April 11, 2001
- Le P'tit Jules
He is not the mayor of Saint Rimay but
he is the true lord of this manor in this little town. Le
P'tit Jules, also known as, André Desneux lives in
his grandfather's house across the street from the old barn that
he was born in seventy-five years ago. He barely stretches above
five feet and is round as a beach ball, but he possesses that
mysterious phenomenon sometimes called presence. He literally
reigns over his domain with calm and grace. He daily dons his
blue worker's uniform and casket like a bishop's chasuble and
mitre. His presence is so palpable that we have renamed his cave
the Prieuré d'Epine and Monsieur Jean now calls him the
Curé. A Prieuré is a French word for a church
and épine refers to a plant used to flavor pousse
d'épine, an aperitif made locally. Of course Monsieur
Jean prays/drinks daily at Andrea's cave and I myself make frequent
Andre still makes wine every year and
owns several rows of vines on the plain above the village. Aprille
and I helped with the vendange (grape harvest) last September
and although it was hard work, it didn't seem like labor. It
was more like a party. People walking by that morning would stop
by and volunteer to go with us. We drank a bottle of wine at
the end of each row and at the end of the morning; we celebrated
freely at the Prieuré.
It is not possible to pass André's
cave without stopping. In fact, I discovered that it is a sin
not to stop. I was passing by his cave everyday on my way to
and from the library in Vendôme. After a week of committing
this heinous crime, Monsieur Jean came by to tell me that André
was very upset that I was not stopping on my way to and from
the library. He wondered if I was somehow angry. I explained
that going to the library was like going to a job for me and
that I couldn't stop and get drunk on my way to work everyday.
Jean just hunched his shoulders as if to say, "I don't make
the rules, I just warn of their infringement." I now snake
my way to Vendôme by back roads traversed only by a few
sheep and cows. On the way back, I stop and take Andre's special
brand of communion.
André's cave is unusual in part
because it is dug into the ground and reinforced with concrete
blocks so it is squared off and lacks the round uneven look of
other caves of this area. But everything else is both traditional
and yet still unique. At first I could not understand why all
these the old caves are covered with soot and charcoal. The ceiling
and walls of Andre's cave looks like a fire burned here once.
Many caves in this area have this sooty look. After burning candles
in our cave, I began to understand. These caves are hundreds
of years old so candles, kerosene lamps and torches lit these
dark holes for many years before electricity. Also, the huge
oak barrels that stretch the hundred-foot length of his cave
have to be sterilized once a year with burning sulfur that added
to the char.
There is a look of organized chaos here.
There are barrels, bottles, baskets, corks, hottes, pipes,
pipettes and odd looking tools everywhere. Everything is old
and coated with dust and mold. Even the sole bare light bulb
above the makeshift bar looks like it was made in the1920's.
The darkness, the dust and the smell of
fermentation could be depressing but it is not. There is a sense
of conviviality that helps but the real contrast to all this
moldy darkness strikes like a halleluiah chorus though a sunny
window, when André uncorks a bottle of Vouvray. There
is a second chorus for a glass of pousse d'épine
and the sky literally opens when he breaks out his newest concoction.
In a large clay vessel called a saloir, he removes the
lid and shows us a dark rosé liquid that he calls écorce
de clementine. It is much like pousse d'épine
but made with the skin of tangerines. The flavor is sweet, spicy
and bitter at the same time. Aprille likes this aperitif so much
that she designed and made André some labels to put on
his bottles. Here is the formula.
In a large container add the following:
5 liters of a good rosé wine of 12% alcohol
1 liter of goût (eau-de-vie) at 40% alcohol
2 lbs. of sugar
The zest and juice of 10 tangerines
Leave covered for 40 days stirring regularly.
Strain and serve cold.
Let there be light.