connection to the outside world, even laughter, are no longer on the menu. It is possible I've offered what I might at this point.

And yet, she is in me. I bring her with me as I drive back to pick the kids up at school. I’ve two lovely young boys who are there, interested, present, living day to day. I’ve turned away from the rushing, frantic existence. And somehow, the universe hasn’t abandoned me. I will work this season, I will pay my bills, feed my children, hold onto my house, cope on the basics. I’m not playing the stock market, I’ve not put oodles away for retirement. I’ve not really played by the rules of the system. But I am looking into a guitar class for Leo, seeing more friends, exchanging English conversation practice for a nourishing massage (once a week if I’m lucky). I am making my bread, tending my garden, tending my soul.

It doesn’t feel like a fantasy, it feels normal. In this world where the aged parent is taken in by the children, where the retirement home is a last ditch effort for only the most feeble and desperate, where loved ones are cared for and family means something... it’s more important to give and teach good values and be present in a relaxed and serene manner for my children than to chase after a nebulous retirement account. The last few years and the insanity of the banking crisis, the number of bankruptcies, etc., have led me to adopt the approach of lowering my expenses, limiting debt, and cultivating friends and loved ones.

I think I'm on the right path.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What is Sophie up to?

My beekeeper, mon apicultrice, Sophie Berton, is one of my oldest acquaintances in Provence. I met her early in the years of our business, when Leo was still a baby in a backpack, soon to be followed by the stroller. She became one of our first artisan visits, extending the culinary experience beyond the cooking classes. Many were the feasts of honey-laden dishes we enjoyed (and still do) in her wonderful home nestled in the woods off a dirt road running past a chapel from the middle ages (built upon an ancient Roman temple).

At one point, one of my favorite au pairs dated her eldest son, then in the early stages of his compagnonage (journeyman apprenticeship) as a stone carver (tailleur de pierre). I had great hopes of such an alliance -- I would have adored to have my au pair as a permanent neighbor and close friend, and also to be that much closer to Sophie. Ah well, that didn't work out, but Sophie and our friendship have stood the test of time and distance.

Since my move to Avignon, and my shifted professional focus (or simply the blow of the economic crisis and the ensuing dramatic lack of tourists which is happily coming to an end) not to mention the fact that I had been involved most every weekend with my vintner (this relationship now defunk) I hadn't been able to carve out the time to see much of Sophie. While I lived in Arles, we'd had the ease of my visiting her at the outdoor market in Arles nearly every week, and the frequency of my professional visits with cooking school clients to keep us close for most of our friendship. Now, it requires a bit of extra effort to find those moments to connect.

Single, with a weekend before me I snapped at the option of a party to celebrate spring at Sophie's today. And so off I went, dressed in summer attire -- the sun beating down upon us all--covered in sun screen, a straw hat atop my head.

What greeted me was an array of sights, people and feelings. I have always adored her home and her valley. It had often been a refuge for me from the city streets of Arles. A place where the scents of the wild flowers, herbs and trees fill the air, the buzzing of insects is ever present, and the singing of birds is just part of the atmosphere. Cars pass very very rarely on the her road -- and so you can revel in the sensation of merging with the natural world.

I found Sophie busily preparing omelets in the kitchen of her new home, friends working alongside. She has sold the home that used to greet me, and renovated a small ruin not far from it. She kept all her olive groves, and now lives in a tiny space just large enough for herself and the occasional guest (who observes the 3 day rule no more!), easy to heat, cozy and comfy. A bit tight in corners as she still has most of her art collection, library and accumulations of a life time to squeeze in there. But she's reduced her furniture needs to the minimum -- no more would fit in her space -- and exchanged what had been an ancient shepherd's shelter for a warm and far more luminous home. It fits her, if a bit snugly.

And, her projects have taken off. With her boys both grown and on their own, her former home sold for a tidy sum, she had the means to move forth in a way she had never been able to do on what she earned as a beekeeper. She has invested in a traditional yurt in which feasts, meetings, yoga classes and more now occur. She has built a new mielerie (honey house), put up a toilette seche, dry toilet, and is currently installing a lovely outdoor kitchen and area for showers.

She now welcomes visitors to learn far more than just what kinds of honey she can harvest. She is teaching medieval history through the lore of plants, food and tales. She is leading hikes, teaching about the world of bees and medicinal plants. And she is actively excavating and renovating the chapel across the road with an archeologist, historian and skilled stone cutters. Active, and yet seemingly finally at peace.

Sophie had always been someone for whom things came with difficulty. She was a grand complainer. Good humoredly regaling you with the difficulties of her situation (no electricity for 20 years) whenever you visited her honey stand. Was it simply her karma?

What I see today is a lovely woman who is finally approaching a moment of serenity, accomplishment and calm. She is still busy, surrounded by interesting and powerful women friends who tell stories, explore the sacred power of woman, connect with nature and shift the stones of their world. She is in her role as a teacher, a sharer of knowledge and place.

And in this place she welcomed her friends for a fête de printemps of omelets and quiche, salads and bread, cheese and wine and her best spice cake. News was exchanged, lotto played (a means of getting rid of some of her very large library...) and music filled the afternoon. What a lovely way to greet the warm weather!

I don't have Sophie's spice cake recipe for you. However I can tell you what she's told me. She uses a proportion of 1:1 for flour and honey -- thus this is a rich cake! She warms the honey to liquify it, just to a sizzle, no more, before pouring it over the flour. She lets it act on the flour a bit -- apparently her unpasteurized honey has a quality that helps break down the flour and initiate fermentation. Then she adds her other ingredients. She has a liberal hand with anise seed, something that it has taken me years to get used to. Having a mother who hates liquorice-flavored anything can mark you for a long time. (in my case).

Remarkably often, Sophie burns the bottom of her spice cake. A natural multi-tasker, over-extended, always chatting with someone, four or more things going at once, the occasional slightly over-cooked dessert is a standard in her house. But that doesn't stop her. And nor does it diminish the joy and délice of spending time at her table.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Signs of the Season

My favorite wild rose bush is covered in buds and just beginning to flower. The promise of a wall filled with its deep magenta is there... next week?

The cherry tree is nearly all leaf, its last blossoms hanging on for another couple of days.

The tiny thornless roses behind the pool are bursting into bloom, and stretching across the fence, filling the back garden with their light yellow tufts.

The neighbor's wysteria (glicine) is fully in blossom, a wall of magical purple cascades that I do so wish I could transplant to my facade...

The vegetable patch is coming up, happy potato plants amidst a few weeds, delicate peas.

And a forest of strawberries fit for a storybook tale of fairies and shrinking children playing hide and seek.

The nose sniffles as the fluffy things fall from the trees, filling the ground with their wafting cotton.

And the mosquitoes are happily birthing their babies and sending them to feast upon our blood as we contemplate sleep. A few head slaps before the mind finally shuts down is my new routine. Mosquito screens before the 1st of May? That's what a moist winter and early spring bring. Happily, I hear the frogs croaking away in the evening. Gorge yourselves I pray to them, consume the babes before they reach my window and my ever tender neck.

In the morning, the birds sing me awake as the sky turns slowly gray. Yes, I'm still not sleeping over much past 5AM, but I feel the slump passing, and the beauty surrounding me nourishing me and pushing me forward.

Le monde s'épanouit autour de moi.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Broken Plate - Une Assiètte Cassée

Are you one of those people who fixes broken plates? Do you patiently conserve all the pieces till you've got a free moment, a new bottle of super glue and then sit down and put back together that puzzle? It's a very Humpty Dumpty moment.

Of course, there is a brief moment of satisfaction when you succeed, after holding it together, pressing carefully, lining up those edges. But then you use it as you use all things, and it gets food on it, and put in the dish washer, and put away in stacks. All as if it were truly as good as new.

But it isn't, and inevitably, the day will come when it breaks again. Do you try to repair it again? or do you toss it? I suppose each person is different in this. Feng Shui masters toss broken pottery. It is bad luck. But there are those of us with a rather tenacious nature, and endless belief in the possible.

Yes, I'm one of the latter. I can listen, respect and observe the other point of view, but when it comes down to it, I repair the broken and try again, often two or three times, before the inevitable catches up to me.

What is this leading up to? Can you intuit? Yes, at long last, a separation that might have been cleaner and done with back in October, that had another chance in February, finally occurred for good yesterday evening.

And so, I face the world again as a single woman. Though in many ways I've been such now for quite some time, I did enjoy simply being part of a couple and having the occasional bit of help around my house, garden, etc., It was nice to make reference to mon homme, mon vigneron, etc.,

However, I am far richer in friends and possibilities than before. The cracks in the plate had prepared me for this moment. And so onward. I will still dance -- the Salsa with my girl friend, Tango with the supremely friendly Avignon-based association l'Ilôt Tango. The weather is splendid -- I always have a sense of coming back to life in the spring. My rose bush will soon be blossoming, and I've lots of work touring coming up in the next couple of months.

I'm a bit disoriented, sad, out-of-sorts. As usual, I've lost my appetite. But this is passagère.

Along the way I told myself that apparently I chose this man and remained in this relationship to learn something. And I do think I have absorbed a few lessons. He is far stricter and more disciplined than I, nearly rigid, but honest and straightforward, nothing slippery. He had a deep sense of autonomy and required that of me. He was as clear as his mastery of language allowed him to be in stating what he was looking for and in communicating with me. This didn't always make things easy. Blunt communication not being a favorite of mine. Nuances have their value...

From him I also learned quite a bit socially and culturally about his part of the French world, the world of the land-owner in a small Southern town, the life and style of apaysan. A girlfriend points out that had he opened his heart to love my children, to help me raise them, that might have jeopardized his own childrens' inheritance -- his land. He would have been torn and that could not be allowed to occur. Thus, to prevent any betrayal of his own blood, simply avoid the issue. I was baffled and hurt by the behavior, finding it sad that it was impossible for him to even contemplate loving, or learning to love my children. But he felt he'd not been enough with his own, and dared not betray them in this way.

It is not an easy thing to be accepted into a land-owning family. There is no neutral ground. There is family, and there are the outsiders. You are allowed to be present, but not necessarily to speak equally. I'd heard tales about the Corsicans... but here I experienced a variation of the same. There was graciousness, pleasant gatherings where I was given the position of honor of preparing the meal, but... I was never truly a part of it all.

Curious it all is. For so many people attempting relationships at a later date, blending families, contemplating the children of another, it just isn't easy. And the history a structure brings to the table. If it is an American ideal that both individuals sell their former homes to purchase a new one together, and thus to start anew a life as one... I knew from the get-go that this would never happen for us.

Yes, we never truly built anything together. A repaired chicken coop, a few dinner parties, the new wine label... but no more. You can't get very far if you're stuck in second gear.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Brief Moment in Venice

A precious and marvelous couple of days spent in a magical city. Friendly restaurant and wine bar owners, winding tiny streets, many many little bridges, handsome and snappily-dressed gondoliers, expensive prices, glass beads and antique shops aplenty, brisk and cool air off the water. Une ville minérale with remarkably little greenery. The locals do as they might with window boxes, potted trees, etc., Enormous public squares, piazzas. Lovely and easy to drink wines, many a variation of salt cod, shell fish laden pasta, black squid ink, creamy polenta, thick and sweet chocolate, hotels up five flights of stairs. And everywhere, tourists like us -- many French speakers, many English, a few German and Dutch... No, we didn't blend too well with the locals, often with our guides and maps in hand. But, we moved and swirled about this tiny island, shared the crowded boats, and took in the otherness of this city caught between the Byzantine and Europe.

Long Hair, Serious Attitude

It's been a while since I've written about my boys. Mostly, things are progressing quite pleasantly. Leo's hair is longer and longer, and as I study him freshly clean from his shower, dressed in clothes I don't recognize, sitting beside me eating his pasta and fresh goat cheese on a large, thick slice of my dark bread I notice how large his hands are. How long the fingers. I'm tempted to stop him in mid-bite to measure mine against his.

I get up to clear away a dish and look back and I see an impressive quantity of dark and long hairs on his lower legs peaking out from under the just-long-enough pants. The shadow on his face has moved beyond his upper lip to delicately darken his chin and the still small and fragile-seeming line from his temples to his jaw.

Once, in the past few weeks, I was granted a clear view of his face. The day we went swimming with JP at the pool in Nîmes. With a cap on his head, I could marvel again at the beauty of his bone structure, and remember the many times he'd been taken for a girl when he was but two years old. I am only slightly impatiently awaiting the day his hair is long enough to put in a pony tail -- if he will agree that is.

He is lengthening. I barely saw him this vacation. And these two weeks of distance have marked him. The first week he spent with his brother in a 'colonie de vacances' on a boat, péniche on the Canal du Midi. I had the pleasure of picking up the boys at the station when the tour was finished, and reveled in their bubbling up of stories as we enjoyed pizza and profiteroles at our favorite restaurant on the island. Though they assured me it had truly been nul I could see their smiles, hear their stories, and learned of the kids they met, the facts about sharks they'd learned, the interesting experiences they'd lived. Leo didn't like the pâté served the first night, and politely explained that he was allergic to pork. For the rest of the trip he ate with the Islamic kids, sharing their pork-free dishes. He accepted the situation gracefully. And clearly, the boys had gotten along very well together, Leo protecting and including Jonas throughout the week, even carrying him back from an outing when Jonas had had a tummy-ache. They spoke in surprise of the little boy who was younger than Jonas, and shorter, but who weighed as much as Leo! He almost crushed the back of the small pony he rode atop! Stories spilled out of them both.

Only a day later I passed them to Erick, to share his birthday and to spend their week in Arles.

Tonight, the night before school begins, I got them back. In two weeks, so much can occur. I'll put out the measuring tape tomorrow. I do believe Leo is a few centimeters taller. Certainly his shoulders are broadening. Are his shoes getting tight?

As they walked into the house at 8PM -- Leo's homework yet to be done, neither bathed nor showered in over a week, etc., I was both joyous, and conflicted. The list of things to be done, my expectations for them came flowing out of me. There I was chopping, mincing, and pureeing the vegetables for the evening's pasta sauce, and before me were my much adored boys, the elder of which was showing serious resistance to getting started on his homework (and why hadn't he coped on it before coming back to me???? - what is this excuse about having left his book bag in my house???) and loathe to shower, and taking his own sweet time to make his bed, and procrastinating rather than immediately going to Gaetan to tell him that yes, he'd borrowed his bike without asking for the week, and why and that he'd cared for it and...

How quickly can a mother get into a dispute with her adored elder child? Seeing he had to get going on at least one of the many things on the list spewing from my mouth, he ducked out of my sight and headed to the shower. I followed a bit later and started over, but a bit more carefully:

Leo, I have expectations for you. I know that in Arles you find it great, awesome, relaxed, easy. Your father just lets you do as you please, and never gets riled. But my dear, you are old enough to take on more responsibilities. And you have it in you. I believe that you can be respectful and thoughtful and immediately go out to Gaetan and explain why you had his bike, not wait for him to finish mowing my lawn. And, I believe that you could be more helpful and take the initiative yourself to help mow that lawn. And I think nearing 13, it is up to you to be sure you do your homework, and get your papers, contact your friends for the questions, etc., Waiting till late Sunday night just doesn't cut it. You can be responsible. Your father had no idea what you needed to get done. You need to communicate, and you can. I am here to help you grow up and be the young adult you are. I believe you can be better. So yes, I come down on you hard. It's way easier at Daddy's. Perhaps it's super-chiant here. But it's because I believe in what you can and need to do.

So, dinner's in 5 minutes. Get out of the shower and get your butt down to the kitchen.

And, shortly afterwards appeared this tall and gangly young adult. Dinner was quite pleasant. Dishes cleared away, and homework begun. Will he get it done tonight? Will he need to get up early tomorrow? I couldn't resist reminding him that even if there are only three questions to answer, he cannot just whip out a single sentence for them. He needs to write down all he can think of that could answer the question. He may need to put down five sentences, and perhaps even a page full of writing... Skimping is no longer acceptable.

Hopefully the message got through? Yes, I'm struggling to raise his own standards for himself. I am doing as I might to convey the importance of trying harder, reaching higher, aiming for more...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Being with a Friend

I suppose I've made it my mission, by love and by commitment, to be there for Isabelle and Paul Pierre to the extent that I'm helpful (when I'm present, Paul Pierre can leave to handle various errands, shop, be on the computer, etc.,) and that I bring joy and friendship and new topics of conversation to the table.

There are occasions elsewhere that the fact that I might make a slight slurping noise when I drink a very hot cup of tea, held in two hands just below my chin as I rest my elbows on the table is remarked upon. And there are those who find my conversation at times too self-centered. And at other times too full of questions focused on the person before me. Yes, I was raised in another land and these are things that aren't viewed with scorn or particular note in my birth country. However, if you served me in gold-leafed demi-tasse with silver spoons and damask cloth, not to worry, I would sip in a manner fit for a queen. But does any of that really matter?

How strange and diverse the things that pre-occupy. How absurd it all feels when in the presence of someone with but two months to live and her most adoring husband who will do anything to bring a smile to her face. The care I witness, the love, the tenderness, the will to be. Yes, tears do flow.

For Isabelle and Paul Pierre I am a story teller, I bring energy, I bring entertainment. I come to be with them in that moment, to distract, to entertain, to help as I might. I cook of course. I bring a loaf of my bread, or some of my wild rocket leaves, perhaps a bottle of JP's wine. I contribute.

This past visit I brought my yoga mat, many many photos and my itunes collection on my computer. I chatted, I took strange poses, I shared my visual life and my musical taste. Then I made lunch, and joined in discussions that ranged from architecture to family, children to culture, food to wine and much much more. Isabelle contributed as she could, often repeating the same two or three phrases that seemed apropos at all times. But she was there. Perhaps there was no more than 5 minutes history of our conversation at any given time in her head, but that was fine. She was there. She participated. She laughed. She expressed herself.

Paul Pierre told me that he'd had the recent news from the doctors that there would be perhaps two months at most. That gradually she'll sleep more and more. And with this is the decision to do his and our best. No more the no-salt diet. No more medicine. He still needs to encourage her to drink water, to rest. But from this point on in what way can he tempt her to eat? How can he make each moment pleasant? warm? tender? As the days warm he will bring her outside to sit and appreciate the evolving spring.

Inevitably, the day will come when she can no longer walk down those steps. Inevitably the day will come when she will have difficulty nourishing herself. Inevitably it will be harder and harder.

He will be there. His daughter will be there. A handful of dear friends and family members will be there. And when my presence is helpful, I will try too.

Happy chickens lay lovely eggs.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Pioneer in Pic St. Loup

When I began my life in the world of food and wine in Arles, it didn't take long for the region of Pic St. Loup to become known to me. Ahhh it has the most perfect climate, hot in the day time but cold at night. It creates the perfect grape: all skin and seeds and minimal pulp.

I heard names, Hortus, Lascaux, and a bit to the side, La Grange des Pères. When Erick and I began our wine tours -- three days of intensive wine touring, two market days and cooking every night -- we were sure to include the Languedoc region and in particular a trip to Pic St. Loup. We were never disappointed.

So as I manoeuvre my way into the world of a wine agent I am excited and decided upon having a winery of Pic St. Loup in my portfolio. And what a choice! I am working with Château de Cazeneuve, owned and operated by Andrée Leenhardt one of the persons responsible for remaking the reputation of this region.

While I roamed his vineyards, explored his cellar and tasted his wines (for a second time, but this time with a bit more presence and focus) he shared his history with me.

Andrée arrived in Pic St Loup with a science degree and a passion for agriculture. At that time, he was considering raising sheep. A first job as a technician at the local Chambre d'Agriculture brought him into contact with the local farmers and vintners. It is there that he learned of the upcoming sale of the Cazeneuve property and managed to purchase the portion devoted to the winery. This was in 1987, a time when the region was scorned by the decision makers for the AOC Côteaux de Languedoc.

However, where there is vision... Where there is a will...

Andrée was not alone. In the beginning the goal was to be accepted into the Côteaux de Languedoc AOC. Gradually the number of vintners active in this mission would climb to over thirty, from a cluster of villages surrounding the Pic. Together they raised the standards and put Pic St. Loup on the map. They helped choose the grapes for the appelation: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan. They decided that they would seek quality and aging potential over quantity and quick sales. Thus many age their wines in oak casks for a minimum of a year and in Andrée's case 18 months.

And, with such momentum and faith, they have brought the reputation of Pic St Loup to such heights that it is now its own AOC and surpasses the Côteaux de Languedoc by both the strictness of their rules (no more than 45 hectolitres per hectare) and by the quality of the wines.

Andrée and many of his colleagues have rebuilt their cellars and invested in high quality vinification and storage tanks. At Château de Cazeneuve, Andrée put in the necessary equipment to permit filling the tanks from above using gravity, increasing concentration and skin extraction by using Pigeage rather than pumps to aerate the fermenting liquid.

Currently mayor of his village Lauret, he is collaborating with his neighbors to put in place a wine route showcasing the numerous local tourism possibilities from lovely bed and breakfasts to chic local restaurants.

I can see now a future in hiking and biking tours...

The Pic St. Loup region is a young region and the Château de Cazeneuve is a young winery. All the vines were planted over the past 20-30 years. And Andrée is still planting. He likes a white wine with rich and varied notes, cask-fermented. He has thus planted white grenache, viognier, roussanne, marsanne, rolle (aka fermentino) and muscat grapes. He will soon add another parcel to his whites on land he has himself cleared and prepared, no more than a hectare (2.2 acres) 400 meters higher in altitude than his other vineyards. Finding his white truly delicious, I'm delighted to note that Andrée has chosen to make a good quantity of white -- 25% of his full production -- so there is enough to export!

That the vineyards are young (but now old enough to produce concentrated grapes) is a plus. The vintners of this region are rarely plagued by problems of poor and over-taxed soil, nor with insect infestations. Surrounded by woods and isolated from other cultivated fields or orchards, they can more easily opt for organic methods with little worry of contamination.

After chatting, exchanging, learning and enriching our friendship, I walked away with two of his wines (I can't carry more at the moment!) to bring with me to Portland, OR and this summer to Chicago. His lovely white (hmmmm) with a rich blend of five of his grapes, supported by the rich Roussanne, cask-fermented and designed to age beautifully (oh the 2006...) and his classic cuvée, Les Rocs des Mates of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre aged in cask. The dense and rich grapes are balanced by their passage in oak (multi-passage), leaving the tasting with a sensation of pleasing freshness. I inhaled a blend of spices and toasted notes. A masculine and concentrated wine with good aging potential.