Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cold vine pruning weather has arrived.


    The really, really cold weather has arrived…in all its glory.  yippee!! The photo below was taken in the summer...not in the freezing December weather we have now.

          So the first thing we did was fire up the recently added wood furnace that heats the water for the radiators. The house has legitimate heat for the first time in…well since it was built …a hundred and twenty some odd years ago.
         The second thing I did was trudge out of the sauna like environment of the house and headed north to frozen adventure…vine pruning. The vines had eased themselves into dormancy…me not so much. I love the process so much that I thought I would post a how to prune vines.
         Not many people will do this in their lifetime…so why not experience it vicariously through this blog.  I have always gotten my nose out of joint whenever I read some jerk ass reviewing some bottle of wine. It’s like the “Emperor’s new clothes.” Wine is not some special elixir that only toffee nosed snobs can truly appreciate. That is such bullshit! Wine is a great equalizer…you don’t need a degree…you don’t need excessive finances….you don’t need some custom built wine tasting room…or even one of those overpriced glass door wine refrigerators.
         All you need is a glass…and a church key…or what most people would call a corkscrew.   The secret to wine is this…buy a bottle of say…ten dollar wine. Go to a Bevmo…Trader Joe’s…a large grocery store where there is a huge selection.
         Try it out…pour a glass…relax. Nibble on different snacky things …cheese... crackers with spread, sliced fruit. Relax…  
         If you enjoy it …guess what….you’re part of the club. No fee’s, no Mercedes required, just a glass. You don’t need to write 50 word sentences describing the “florally jasmine tinted aroma mixed with colored pencil shavings that were passed through an Amazonian rainforest, and yet the color resembles the red found in a salmons blood swirl after the spawning during the second week of September, served in the 20 ounce snifting goblet that had been cooled to 57 degrees and imparted the mildest hint of….fucking Palmolive dishwashing soap”.
         Give me a break.  
          The first time I pruned vines I was mortified….what if I do it wrong and cripple all these innocent plants. The French guy tutoring me said, “Henri’, cut as I show you…and don’t worry…next summer you will have grapes…there won’t be asparagus growing from the vines.” I smiled, he had erased this great expectation I was harboring if awe of the vines. So anyway below is the process for pruning vines. Ideally you should be sitting in your refrigerator reading this to impart the feeling of numbness your hands should have.

        First address the customer. This is what our subject looks like…don’t judge.

        “Hello….my name is Henri…I will be pruning your vines today...darling your tendrils are looking so dry…you are using conditioner no? I am thinking you are wanting it short for the winter look?”

         The main thing that pruning accomplishes is choosing the two shoots that will carry next year’s crop. There will also be two smaller reserve shoots…should something happen to the main two shoots. Pruning tames the vines so to speak…otherwise there would be an anarchy of shoots multiplying each year…like Medusa on speed. We certainly don’t want that. 
          What I do is select the two shoots that are placed on the vine stock in the most optimum location. Two that will allow me to attach them to the wire trellis structure that supports the vines during the growing season. They should be low on the stock so that they will allow next year’s vines plenty of trellis to hang on. Otherwise each year it would start a little higher and after five years the plant would be really tall with the grape shoots at the top of the six foot high trellis system. Also I was taught you ideally want the shoots that are starting from under last year’s larger branch. In my mind I imagine the flow of nutriments going in the least obstructed path to the leaves and grapes. Odd maybe but it helps me visualize the process of growth for the little darlings. 

          After pruning the unneeded shoots it looks like this. I have kept all four shoots long. I do this because if one of the shoots has a weak connection to the stock head I will need to use my second choice for the next year’s crop. (or runner) Meanwhile all the shoots I cut off, I throw into a pile for collection and burning later.

         Here is a close up of the pruned vine. In this case all four shoots for next year are located on the underside of last year’s stock. Not always the case. As this is my third year pruning, I find myself correcting the first two years occasional mistakes. Hey it’s all about experience. It’s also like enjoying wine, as you sample more and more, you develop a taste for different aspects of the different wines. And you don’t need to read some puffed windbag pontificating about his/her special talents in describing the complexities of this most noble….blah,blah,blah. (I admit a perverse pleasure in reading the articles if only to count how many words in a sentence they use…my record find to date 54 words in one sentence.) There were 30 words in the parenthesis…gotta work on it.

          This is a photo of the first row being pruned and the five rows behind are still waiting. Our subject is in the lower left. You can make out a small pile of trimmings between the first and second row in the upper right corner. You can see I’ve chosen the lower two shoots for next year’s runners, and the upper two are the reserves.

         Cheers Hank.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

We knew what we had before he was gone.

        Skye in a prairie with chocolate lilies

Compared to an insect, our lifetime spans generations. Compared to a mountain, it’s rather instantaneous. I imagine the secret to life is to experience it to its fullest, share it, and help build it for others. For me it helps round out any sharp edges by realizing that my worst day is better than 70 percent of the world’s best day. As depressing a statistic as that is, it also reinforces that we shouldn't waste the breath we each have.
O.K. so that concludes life 101.
I wonder if it’s natural or even normal to guard our fondest memories. Is it selfish to revel in the experience that warms us in the coldest times? Well, let me share one that just ended.
When Caleigh was four years old, we thought. “Hmmm, It’s probably time we got her a puppy.”
There was an e-mail going around the office where Cindy worked, it showed this pup that was offered to a good deserving home. As no one else answered the ad, she then invited us to come look at the dog. We got there and Cindy and I went to the door. We left Caleigh in the car. The woman who had placed the e-mail answered the door. We introduced ourselves, she smiled weakly and we started talking about the dog.
“Well, the first 18 months of his life he was kept in a kennel…the kennel called the owner and demanded that the poor soul be picked up and taken to a normal home. The woman arrived and picked up the dog and drove down the road a few miles. She stopped at another kennel and placed the dog there. Well kennel one finds out from kennel two that this is one and the same dog. They are rightly pissed and so they contact the woman who rescues dogs. She picks up the dog and re-socializes him. (Yeah I asked…she couldn't help me…but thanks for thinking about that.) The dog is wonderful and we all turn as we hear Caleigh open her car door and she gets out and stands by the car. The nice woman continues talking about the dog and its wonderful personality and we all stop talking as we notice this beautiful dog walk down her farm road from one of her barns. Caleigh is standing by the car watching the dog, she’s fine, relaxed. Then the dog sees her and puts its head down slightly and walks over to Caleigh. He sits right next to her and leans gently on her. She starts petting the dog. The dog smiles…it never ceased to amaze me of that trait. It had the funniest expression, it would slightly open its mouth and its tongue would hang out and he would gently pant.
We’re all watching the most genuine Hallmark moment for a couple minutes and we pretty much said at the same time.
“Wrap him up we’ll take him.”

Australian Blue “Skye” Shepard
Skye  2001-2013
The best dog I’ve ever had, sleep well young prince

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The great grape harvest (part two)

Well Petit Clos’s first harvest of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes is under our belt…so to speak. The grape harvesting machine tractor arrived this morning at 7:45a.m. Last year, I had inspected the vines after the harvest and noticed that there were small bunches of grapes gathered at the wooden posts. The harvesting machine operated in a manner such that the “vibrating arm” must have bounced at each post. Well this year they got that glitch sorted out. After this huge tractor that straddles the vines was completed harvesting the vines, there were no grapes left hanging, left for me to sample.

Each of the last three years has been a mix of weather conditions. Two years ago there was a drought; last year there was a late frost; and this year we had horizontal blowing hail. This happened two days ago, nice cloudy day, nothing special then this black locust looking cloud approaching from the east. First the wind hit, then the rain added it’s two cents worth, then the wind raised the ante…well the rain thought; “fuck this…I’m going ballistic”.

I had run upstairs in the house to check on all the windows, thankfully they were all closed. I looked out one of the windows facing our driveway and saw it hit. First the rain was falling at a 15 degree angle, then the wind up the velocity, and then the horizontally bowing rain turned into ¼”inch hail.

Great Mother Nature’s having a pissing contest. (No…I don’t know with who…I just liked the imagery)

Well after getting the chainsaw out, and then cutting the two trees; that were blown over, and moving them out of the driveway. I proceeded to walk a kilometer (5/8’s of a mile) with the chainsaw and helped my neighbor cut up a thirty inch diameter tree that had blocked our main road. Then after lifting and clearing the main route I returned to the house and dropped off the chainsaw. I then took off my soaked sneakers and put on a dry pair of boots and walked to the vines.

I was thinking that if thirty inch trees were falling like dominoes; then my vines would be flattened. I arrived and started walking up one of the rows, no bad…if anything the wind seemed to have cleared the vines of any superfluous leaves. I was pleasantly surprised. And with closer inspection I saw that there were a lot more grapes than I originally presumed. There were about 15% of the grapes that were raisin-ey looking, another 15% that were tiny, and the rest looked vigorous. 

Overall the jury is still out. It will be months from now when we learn how many kilograms the vines yielded. We paid the harvester and the tractor with a grape bin trailer, 310 euro’s, and they drove the 12 kilometers to the winery. Last year was a smaller crop, so it will be interesting to see if I make more than $1.25 an hour.

Just returned from Bertico, winery and got my delivery ticket, it was about 20% more than last year. So I ‘m happy.

C est’ la Vie….It is the life.

This years Sauvignon Blanc grape harvest (part one)

You place me in any French Home Depot type store, and I can talk for hours describing what I need, what I’m doing, and how much I need. (It’s called Brico Depot over here…I have no f-ing idea what it means…either.)  However…if you get three guys in my vineyard pontificating in French about the various methodologies and requirements about the different cause and effects of the last three weeks of weather…yeah just like that. They could be describing Pythagoreans Theorem, Pythagoreans wife’s sexual proclivities, or Pythagoreans wife was having sex with Pericles.

My point you ask:

            What with the bizarre weather we’ve had the last few weeks; it was fast approaching time to harvest the vines. My vintner savior Sylvan dropped by to see how the grapes were doing. We spoke for a while and I informed him that I had stopped by the winery that was buying my grapes. I had spoken to so and so about having his tractor harvest my grapes. Sylvan looked at me and said. “He is the representative for the winery, he does not harvest, Henri.”

            “Well, I’m… you know what… out of luck,” I think to myself. Sylvan takes his cell phone out of his pocket and calls a few numbers. “They are being busy with the harvest; I will call a few more people from home and let you know.” I genuflected and he left.

            Not three hours later he drops by the house with a piece of paper and a phone number on it. “Be calling him tomorrow morning. “I again thank him profusely and he shrugs like it’s nothing, and leaves.

            Next day I call the phone number, after four hours of calling this number, it never rings through. I thought it was not turned on, but it didn’t even go to the mail box. Sylvan stops by later in the day. “Everything is good Henri?” I describe to him the amount of times I called the cell phone and shrug. “Let me make some calls later.” I’m feeling like some village somewhere really needs me back, as the stand in village idiot surpassed their requirements and they want the old village idiot back.

            Again next day, I’m just taking a break from cutting the fallen trees from a bizarre thunder/lightning/horizontal rain/hail cluster f**k, and Sylvan drives up.  “Not to be worrying Henri. Everything is set up for Monday at eight…eight thirty.” I can’t tell you how helpful it was, to coordinate the harvest machine and the tractor with the grape trailer (water tight) and he called the winery and scheduled that as well. If I had tried this on the morning of the harvest the harvesting machine would have been waiting for three hours for the tractor grape trailer, then it would have gone to the winery the one day it was closed.

As I’ve always said…One hand washes the others back….It really pisses Sylvan when I show up at bath time, his wife is getting a little leery. All kidding aside Cindy and I will be helping Sylvan hand pick his two different types of grapes. So that will be one full day each of backbreaking work, on following weekends. I still think I got the better end of the deal…because during the full day of harvesting…see they have this two hour lunch as a thanks to all the friends and family who pitch in. No great thing really…just the usual suspects…baguette, cheese, dried sausage, white wine, red wine, cold cuts, nap, more cheese, baguette, red wine, a little more red wine. 

This year I will bring my pocket knife, everyone brings one….except for me last year. One of the guys asked his child if I could borrow their French equivalent of a Playskool knife, and if the child wouldn’t mind showing me how to correctly use it.

            So…to end this tale. I’m standing out by the vines at 7:30 on the morning of the harvest. I see down the road a harvester approaching. They are the oddest looking vehicles, they straddle the row of vines and harvest by means of vibrating bowed fiberglass arms that drop the grapes to a conveyor belt. They are then transported into these large stainless steel bins on either side of the harvester. The leaves and fingers are separated and….kidding, come on…they are ejected through a side port.

            The guy driving the harvester lines it up on a row and waits for his boss to arrive, two minutes later. Then Sylvan arrives and shakes everyone’s hand. I still can’t believe how fortunate we are. To have a guardian vigneron (winemaker) watching over us.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The romantic life of a vineyard owner, and other…..Myth-understandings.

          When we bought the “Petit Clos” farm there was a hectare (two and a half acres) of Sauvignon Blanc vines included. As the renovation of the main house was our primary focus, we had the seller continue managing the vines. After a year of renovations we decided it would be possible to take on the maintenance of the grapes. I mean how hard could it be, maybe a couple hours a week tidying up the rows?

          Fast forward to two years later; I’m taking a precious day off as the grapes are up to date on their tending. Our Chambres d’hotes; bed and breakfast, is running smoothly and we don’t have any more bookings for a couple days. And the house renovation is 90% done; the remaining 10% is like splitting infinity.  We have all modern conveniences and the esthetics are pretty much there. All that really remains are the assorted little finish items that we see daily, but hopefully visitors glaze over when admiring this beautiful old house through rose’ tinted wine glasses.

          There are two fronts that must be constantly fought in relation to running a vineyard. There is the paperwork and the labor in the vines. There are two skillsets between Cindy and I. Cindy is a contract negotiator and marketing professional, and I have a strong back….for now. So that defines who does what, believe me if I were handling the French document process we would both be shipped off to French Guyana. Do you remember that really cute island resort where Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman stayed, in the movie…”Papillon” (1973).

          In two years we have learned many lessons on the care and work required to keep the grapes not only alive, but more importantly, how to maintain their A.O.C. Cotes de Duras designation. I’m going to ask Cindy to chip in at this point and help the lowly laborer with delineating the process.

          First, we had to become “Farmers." There are two categories for farmers in France, the weekend farmer, and the fulltime farmer. We went through the process of declaring ourselves “weekend” farmers. That required dossiers for four bureaus. Not the furniture kind mind you. Each bureau was intertwined with the other.

The thought process (?) over here is illustrated by the first thing you need to set-up in France as an example.  In order to get a telephone, you need an electric bill. In order to set up an account with the electrical company you need a telephone number. You see where I’m going with this?

          Back to the four farming bureaus, multiply the phone/electrical bill conundrum by a factor of sixteen and there you have it. We had three meetings a month for a year in order to finally be a Farmer. You think that was it then?

No,no,no,no,…no! That just started the paper snowball rolling.

Let’s see what else was there? Oh yeah the vines, think they were covered in the farming dossier? Nope that only allowed me to work the fields, forest, and pastures. (Think skillsets again)

          The vines required only three bureaus.  But on the bright side the French vocabulary was twice as difficult on the Vineyard documents.

          They stipulate there will be inspections to ensure the care required of the vines is being done. Makes sense, also adds stress as I have a standard that I really care about. I really want the vines to be maintained and kept orderly; when we drive around I’m always judging the other vineyards. It is a source of pride for me that my vines are as good as, or better than the neighboring vineyards. We really try to maintain our vines with care. They still probably haven't forgiven us for bringing over phylloxera in the 19th century.

          Two years ago we paid an English winemaker to come over for an hour and give me a tutorial on the procedure of trimming vines. It was winter and the dormant vines were ready to be pruned. This entails trimming 90% of the vine and leaving two shoots that will carry the crop the coming year. You also leave two reserves shoots that will be called upon should something happen to the first two shoots.  Well the lesson was great and in an hour we had done a couple dozen examples; that left 1480 remaining vines for me. Merde’

          The process of vine pruning was blogged about earlier. “Vine Pruning” (Monday Feb. 6th 2012)

          The other main work load for the vines is the constant mowing between the rows of the grass. If cut constantly it ensures that when it rains; the vines get their water. It is illegal to water the vines manually.

          Now comes the most labor intensive part of maintaining the vines;” Weeding between the vines”. After mowing the rows of vines, what’s left is to get between the individual plants. I accomplish this by the use of a weed wacker.

         I kid you not.

 It takes two days, and in the two years I’ve done it I’ve essentially burnt out one weed wacker. The large vineyards have an attachment on the back of their tractors. Yours for the low, low cost of 7,500 euros. That’s over ten thousand dollars. I am in the process of acquiring a professional grade Husquavana weed wacker. (1,000 bucks)

Then there’s the spraying of the vines with sulfur and copper solutions to guard against mildew. One of the neighboring vineyard owners lets me borrow his backpack sprayer. It weighs about eighty pounds, plus another forty pounds of the liquid solution of the anti-mildew treatment. So one walks the two miles of vines, refilling the gas operated sprayer; six times. Think about the process; stop, put it on the ground, walk to where the solution is, carry 20 gallon container to the sprayer, fill up the top mounted reservoir, pull start the gas motor, lift it onto your back and go. Blood, sweat, and tears….well no blood anyway.

          As I drive through the French countryside I’ve noticed that each year vineyards plow between alternating rows. This aerates the soil and allows the precious rainwater a better chance of reaching the roots of the vines. 

          So I ask the man who has his horses here, in exchange for helping with the property, if he has any ideas how I can do this. He shows up a week later with this huge 4x4 John Deere tractor that has a disking plow behind it. He proceeds to drive up and down every other row. The result is glorious, I have conquered the tilling of the vineyard. A week later I’m trimming the vines and discover that it is near impossible to walk on these freshly tilled rows. They have dried up and weeds are starting to grow, and grow. I should point out that it is impossible to mow these weeds as the rows are like half scale relief maps of the Andes mountain range.

          I voice my frustrations to my neighbor. He has thirty odd farming implements at his farm and I’m hoping that he might be able to pass through the petit Andes and solve my problem. The next day I drive around to all the Agriculture shops and start pricing rototillers that attach to tractors. Mostly they have these four foot wide 3,000 dollar rototillers. Even the used ones are a couple grand, but narrow, it would take me two passes for each row. Well, there’s no other way around it, I’m going to have to ask for help. I don’t like asking for help! Or directions, or the cost of things.

          I get home from my shopping expedition, having not even entertained buying any of the rototillers. About a half an hour later my neighbor drives up on one of his many nice tractors and behind him is this eight foot wide rototiller. He drives over to the vines and goes about ten feet into the vines, backs up and drives over to our house. He parks the tractor in the field near our pool and unloads the rototiller. I come over and after the ten minute hello conversation he say

 “For you Henri’”

          Well I tell him there’s no way I can take this piece of equipment from him, could I buy it? He says he has no use for it and that it would make his wife happy to have it out of his farm. There’s no way I can take it, it has to be worth thousands of euros. He elaborates it’s not a piece of equipment he can use.  Then as his final point he says,

          “Tell you what, you borrow it for now…..but never return it.”

          The kindness I have encountered over here is a function of getting to know my neighbors, working nonstop like them and always being happy when they drop by. They have seen our struggles, determination and results. It probably helps that we are not some stereotypical deep pocketed American family, and that we scrimp just like every one of our neighbors, friends, and even our family back in the States.   

It’s a commonality that is now global, an unfortunate set of circumstances that is like the vineyard. Individual vines growing together, needing care and tending. It’s about neighbors helping neighbors when in need. We have helped out most of our neighbors in one way or another, and what goes around comes around.

Because we all know Karma is Mother Nature’s hit man.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Little King Louis - our first.

     It doesn't seem as though many things happen around here through regular channels. It seems for every foot , or meter we move forward, the process starts usually two feet behind the normal starting line.
     We have a history with our neighbor "watchdog", an oddly funny, trying, and always bizarre history. The latest chapter started like every previous chapter, squarely right out in left field. I was chatting with our neighbor, well in point of fact he was talking to me, probably correcting me in the ways of construction. I think at some point in his lesson with me, his dog Chippie ran up.
     Chippie is a French Bulldog. About the size of a normal Maine coon cat, not one of those feminine purse dogs, bigger with some value to them. She is a real sweet dog, always makes me smile, a nice quiet kinda favorite kind.
     Well "Watchdog" informs me she is with child....well children as is the case with litters. We finish off our discussion and I go back to work with our renovation. A couple days later I am walking back from the post box and run into the neighbors wife and she happily tell's me. "Chippie is to be a mother again." I smile genuinely and say "Bon chance." Best of luck.
     Later that night my Electrician is helping me and I mention the Chippie is with children.
     He looks at me and says "No, it did not take. Chippie is to have no children."
    "No; but it is being true, my neighbor and his wife each told me, just today."
     A smile crosses his face, as he realizes that our opportunistic neighbor has been caught with his dogs pants to speak. The Electrician proceeds to give me the backstory. His dog, another French Bulldog was the sire of said litter. My neighbor told him, sorry no take on the birds and the bee's activity. What would normally happen.....normally with two trusting people is that the sire of the litter gets one of the little litterette's as a stud fee. And normally......normally it would be the pick of the litter.

     I had asked Caleigh to come in and help me to better understand all the intricacies of the unfolding plot. She squealed when she heard that he should have one of the puppies.

     He cannot possibly take one of the little bulldogs ( not remotely like pit bulls) as his wife is due around that time. So he offers that he will donate his pup to Caleigh. What I would have given to be in the room when my neighbor was A: caught in the untruth, then B; informed that the American's (imagine someone holding their nose to indicate a rancid smell) would be getting the little pup. C: And that no money would be changing hands. The dogs are usually sold for around 700 euro's which is a thousand in American currency.
      We have yet to pay for a dog, as is evident by the quality dog we got in Holly, the wanna be Corgi. However we did hit the lottery with Skye, our Australian Blue Sheppard. Cat wise we have had a better return on our money, with maybe the exception being the recluse; Nipper.

      So a couple months pass, and Cindy has been shown the litter of three bulldogs, the one slated for Caleigh is a white one with a dark spot around his left eye. We were thinking wait and see, somehow this will go sideways on us. There will be some misunderstanding or needless drama.

     Saturday afternoon my neighbor knocks on the door holding the little pup and asks for Cindy. He has his entourage with him, five kids visiting, one crying, it must have been in her charge. He gives Cindy the pup and a ten minute lesson on dog raising. Interesting fact I want to pass on. Turns out puppies like water and puppy food and that they should be trained not to poop in the house.....and get this, they should do it (poop) out of doors. I kid you not, we were doing it all wrong before, training them to defecate on our bed. I stopped the tutorial when he started listing the pros and cons of making sure the dog is always breathing air. I put the duct tape and the flexibe pipe taped to the exhaust away.
Anyway introducing our new addition.....addition is French for bill.... like in a restaurant.

La addition s.v.p,  The bill if you please?   knew it would cost us some way. It looks a lot like Stich in the animated movie "Lilo and Stich"



Monday, March 4, 2013

             I was skim coating the walls on our "new" first floor bathroom, when I heard a truck approach the house. I ventured out through the old barn, and walked the short distance to the pick-up. It was one of our neighbors, this guy is huge, not fat or tall, just stocky. He had cows when we moved here, but now he switched to sheep. We got to know he and his wife pretty well. I have helped him on occasion, and driven with him when he purchased Rams, we would joke on the return trip "what a thankless job rams had."
             He is also known to have quite an appetite, he is more honour bound than anyone I've ever met. I have never crossed anyone that I can honestly remember, but the last person I would cross would be this guy. He is also; once you get to know him hysterical, he will say something offhanded, walk away and a sea of laughs erupts in his wake.
            Last year Cindy and I went to a Bastille Day lunch (4 f-ing hours of heaven) in this beautiful vineyard as their guests. There's something magnetic about him, the ladies serving would ensure that he had THREE entrecote''s  (our equivalent of sirloin), I scored a second by being next to him.

            So I walked over to his pick-up and he announced that Sunday at 12:00 we were to meet he and his wife over at the Salle de Fete. ( local meeting hall) His telling us is the equivalent of politely asking by other peoples standards. The occasion, the Hunters Feast.
            Our small village of Saint Jean de Duras, has probably 250 as a population. We are the only Americans (I should say North Americans) so we keep up our part of the bargain by attending all the Fete's- (soiree'). Community is very important in this country, and we are getting to be known by our towns elders now.

            Cindy and I arrive and greet every one and their uncle-literally. Cindy then drives back to the house to get out pick-nic-basket with plates, forks, knives, spoons-wine glasses. And we pay the 20 euro's each for entry. We were on the reservations thanks to our friend. We all sat at the same table, we knew over half ot the 16 people there.

            After the reading of the menu to the gathered guests, they passed around pictures(not photo's, keep up fer christ sake)  of an appertife'. This was their usual blend of what tasted like boxed wine, gator-aid and apricot schnapps. I've never cared for it, so I limited my self to just two glasses of it.....don't want to seem ungrateful ( yeah, that ship sailed along time ago) . In my opinion it wasn't starting well. That wine blend always makes me feel like we're heading off to back country anchovy loaf and bologna.

            Nope, next out was a terrine of hot soup, vegetable base and hearty. It was good, but  kept thinking the Meatloaf with a can of mushroom soup-sauce was up next.

            We all had some Rose' while awaiting the next course. We scored on the wine front though as one of the four vintners of our town supplied the wine.

            Next course was the Salad,sliced tomato's, shredded carrots, and cubed beets. The flavor of all three was perfect, our friend announced that during Fete's he was relieved of eating salads. His wife had gone to help out in the kitchen. I was still teetering on is this food going to go deep country or make a left into the Haute' cuisine of rural France.

          Then they brought out the cold terrines of Sanglier' (Wild Boar)

              Bam!   Pow!   KaBoom!

They did a sharp left to incredible! The most basic comparison would be a cold meatloaf, but that sounds too insulting. First they bring out thin baguette sliced toast, and a raw clove of garlic, and you proceed to rub it into the crispy toast. Then with your slice of the Wild boar-loaf you portion a small amount onto a piece of your hot garlic toast and Viola'.  Crazy good.....Oh forgot to mention at this point they brought out the pictures ( not photo's- i'm warning yah!) of the red local wine. This was his reserve, they were doling out the good stuff.

           It was at this point that I had to leave for 40 minutes, to pick up Caleigh at home and drive her to Saint Foy Le Grand, where she an a girlfriend were meeting. They are visiting her friends father for three days in Bordeaux.

            I raced back to the Fete' and sat down as they had served me a slice of the local tiny deer. I ate it, interesting flavor, a little dry.
            Then they served the Grilled Wild Boar, This was the headliner. It was prepared over vine stock, old vines that were the traditional wood for bar-be-queing. We have a supply at Petit Clos, which we use during the summer months. Cindy had an in depth discussion on the preparing and ingredients for the Boar marinade.
            Then we all relaxed with a glass or two of the aforementioned Red wine, and a fresh fruit torte' was brought out. They replaced all the EMPTY pictures ( don't get me started again) with bottles of a light sweet white wine. A new weakness. It's all about pairings,, the red and the Boar, the sweet white  and the torte.  Ooooof!

           Sure it took a total of six hours but we survived the Annual Hunters Feast. After they drew the winning tickets, about thirty winners, who won various cuts of wild game. O.K. off to sleep for a week. Heavens that was hard work.  Cheers Hank

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Doctor Doolittle's other problem
“The last thing I need is an old infected cock.” I let out a deep breath and started walking to the Kitchen where Cindy happened to be.

          This started yesterday, well to be more precise it started the day we bought Petit Clos. The latest chapter, I guess started yesterday.  I had returned from driving my future retirement plan, Caleigh, to school.  All was good in the world. I arrived back to the farm house and went into the Kitchen and made myself another cup of Coffee. I chatted with Cindy about my plans for the day, and then changed them to what she wanted me to focus on. At about quarter to lunch time I returned to the kitchen and was preparing myself a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was reaching down into the pullout cabinet drawer for some chips when I saw my neighbor pull into the long driveway.

          I stopped what I was doing and proceeded to watch in awe as he pulled into the space in front of one of our open barns.

“Hmmm, we’re going a little fast today my friend….shit!”  I watched as he slid in the mud and smacked our new metal driveway gates. The large truck then backed up a few feet and he proceeded to get out. I was walking down the driveway as he rounded the back of his company’s truck.

“I can’t believe you hit that fucking gate, what an idiot.” This was said in English as I was too pissed to translate.

He looks at me and mutters something about slipping on the brakes.

“Bullshit, that was dumb. “ Then I say in French. “I’m tired of these things; maybe we don’t have to park there anymore.”

“My feet slipped on the frozen brake pedal.” He looks like he is as usual the victim. I look at him and restrain myself, say “Bon appetit” and leave.  

After his two hour lunch he proceeds to return to his work site. I watched as he left and made my way to the gate. I guess I overreacted. Then I tried closing the gate. Nope, the hinge on the bottom was bent and wouldn’t allow the gate to close. I went to my work room and got a couple vise grips and my six foot level. An hour later I had the gates trued and back to functioning properly.
 This morning I was again in the kitchen and watched as he came out and sprayed some de-icer on one of his many cars. One of his collections of fine automobiles as seen on”Sanford and Sons.” He glances at the gate contemptuously.

“Hmmm! Really?"  I go straight into Hank prick mode. So I amble out as though headed for one of the barns.

“Oh morning neighbor, do you have a second.” I say in French.

“Morning  Henri’” He replies, as I walk down to where he is and approach eying him with more contempt than necessary.

“Do me a favor, I realigned the gate you hit, so whatever you do don’t touch it.” Then I continued , being the supreme frustrated passive aggressive dick that I am. “You see metal is actually a fragile material. See the bottom hinge you bent. Yesterday I took the gate down and realigned the hinges with the adjustment nuts. You see neighbor... steel; as a for instance,... take the metal you use with concrete (Rebar- I don’t know the French word for it.) You can bend it once that’s fine, but if you bend it a second or third time the strength is worthless.” He nodded agreement.  I continued. “Don’t surprise me by trying to help and by straightening out your carelessness. If it happens again; I will take the gate down and have the fabricator cut off the metal tab and weld on a new one. Thanks, so please be careful.” Then I smiled at him and spun around 180 degrees and walked off like the little bitch that I am on occasion.

Gee Hank I pity anyone that has to share the same house as you, or city for that matter.

In actual fact he is the type of person that would not have said anything, had I not confronted him. He would have waited a week and mentioned that the gate looked as though someone had hit it. He probably would think this approach would absolve him as a suspect, as why would the guilty party bring it up. Then in passing he would gently mention that possibly the man with the horses probably accidently hit it with the tractor he has parked there. It was probably an honest mistake; he probably didn’t even know he hit it. How unfortunate. Then he would give me the tried and true look of sympathy.  Hey Whatcha gonna do?

I was working on breaking down part of the cinder block wall between Caleighs room and the new first floor bathroom, for a door. Then I heard our dog Skye starting to go off, barking loudly. He does this whenever Cindy starts talking French. He’s not being critical of her accent, or lack of one. Moreover it usually means someone is at the door. I stop my work and listen. Yep it’s the neighbor

I don’t come to the aid of Cindy to help with translation; instead I choose the insipid approach. I literally watch through the front door keyhole. I hear Cindy conversing, quite well; I was impressed as she repeatedly turned down his gift.
Then he walks down the driveway and I see he is carrying a live old roster, upside down by its feet.



Friday, February 1, 2013

The Cuckoo’s Nest
French Gothic - 2009

We are two months from completing this old French country farmhouse. What started out for us as a visionary’s nightmare has morphed into a source of pride for Cindy and I. The renovation was total in scope. The biggest ticket item on the menu was the complete mechanical system. What started as the original wiring for the Cabinet of Dr. Cagliari in 1897 has been transformed into the bridge of the Enterprise (Star Trek not the WW2 aircraft carrier, pay attention for Christ’s sake.).

 There is now city, well more like village water in addition to the existing well water. We literally experienced the well running dry. Then there is Cindy and Caleighs favorite, the heating system. The new boiler is finishing up installation on Saturday.  Hopefully it will thaw out the Artic corridor (First floor hall, skating rink) into a more tropical setting.

So two years and three months later we will have a completely renovated, beautifully built stone house from 1900. Even though it appears that the family that lived in the house never performed any maintenance for over a hundred years, she was a survivor.  We have poured blood, sweat, and tears into the old girl and she’s ready for the dance. Her threadbare smock has been transformed into more formal attire. Once we have finished the final punch list and final cleaning it will be odd walking around this dapper old house.

The Original first floor bath with what we lovingly (?) called the dog bath now has been razed and doubled in size and two small sheik bathrooms have been added upstairs.  There is now wifi cascading through the house invisibly connecting us to the innerwebs, and more importantly to the world out there. The Kitchen which was our first main project has settled into its new job as heart of the house, it has performed flawlessly. Although Cindy, on occasion shrieks when the smallest lodger pays a visit. Usually it is a stowaway in the pullout compost container, next to the recyclable and trash container.

I wasn’t sure about including the brief, never-ending experience with a contractor we ….worked…?.... with?

He installed the pool, and most of the pool stuff, nebulous enough for you?

He ah…he ah…supplied the cast iron wood stoves I installed.

He quoted us for the new wood burning boiler, solar panel aided radiator hot water heater system. We paid for it and the six week estimate turned into sixteen weeks. Then (I kid you not) on week sixteen he informed us, on a Sunday via e-mail, that he would not be able to install the system until May.  So that was stressful, the local vineyards thanked us for the added quantity of red wine we used for interior heating fluid. It was the most stressful time that Cindy and I shared, although I think shared is the worst word to use.  

Would I recommend renovating a French farm house, and all the romantic wonderment it contains?

Would I recommend a root canal without a heaping amount of Novocain?

 Would I recommend preforming your own appendicitis’s?

Better believe it, whole heartily.

 One cannot truly appreciate the good without experiencing the bad.
(I have learned how to format now, so reading this .....stuff should be at least easier on the eyes. Although still headache making).