This is the month when the grapes form tight little bunches and start growing. It’s a major milestone on the road to the harvest. It’s also the month of the Tour de France, passing not through our village this time, but through Carcassonne, which is close enough. It’s the month when the Music Festival of Carcassonne takes place as well, bringing dancers, singers, musicians and actors from all parts of the globe to the ramparts. And finally, it’s the month of festive fireworks, as the country celebrates the 14th of the July. All this song, celebration, cycling, and soaring temperatures just goes to confirm that summer truly has come to the South of France, if ever you doubted it…
Wednesday 13 July
Really good, though, to see the art group called La Cima back at the domain for the tenth year. As usual, they give us a new insight and a new view of the vines and the house. It’s been chilly all week, cold and threatening to rain, and they huddle close to cover.
And one of them, a talented illustrator called Juliette de Wit who also painted the picture above, signs the guest book with a picture of Bacchus – and now obviously, we’ll have to keep it open at that page for ever: Bacchus, the fat Labrador caught sitting outside the tasting room door, wishing he were on the inside.
Thursday 14 July
Bastille Day for some, Quatorze de Juillet for others, and a great festive, family day for all of France. Along with the rest of the village, we go down to the War Memorial in the middle of Cépie and observe a minute’s silence for its fallen sons. Our red-cheeked neighbour, who normally blows great gusto into his trombone during Limoux’s famous carnival, now does subtle little crescendos and diminuendos as he trumpets the Last Post, weaving trills and frills over and around the lamenting notes carried by his partner. And then the two trumpeters fanfare us to the forecourt of the Marie where the village gathers for an aperitif.
“So are you living here now?” one of the villagers asks me, slightly aggressively as we walk down the narrow cobblestone street.
“But of course, Monsieur. What do you mean? I’ve been living here for about fifteen years”. I was puzzled.
“But you’re not going back?” he asks.
“Back where?” I ask, dumbfounded. And then the penny drops.
“Oh, I see!” I say, “But we’re not English! We are Europeans! The Englishman is our neighbour, not us!”
Clearly, Brexit is being discussed in Cépie.
Our Mayor is generally considered to be too nice and too honest to be a politician, though he harbours aspirations – and a good deal of inspiration as well, though he possibly hasn’t hit 30 yet. Now, dignified by the red-white-blue sash of mayorship across his chest, he stands apart to deliver a mayoral speech, as the cool winds nips and tugs at the notes in his hand. Jan and I both quietly go into doze mode, with an interested half-smile painted into place on our faces. And suddenly we both wake up with a jolt.
“It was Britain’s choice,” the Mayor seems to be saying.
What a minute, did he really say that?
“It was Britain’s choice,” the Mayor says again, “and we must respect that.” And then he goes on to explain that there are great forces in the world, China, Russia, and we must be unified to address the balance.
“We must be together” he finishes off, “for the sake of peace and the happiness and security of all of us!”.
Well, well, Cépie has spoken. We are both rather impressed, and tell Monsieur le Maire so.
An elderly women comes up and presses a cup of punch on us, made from chardonnay, Blanquette de Limoux, lemons, one lime, and a whole bottle of Cointreau! She winks. “I am the President of the Old People’s Association” she says, “and this always gets them going.”
The trumpeter joins and hijacks the conversation to the Carnival, Limoux’s favourite subject. He’s still hugely irritated by the previous Sous-Préfet, who so unreasonably posted gendarmes at the bottom of the street during Carnival. (The trouble with Sous-Préfets is that they come from elsewhere.) And that, of course, is just about the worst, most unreasonable thing anyone could do. Particularly during Carnival. About the present incumbent he was quite tight-lipped though, presumably because the present one is still incumbent and possibly able to do worse. We settle on a safe adjective: dynamique.
“It’s rather nice, isn’t it?” we say to each other as we slip out, “to think that throughout the whole of France, communities like this are getting together, relaxing and chatting , having a drink … Really convivial. Fraternal. ”
And the party goes on, with fireworks and more festivities tonight.
Friday 15 July
We weren’t to know that Nice was just another shocking, terrible calamity waiting to happen, to attack and rip open the very heart of French fraternité and convivialité on their national day of celebration.
Sunday 17 July
A really blue, blistering hot day today. Temperatures are yo-yoing around like mad. Grapes progressing nicely, though our neighbour told us at the Mayor’s apéro on Thursday that some of his grapes had been burned by the sun. Ours seem to be doing okay.
Too hot to think. So we recreate the cocktail we had at the Mayor’s reception, but without the Cointreau, and gratefully watch the sun go down
For 4 people:
1 bottle Pays d’Oc chardonnay
Juice of one lemon
Juice of half a lime
130 g sugar
Half a bottle of Blanquette or Crémant de Limoux.
Mix wine,sugar and lime and lemon juice, and leave 24 hours in the refrigerator
Before serving, add the Blanquette, and some slices of lime and lemon and serve well chilled, with ice.
But if you really want to get things going, add a bottle of Cointreau. Or some rum.
And if you want to calm things down, add half a bottle of fizzy water.
Variations are endless – and dangerous.
To hot to be true. Temperatures rise 20 degrees in as many hours … and then drop back again in as many hours. Right now they’re up. The sky is blue and brilliant. The sun relentless. Who knows how it will be tomorrow.
Wednesday 27 June
Mr Li is our human pruning machine, he goes at huge speed and with great precision. But that’s in the winter and this is high summer, so what’s he doing in the courtyard?
And what’s wrong with his face? His mouth seems to be out of shape, lopsided.
Mr Li is still in a state of shock.
He works for us in the winter, and in the summer he works with his relatives in the Provence. They have a successful restaurant near the waterfront in Nice. The truck that caused such devastation two weeks ago passed a few meters from him. Blood everywhere. Bodies everywhere. Confusion. Chaos. Mrs Li shouting, « get back! get back! »
« I have never seen anything like it » he says, close to tears. « What is going on in the world? »
The restaurant has emptied out, nobody goes there for a meal anymore. Mr Li is not needed, and Mr Li doesn’t want to stay either. So he returns home to Carcassonne, comes for a walk at Rives-Blanques, and talks to us with a face contorted by horror.
Thursday July 28
The time will come when we will tell everyone that we have ditched Organic certification and we have ditched Sustainable certification and we have ditched Certification of all kinds. Both systems are good, neither system is perfect. One of these days we’ll have to take down the Terra Vitis signs from the vineyard, the website, the brochures.
What we are doing instead is very little: allowing the vineyard to live its own life, to a large degree. Working with a famous soil scientist who is the son of a famous soil scientist, and who is in the office right now, pointing a be-ringed finger at a set of analyses held by a be-bangled hand.
He speaks in a quiet, reasoned and confident voice. He is very nice and has a lot of authority in and behind him.
« For white wine » he says, « this is great. Perfect soils. Excellent microbiological life. Just a question of a little steering here and there …. » and then we enter into the world of potassium and manganese and boron and other elements and minerals, and the effects they have on our vines.
A new world opens, and the odyssey continues.
…/to be continued.