A newly-married couple from Los Angeles quit their jobs to work on farms and wineries across Europe. Read it from the beginning...

View from a Wine Label

Posted: September 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bordeaux, France, Wine | 2 Comments »

Like many wineries, Chateau Brandeau has an image of its main house (the chateau) on the label of their wine bottles. We lived in that house, so every label is like a snapshot of where we spent part of our summer. We were in the two lower-left windows. For comparison, here’s the real house:

You can see they tweak the dimensions a bit for the label, but same general idea. So what’s the view like looking out from this wine label? Here it is:

Octopus-armed Sulphur Slinger

Posted: August 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bordeaux, France, Wine | 1 Comment »

This Doc-Oc mishap is a specialized piece of viticulture equipment used to spray the vines with a copper sulfate solution. This anti-fungal agent smells strongly of sulphur — an odor that has not yet washed out from our work shirts though we have not touched a vine in almost 6 weeks. It’s attached to a special, extra-skinny John Deer tractor nimble enough to navigate the narrow rows. To see one these rumbling towards you, emitting a wall of noxious, light-blue gas, can be intimidating.

La Douve to the Château

Posted: August 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Normandy | No Comments »

The Douve river flows past the château we stayed at, visible in the distance. That clump of trees are the grounds, which exists as a sort of bird and wildlife refuge. What you cannot see is the enormous pudding factory directly behind it. Seriously. it’s called “Mont Blanc” are we enjoyed a can of their caramel pudding.

This Tea Is Horseshit

Posted: August 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Meals, Paris | 5 Comments »

Musee d’Orsay charges four euros for a cup of tepid water and a tea bag. This photo illustrates how we felt about this fleecing. Great museum, but we can’t recommend the restaurant. The food was “just okay” but expensive, and the overpriced tea pushed us over the edge.

Montrez Les Nous = Topless French Women

Posted: August 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Paris | 3 Comments »

This handsome and generous woman was posted up all over Paris (that’s the Opera House in the background). We were surprised at first to see a topless woman used in an advertisement (carefully edited, of course) but soon, by the frequency of her appearance, we were left numb. Background noise. Don’t even notice her. At least, that’s what I told Halbe. I did sneak one photo, as you can see.

Banks of the River Seine

Posted: August 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Paris | 1 Comment »

An arty shot of people enjoying the sunshine on the banks of the river Seine. This was opposite Notre Dame. Halbe and I had just enjoyed an ice cream cone. A man sat on the street behind us, playing an accordion for spare change. I leaned over the edge of the bridge we stood on and snapped this photo.

The Paris “Hummer” burger

Posted: August 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Meals | No Comments »

We came across this treat while walking in Paris. The sign over the door said “American Restaurant,” and a visual menu was hung in the window to advertise their offerings (to, I assume, the illiterate). But it was the name that caught my attention first. A sandwich this brazen, this excessive, this laughable could only be named “The Hummer.”

I imagine the classically-trained French chef preparing this meal, weeping. Is this what Americans are thought to enjoy?

What I appreciate most about this image is how un-apologetically it has been manipulated. The identical tomato, cheese, and burger, closely stacked, seem to ask the viewer, “So what?” And the bulge at the top — What is that? What could that possibly be? This American does not want to know.

We’re at Chateau d’Isle Marie

Posted: July 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France | 3 Comments »

After the sudden change of plans, we made it safe and sound to Chateau d’Isle Marie, in Normandy. It’s a bed and breakfast in a chateau dating from the 11th century. You can read more about it at www.islemarie.com.

One neat thing about the place: There is a graffito on an entrance door frame that reads “EDGAR MASON JUNE 6, 1944”. That’s June 6, as in D-Day. This was a soldier who stormed the beaches that morning, or, possibly, a paratrooper who fell from the sky.

California vs. French Wine

Posted: July 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France, Wine | 7 Comments »

Disclaimer: I speak in generalities in this post. There are exceptions to every rule.

France and California are two of the major wine producers in the world (joined recently by Australia). However, there are some significant differences between the two industries and the wine they produce. We had the pleasure of enjoying a weekend in Bordeaux at their annual Fet la Vin (wine festival) and tasted some amazing wines. But we also learned quite a bit about how CA and French wine differ.

First, the overall feeling toward California wine in France is one of slight disgust. The vintner at our last winery described CA wine as, “fast, sexy and simple.” CA and France grow their grapes and make their wine very differently.

The French wine industry is bathed in tradition. They’ve been making it since the Roman times (read, over 1,000 years). They have a lot of respect for this tradition and it significantly restricts the way wine can be made and grown. The main regulatory body of wine in France is the AOC (L’appellation d’origine contrôlée). They require vines to be grown a certain distance apart. This spurs competition  between the vines. They also don’t allow France to irrigate their vines. The reason for this is not only that the French believe the vines need to “suffer;” they also want their wine to reflect the weather of that year, to make it unique. If there’s a dry year their grapes will differ from a wet year.

In France, they always put the year of wine on the bottle, called the “vintage.” One year from the next can be drastically different. They additionally tend to mix grapes and many regions will grow the same grapes. So, if you have a bottle of red wine from Bordeaux there is a 99% chance they used merlot and cabernet franc. If you have a white wine from Bordeaux, they’ve used sauvignon blanc and semillon. Sometimes they list this on the bottle, but generally, they expect you to just “know” this.

As I’ve mentioned, the vintage is important to the vintner. They list the year which will likely tell a local if it’s a good bottle or not – 2005 was a dry year so the wine isn’t as good while 2006 was a year a lot of sun and just enough rain so it’s a better year, etc. Not easy if you’re not a local. So, in this vain, they do not mix their vintages. And if they do, they can’t put the year on the bottle, which is a hallmark of the French wine industry.

Lastly, the average winery in France is approximately 10 hectares (24.7 acres). The the most expensive wineries in France will even grow just 3-4 hectares to minimize the number of bottles they produce which affects their price. In Saint Emillon, the most expensive region of wines in France, they usually only produce 3 hectares of grapes and produce 10,000 bottles each year making their wine all the more in demand and harder to find. They sometimes go for over $1,000.

All this said, California does the opposite in most scenarios.

In California, their wineries are hundreds of acres. They also water their vines in addition to putting heaters around them, adding nitrogen to their soil and well, babying the heck out of them (pssst, some French wineries do this too). Their vines are essentially the same each year to make their wine consistent. Consistency is one of the major differences between French and Californian wines. The French snub their noses to this concept. Consistency? How is that interesting?” they say.

To make Californian wine consistent, the wineries will mix vintages. This difference is appalling to the French who look down on mixing years. But in California, to make their wine generally taste the same each year, they’ll, for example, mix a little of 2005 with 2009 to make sure it has that same clean, crisp chardonnay taste their customers count on.

They also tend to use a single grape variety like chardonnay or merlot. Now, there are of course exceptions, but when you buy a CA wine, it usually will say chardonnay or merlot on the label. That’s because they use just that grape, or the vast majority of the wine is made with that grape.

Although some CA wineries will label their vintage on the bottle, a bottle of 2005 chardonnay from one winery will taste almost exactly the same as the bottle of 2008 from the same winery. I was talking to one of the other Helpx’ers at the last winery, and when we were talking about this very subject she had a great example. She said she had been buying chardonnay from the same winery for years. It was consistently the same taste she’d counted on from a 2003 to a 2005 to a 2009. It didn’t matter the year, it was always the same wine. CA is known for this reliability to their customers and the French just don’t understand. In their mind, the different vintages should taste different.

The last difference I’m finding is one of personal taste. For those who know me fairly well, I don’t like red wine very much. At least, I used to not like it. I’m finding that the reds in Bordeaux are wonderful and I like them very much. They don’t have the bold strong flavor California reds are known for. The French call it “simple.” Whatever it is, it’s not my taste so when I go back to Cali, I’ll be buying my reds from the French.

I’m actually really excited to go wine tasting in California again with my new found knowledge of wine. It’ll make it more interesting. Oh, and it gives me another reason to drink a lot of wine!

Devon on a ride-on lawn mower

Posted: July 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: France | 6 Comments »

That is all.

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