Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

13 December 2000 - Back to France

Part of the fun of travel is coming home. I spent the last month stateside voting and visiting. The eight hour flight from Atlanta to Paris almost seems routine now. It is still a long sleepless night that leaves us with the fatigue of décalage horaire but the French accents and the food on our Air France flight remind us of where we are going. The only problem with the impeccable service is that the stewardess complemented Aprille's accent over coffee. Aprille beamed so brightly with pleasure/pride it did no good to dim the lights and I got less sleep than usual. Usually Air France is more expensive but I found round trip tickets for $350 (don't ya lova da internet?). The round trip tickets from Paris were about $100 cheaper than from the States. The dollar is so strong now that things are cheaper in France than in the USA.

Although the flight arrived at 6:00 a.m., we don't get back to Lavardin until 2:00 p.m. The TGV train from Gare Montparnasse in Paris to Vendome only takes forty-two minutes but the speed seems irrelevant when you have to wait four hours to leave the station. We try to stay awake to get back on French time but it is hopeless. After an hour at home I fall asleep. I hear a knock on the door. Maurice saw my car at the foot of the mountain and decided to come up and tell me the good news. He tells me that he has just purchased forty-three liters of a very good Bordeaux for me and that it needs to be bottled soon. He hands me the corks and labels but I tell him that I will be down later. I try to go back to sleep but I keep thinking of that dark, rich red liquid loosing its essence in a plastic container. I get up and go down to see Maurice.

He is in the process of loading apples in a large bin. I ask him if he is making eau-de-vie but he tells me the apples are for cider. He owns a half dozen caves that are all dedicated to the production and preservation of alcohol in one form or another. Last year he was making eau-de-vie from apples. He uses the eau-de-vie to make pousse d'épine, feuille de pêcher and vin côt. Maurice is about sixty-five years old and seems to have limitless energy, most of which is spent in the production of alcoholic beverages. All I have to do is ask how one makes cider to get the full course.

Cider is made very much like wine. The apples are crushed and pressed to get the juice out. The juice goes from a vat to barrels where it is allowed to ferment. As the dregs settle to the bottom, the top portion of the juice is drawn off into another barrel. This process is repeated four times about one month apart. The result is apple cider which normally has an alcohol content of about 3% or 4%. When Maurice tells me that his cider has an alcohol content of 8%, I raise an eyebrow in disbelief. He catches my expression of disbelief and tells me that he adds a little sugar to raise the alcohol content. No self respecting man would drink a beverage with less than 8% alcohol.

I am ready to get down to the business of my Bordeaux but no business transaction in the bas vendomois can proceed without a taste of something to relax the tension of a transfer of money. Maurice pours me a pousse d'épine and I admire the dark rich color before sipping this spicy, port-tasting liquid. I tell him that the pousse d'épine that I made in July has turned a cloudy brown color. He tells me that my problem is that I let myself be guided by the counsels of Monsieur Jean who is much better at drinking pousse d'epine than making it. Of course Jean and Maurice are old friends and never miss a chance to dig at each other a little. Nevertheless, I include myself among the group who drink better than fabricate, so I write down the advice of Maurice which is to let les épines leaves steep longer in the eau-de-vie before adding the wine and use a sealed container so the gases won't escape. It just goes to show that even the most serious problems in life have a solution.

Maurice finally gives me the bill for the thirty-two liters of Bordeaux. He says that 768 francs is a lot to pay for thirty-two liters but that this is a very, very correct Bordeaux that has been aging in the barrel since 1998. Thirty-two liters will make forty-three bottles. Monsieur Jean kindly found me the special shaped Bordeaux bottles which are de rigueur for a good Bordeaux and he will drop the bottles off tomorrow. I do a quick calculation to estimate the cost of this precious elixir. It is about $2.40 per bottle. I love this country.

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 November 29, 2000 -Beignets Aux Fleurs d'Acacia
 November 15, Thanksgiving
November 8, Pouse D'Epine
November 1, 2000 Col de Vence: A day on the Moon
October 25, 2000 Cult of the Black Virgin
October 18, 2000 Harvesting Grapes by Hand
October 4, 2000 Provence: All Good Things




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