Spring flowers

I love seeing the poppies springing up in the hedgerows.  Looking at this poppy a couple of days ago reminded me of an amazing field of poppies Chris and I saw in Italy.

I can’t remember the names of the three rose bushes Deb and I planted about four years ago (well, Deb actually….) but they are doing splendidly.  The darker ones in the middle have moved into first place, as the pale pink ones peaked last week.

Lunch at Charles and Pierre’s

It was a glorious, warm day yesterday and lunch was in the medieval garden, where Ed and Jude had their wedding ceremony almost six years ago.  Charles and Pierre had invited me, Stephen Rivers-Moore, the very talented musician and plumber who lives in Bréau, and a couple whom I vaguely knew: Loïc and Annette Bonnefont.  Loïc is a painter and Annette a graphic designer, originally from Germany.  They turned out to be very nice indeed and conversation became animated because they were if anything more left-wing than me!

Loïc and Annette are supporters of Mélenchon, ex Socialist and now head of the Front de Gauche (coalition of Left parties including the Communists) and were getting particularly worked up about the about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP – called GMT in France), on the grounds that it would be even more difficult to manage markets for the public benefit.  Apparently there is a proposal that if any government regulation damages the profits of a corporation it will be entitled to compensation.

I have to admit to knowing nothing about the TTIP and not to be a particular fan of Mélenchon.  But what they were saying sounds very plausible. Ironically I bumped into someone who lives across the valley from me this morning.  He was busy posting Front de Gauche leaflets and had another go at convincing me to vote for them in next weeks European elections.  I really must be better informed over the next few days, and in particular to reflect on the implications of a protest vote against Hollande, whom I agree is pathetic and hardly even a social democrat, particularly since Valls took over as prime minister.

Needless to say Pierre, who is an unswerving supporter of the Socialist Party, got very uptight.  He seemed unmoved by our arguments that we are in the midst of an extraordinary period of political change and that really the old Left/Right parties of the past have become irrelevant and too like each other.  The interesting battle is now what happens with the extreme parties on the left and right.

As usual, an excellent meal lots of lively conversation. (No photo of Charles, who was sitting next to me, with bad lighting.)

Transplanting the onions

Every available terrace round Serres is gradually joining the onion growing empire of local farmer, Eric Combernoux.  He inherited the fields that I look out at from my study window from his father, Pierre and has added to these by buying land whenever it becomes available.  This is now the onion planting out season.  The seedlings have to be separated out and planted a greater distance from each other,  Here is Eric (centre, blue tee-shirt) and his team of onion planters sorting the seedlings before planting them.

Dégustations

Peter left today, after a very busy ten days.  When he wasn’t cooking for both of us, and generally taking over household chores, he did several long walks (which he is now writing up for future visitors) , we sampled several local restaurants and we went on two long wine tasting – and buying! – expeditions.

Our first trip was to Pic St Loup, described on May 13.  Then on Friday we did a trip through the Terrasses du Larzac, This is the area in the north and west of the Hérault department, and includes villages such as Montpeyrou, St Saturnin and even further to the west, Octon.

Mas Conscience

When we arrived at our first domaine – Mas Conscience, near St Jean de Fos – we did not see the usual old buildings, but rather a modern villa and equally modern cave.  Outside, a team of people were busy bottling; a woman was driving the machine which put the bottles into boxes, which then went down a conveyor belt and were mechanically bulk wrapped in polythene.

The young woman climbed down from her machine, her place being taken by her husband, and came across to greet us.  We discovered that the former well-known proprietor, Laurent Vidal, has sold to this young couple and for a year is working beside them to show them the ropes. The main pleasure of going wine-tasting is of course the wines, but ambience is terribly important, and despite the modern buildings the charm of the young woman, Nathalie Ajorque, made this wine tasting a delight.  She and her husband Eric Ajorque have just come back from two years running development projects in Pondicherry, and before that they ran some sort of company selling outdoor products.  So they are complete novices at wine growing, even though they have agricultural backgrounds.  Nathalie was full of humility and greatly appreciative of the aid they are getting from Laurent Vidal.  She is also studying oenology in Montpellier (as well as having three children…).

The range of wines is essentially the same as Laurent Vidal’s and will remain so.  This is essentially a biodynamic domaine: organic with lots of attention to the ecological relationship with the soil and working to the lunar calendar.  Sceptical?  Well all I can say is that we tasted some extremely fine wines (here is a description) ranging in price from 9-17€.  Two were particuarly interesting (though not my favourites) as they were made with single cépage, one with Cinsault the other with Carignan (both distinctive old style Languedoc grapes).

After we had spent (too much) on buying wines, Nathalie took us down to the cave below.  I have never seen such a modern hi-tech cave.  The grapes are delivered straight from the trucks above down a chute into a range of  vast cement vats for the reds and steel for the whites.  The new owners are lucky that this was not Vidal’s first domain and when building this complex he paid huge attention to detail.

Domaine Puech Lazert

After lunch we visited one of our old favourites; I’ve been three times with Peter and before that he used to visit with Chris.  The visit is as much the entertainment as the wines.  This is an old established vignéron, the family lives in an imposing town house, which dominates the main street of the village of St Jean de la Blaquière.

The great entrance door is opened, as always, by Laurent Teisse’s mother, a small, dynamic woman who must surely be approaching 80  but still works the vines.  She recognised us immediately and reminded me that last time I realised while there I had left the cake I was bearing as a gift for my friends in Octon at home.  Up the giant old staircase to the family kitchen, where we are joined by Laurent, a handsome, smiley, laid-back guy.  The two of them are delightful hosts and we really enjoy tasting their wine.  They only do a couple of reds, as they only have three hectaires, but the wines have a high reputation amongst connoisseurs.  (These by the way are not organic wines – far from, according to our friend, Graham, who has one parcelle of vines next to his.)

Finally time to go: them to the vines to prune and tidy, us to our final port of call, Trois Terres.

Trois Terres

Again, this was a return visit, as much to see Graeme and Alice and their children as to taste the wine.  We had the usual delightful session chatting mainly to Alice in the garden (but also admiring her huge, ambitious house projects – currently building a bathroom from scratch) and then a brief wine tasting (I was trying not to spend any more money!).  His new wines were just as good as ever and I think they are going to improve with time.  Bravo Graeme.  He is wanting to buy more land and maybe switch the balance of working as a GP and a vigneron to favour the latter.

St Andre de Majencoules

After taking Peter and Christine to the start of their walk, I drove home via St André de Majencoules, the village where Roy Carr Hill had a house at the time when we used to camp in the valley below.  His was the house in the centre, facing down over a steep valley.

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Carpal Tunnel syndrome

I saw the shoulder surgeon, Dr Teissier, for an ongoing checkup (I don’t get signed off till November).  He said that movement of my shoulder had definitely improved, though mobility was still well below the desired level.  So – it’s crucial to keep up the exercises, he said.

I showed him the electrogram report from the rheumatologist and he agreed I had carpal tunnel syndrom, probably brought on by the swelling of the hand and wrist I experienced after the shoulder operation.  So now I’m booked in for yet another operation – on 6 June.  Dr. Teissier will carry it out, using keyhole surgery.  I should go home the same day and then spend several days with my left hand heavily bandaged.

I tried looking on the internet for more information about the operation, but had to stop: I have never been able to handle information about hand or foot injuries.  But here is the diagram Dr Teissier provided.  Basially he has to cut the carpal ligament to relieve pressure on the median nerve, which leads to the thumb and first two fingers.

Hot rabbits

We had dinner with our old friends, Christine et Arnard, last night.  Amongst the bits of local gossip which I enjoy picking up (I’m afraid my old news reporter instincts never die) was a comment on a local personnage.  Well I had known he was someone who liked the ladies, to use pedantic old fashioned English, but I had never heard him described as a hot rabbit – un chaud lapin .  Being a proper person….  I have never come across this expression before but I think it is best translated as a randy old devil, particularly as it was followed by the comment that on several occasions he emerged in the village with his trousers barely pulled up.

We also talked about the recent local elections, both for the communes and the communauté of communes.  In the latter, Canayer, the mayor of Molières-Cavaillac was reelected as president by the other mayors, but interestingly this time three mayors voted for Doulcier, the mayor of le Vigan, someone whom Christine and Arnard and I admire.  When I said I was baffled by the failure of Doulcier in these elections, Arnard said it was simply the small village communes ganging up against the big brother.  With the exception of le Vigan (population 3942), Molières (910) and Avèze (1072)  the 22 communes here have populations of less than 500 each, with the smallest having as few as 53.

Wines of Pic St Loup

Peter and I did a very pleasant (but expensive!) tour of Pic St Loup.  I’ve found a good page which describes (in French) the three different ‘terroirs’ of le ‘Grand Pic St Loup’: http://www.tourisme-picsaintloup.fr/fr/oenotourisme/nos-terroirs-viticoles.  We visited two old favourites, Chateau de Lancyre and Mas Gourdou, and one new one, Le Domaine d’Anglas.

First we visited Anglas, which combines being a vineyard with a very picturesque and attractive campsite beside the Hérault – the girls used to canoe past it.  The wines were very pleasant without being outstanding and rather pricy.  This did not stop me buying rather a lot, stocking up for more everyday consumption. The dégustation was seductively pleasant: the woman left us with about eight glasses to sample, on a shaded table looking down towards the river, with the sound of nightingales and other birds providing background music.  This is a big domain, which has been in the same hands for four generations.  We were told that the present owner shifted some 20 or 30 years ago from bulk production to cultivating a better, organic (biologique) range.

Then, a very pleasant drive along the Chemin des verriers, across the Causse de l’Hortus, to the prosperous wine village of Claret, for lunch in the bistro – you can’t do any wine tasting during the French lunchtime of 12-2…  Our afternoon consisted of visiting two vineyeards in le terroir de Pic St Loup – the heart of this wonderful wine area.  This was not our first visit to Lancyre and indeed I still have some bottles in my cave.  But last year we drank a superb 2011 Clos des Combes in a restaurant in le Vigan and had hoped to find more of this vintage.  Sadly they had sold out, so I settled for six bottles of 2012 Vieilles Vignes, which I will try to keep for a year or two, and some bottles of the white wine, La Rouvière. One of the largest domaines in Pic St Loup, this remains

Mas de Gourdou was perhaps the most entertaining visit, thanks to the delightful owner, M. Therond.  We had made an appointment and rang the bell as requested.  Five minutes later an elderly car drew up and a dishevelled elderly man (perhaps my age?!) stepped out.  I said I hoped we had not disturbed him during his lunch, no he said – smiling, he had been taking a siesta. The dégustation took place in a small, intimate cave and was a very jolly affair.  M Therond is of the opinion that wines should be enjoyed rather than fussed over and didn’t seem to be very interested in putting wines down for much time.  He was very informative on the grapes used and I am slowly beginning to distinguish them.  Pic St Loup reds are usually a mixture of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan.  The whites are usually Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. He is clearly passionate about growing as perfect grapes as possible and is happy to leave the experts – the oenologue – to advise on the mixing of these grapes.  Normally the grapes are stored separately and then mixed, but one of the wines was produced by mashing the grapes together, so they matured already mixed.

Everything is likely to change now, as M Therond retired – more or less – last year, and his son has taken over.  There are signs of ambitious building going on, with a more impressive cave sadly replacing the little hold in the wall where we had sat.

It was time to move on, as I had a 5pm appointment for xrays.  This experience was one of those splendid positive moments for the French health system.  I got there an hour early, without a prescription, as I had only remembered over the weekend that I needed the x-rays for Wednesday’s appointment with the surgeon.  I was taken straight away, a friendly exchange with the technician operating the cameras who said he fished in our local river, a jolly moment with the radiologue on duty, who admired my surgeon’s work (“nickel” he said), and then a painless session with the secretary who had entered into the computer that I had a prescription so I had nothing to pay (other than the part for my mutuelle, which gets reimbursed).

Glorious day up our valley

Peter (brother in law) and I had  lunch at la Cravate, the restaurant on the mountain overlooking our valley.  Peter and Poppy walked up…

The owner has the most ridiculous St Bernard who desperately wants to be friends with Poppy.  The sentiment is not reciprocated by Poppy.

Then, the beautiful descent down the steep, winding forest road to Salagosse and then down the valley, stopped at one stage by Hélène Calvert’s goats.

Peter and Poppy then took the hill path back from the trout farm to my house.

A lovely outing because it is a perfect day, sunny, very warm, but with a breeze.