Flickering candles and Frost this Spring Morning

Hermitage – 8th April, 2021

Today I was encouraged to try to speak the post out loud, as well. I am doing this to help with the framing of sentences, improve the flow, notice jarring of words all to aid the preparation for the book Rhône Girl – In her Rhône World.


The presumption spring is a time for growth, is just that. Last week sunny skies, pushing poppies up all over the hill, as birds bellowed their morning call. This week plunging temperatures, agricultural life bashed by a force here to reckon with seasonal potential.

Opening the front door this morning I expected a clear sunrise to golden the path to the vineyards. Instead, thick air, reeking of smoke and an illuminated Hermitage flickering with lights.

An impulse to hasten the pace, like a child eager not to miss out on the excitement of a sleepover at friends. I knew I had not sighted these conditions before and the pull towards the vineyards was strong.

I’ve learnt about the risk of frost, out of textbook read in cities. Now I was experiencing the very real threat with my own eyes country eyes.

The first and second leaves have just opened, some vines looking like the frill neck of a lizard, others shooting higher in the direction of this morning’s rising flames and sun. Vignerons were crouching down to assess the damage from the overnight chill. Piles of wood were hurried into the vicinity in metal crates, workers retrieving them, making piles to burn, to keep the ground warm. There was camaraderie, teamwork, huddling around warmth, an April spring day, which felt like a December winter one.

As the sun rose, the hill was luminous, I felt guilt in the paradox between the beauty of the flickering anti-frost candles and the stress this season will be causing the Domaine’s. Yet nature is cruel and it’s the quarrel of a vingeron to accept and make peace with this.

I followed the path home, the sun had risen, the nose itchy and the smell of smoke had leached into the fibres of my jacket, scarf and merino underlayers. A slight panic, what if the flammable smell used to ignite the flames was dangerous, I’d got up real close. Then I sensed regret to have missed these candles illuminated last night, I imagined they’d mirror the flickering of stars in the sky.

Set in stone

“Do what you love and love what you do”, a message from a stranger written on a stone near La Chapel. These words can seem whimsical. They are easy to say, yet they can also lead us down a blind road, seemingly ugly at times. The beauty of spring on Hermitage is hardly blind or ugly. Sitting on a bench at the plaque marked for Gerard Jaboulet, watching people toss this stone from hand to hand, I drank my cup of tea. Contemplating stories from Australia of this generous man, I’ll never meet. Then the tired sun rest its rays for another day and it became clear in this moment alone, I’d found something to love and other’s were contemplating theirs too.

We’ve got time to worry

Poppies are springing from the vineyards, timely as budburst is upon us. Soon they’ll cover the fields and climb as high as the Chapel. It might be a fashion faux pas wearing colours red and green together but they pop in nature. It reminds me of Christmas in Australia and Spring on Hermitage AOP. The flower to bloom next is called ‘Le Souci’, which means ‘worry’…..but we’ve got plenty of time to distract ourselves from another one of them!

The rise of the Violet

Violets in the Garden

Three weeks of the year, the violets rise out of the ground and dance in the wind of our garden in France; it’s a sign of Spring time. “Quick, you must take a photo,” Thérèse says, “Don’t forget, they won’t be here for long.”

Smelling the floral profile of Côte-Rôtie Syrah straight from the garden brings such delight. If we’d cook a Sunday breakfast, it would add the savoury hints of bacon fat needed to complete the aroma repertoire of said wine. The last few weeks involved closely studying the violet, its texture, and its petals’ surprising sweetness has been a privileged experience.

 It’s helped consolidate the scent for processing in the olfactory system. Deep in the Olfactory Cortex draw within the brain, this flower has now created a connection, just like another Syrah associated aroma cherries. The cherry tree at the front of Cave de Tain’s restaurant Maison Gambert is the gateway to the sour, red and dark aromas.

It seems no coincidence, the aromas used to describe the varietal Syrah, are found in the surrounding villages, where this varietal is grown. Yet this only makes sense when you have an opportunity to spend time at the source!

Synchronicity surrounding Beechworth, Victoria

The synchronicity wasn’t planned.

Same week, different year. 2020: Dad was helping Rhône girl host a tasting to bring the vignerons of Beechworth to the underground cellar of @strandcellarscroydon – the room dressed with origami birds, symbolic of the birds of Beechworth.

Last Friday, Dad was helping host a tasting connecting France & Australia. He was at Strand Cellars, Sydney headquarters – pouring the wines of @Castagna Beechworth, while we listened to Julian share many of his ideas over the next 2 hours. We’re adapting, it was engaging, a little long on the feet for the guests who stayed but we’re learning and evolving.

Most of all Rhône Girl’s lucky to have a father who supports this wine thing we’re both in!

The fallen snowflakes

This may just be the last snow we’ll see this winter. Crackling like pop rock lollies in the mouth but everywhere –  as the sun shines bright and the snow melts fast.  Birds use their wing power to fly high, they seem sensitive to cold toes. Sights of blooming hazelnut and almond trees – signs the vines will wake from their slumber sooner than we can say Printemps.  There’s still some pruning to be finished, Chapoutier seem to be patiently waiting till closer to budburst to prune many of their parcels; including L’Hermite Marsanne near La Chapelle. A long slippery descent down Les Bessards, to notice it too is waiting for some love ❤.

Dancing Queens of Tain L’Hermitage

‘We’ve got to sing it sister’ as these dancing queens of Tain L’Hermitage are in their Rhône world’s. I could hear the song Jerusalema playing from the door of my old neighbour Brigitte’s house. Climbing the stairs to find these marvellous women trying to learn the dance steps. Last year I’d ride my bike to the Delas winery each morning listening to this song. Tears would often start rolling down my face, luckily enough to be caught by a mask. Life felt here, there and everywhere. Yet I’d keep playing this song on repeat. Today Brigitte knew to change songs, next song on the playlist was ‘Rivers of Babylon’, love the synchronicity of dance ‘Sing a song of freedom sister’ On y Va

Link to Jersualema song:

A Project in Paris

The last month took Rhône Girl to Paris for her first official project in the city of love – incorporating wine and art. Soon there will be something tactile to share, with a focus on braiding connections between France and those who love to enjoy this country for the charm of these pleasures.

This time has been filled with education; navigating new arrondissements numbered in the shape of a snail, meeting new networks, meeting partnering businesses, promoting Rhône wines, listening to new ideas in French and then waiting for the brain to catch up first to comprehend and then to respond.

I’ll admit many days I really feel like I’m not getting anywhere, as the shame of making mistakes in the language around educated people doesn’t seem to disappear. They say find a French boyfriend to help, well I’ve got an Aussie one I’m very happy with and I didn’t study French since 4 years of study in high school, which weren’t near enough. Pure naivety had me turn up on France’s doorstep to learn about wine, in this shape a few years ago.

Yet going into one of ten wine stores to ask for a particular bottle is as good as any excuse to find courage. It is easy to take for granted the baby steps in a new city but they just might amount to toddler steps in no time.

Dining at a Parisian Speakeasy

I’ve had a bit of a rare opportunity to live in Paris for some time since November 2020, when France announced a second confinement.

There are more people running and smoking in the streets to avoid wearing masks, the metro is active and busy, families are congregating on Sundays together in the park. Gatherings are happening in the comfort of people’s homes. Schools and work places have remained open during this time. Shops were initially closed but re-opened in the middle of December to accommodate Christmas shopping.

We are no longer required to complete an ‘attestation’ form each time we left the home; detailing where we live, our reason for leaving the home and what time we departed. Yet the household curfew, originally managed on a department basis moved to a national one in January and we have been instructed to be in our homes by 6pm, this is still in place.

People are naturally restless, they want freedom and it seems not all but many will find a way to make this happen even if it is not permitted by the government. Thus the word ‘speakeasy’ has started circulated in Paris.

The traditional use of the word came to prominence in the Prohibition era (1920-1933) in the United States, when there was a national ban on the production, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. This idea in more recent times has inspired concept bars around the world, where special passwords are required in hidden passageways to access venues that sell alcohol. Covid-19 forced countries to make changes and impose bans on what businesses can and can’t trade. In France the memories of a rosé on the Seine are a long lost memory, with restaurants and bar now completely closed for trade. Thus the echo’s of ‘speakeasy’ burst out of the city seams using this concept during true ‘illicit’ times to bring food to the table of guests around the city.

This is an insight into this kind of experience shared this week in Paris.

The invitation went like this. We have been invited to lunch tomorrow but we won’t know where we are going until the morning. It wasn’t the kind of uncertainty that kept me up that night but held my curiosity. By 9am the next morning Wednesday 3rd February, 2021 we received the following invitation in the form of a text message. What is key is you’ll read ‘All in discretion“.

I then googled the address, found the nearest metro stop and an hour later arrived at 66 Rue René Boulanger – with it’s big blue door. Pulling out my phone to check the next steps.

The main entrance of 66 Rue René Boulanger

On opening the door the instructions led me to walk right to the end of this courtyard. As you can see the end of the courtyard is quite a distance from the front door. Discretion.

Walking to the end of the courtyard

Walking down the stairs and with no one around there is a degree of trepidation as to whether the instructions are being interpreted correctly. Quite a contrast to Pre-Covid vibes, with the noise of people and frivolity at a local Parisian corner. Proceeding to press “Saint Martin” the intercom rung. The door unlocked, with a further hallway to walk through and then a turn to the left. It was here the magic started with the discovery of a very modern room, for a moment I could have been anywhere in the world. The descent of the luxurious staircase hinted at the activity below ground floor.

The phone used by the restaurant receptionist to open the door for guests

This was the first sight on descending the stairs, one can’t help by notice the phone responsible for unlocking the door to this ‘nomadic’ restaurant. Imagine a more neat table setting as this photo was taken at the end of the lunch. Greeted by a waiter pouring a glass of Champagne Coessens Brut Rosé, people are gathered around in different break out areas drinking this Saignée style wine. I find my friend who invited me to this lunch, take my coat off and then a waiter comes to pour a further wine in my glass. This time it is a Burgundian Chardonnay Domaine Charlopin Tissier Pernand- Verdelesses 1er Cru 2017. The first serious Burgundian wine tasted this trip.

Where we put our coats down and settle into the lunch drinking Burgundian Chardonnay

There are different forms of art and statues around the room, it felt like a global melting pot, a gorgeous little courtyard used for the smokers and many new faces to share a meal with. A very tall French man walked over to ask “Are you Australian” and strike up a conversation recounting his personal adventures in the land down under. His confidence in English surprises me, at a level that is far from fluent – ‘I’d love to be more like that I think‘. He then progresses to tell me about the colourful scarf he has around his neck and how it was used as a ‘hostage’ during his divorce. He shared with me his grievances of being a man, as he doesn’t have access to as many accessories to wear with attire, as women. He listed the options; cufflinks, a scarf and a watch, I remind him he is missing a hat, in the right context they can be rather smart. The scarf had a different pattern on both sides and was quite eye catching, colourful and a length I’d could see working very well at my dinner table for two.

The kitchen the staff chopped bread and served wine from

We are then asked to be seated at the lunch table of the new faces at the table there are twelve people in total, three women only. A lunch ensued with business negotiations up one end and an overindulgence in food and wine. Not to mention a chef, waiter and sommelier to take care of our every need. It was an opportunity to try the same wine from multiple bottles and reinforces a reality of bottle variation in many of the key regions of France. It was alarming to watch the cunning capabilities of a wine specialist, who turned some of these wines with ‘faults’ into pleasing traits hopeful his guests would purchase wines afterwards.

Not such a straight line up of wines

There was some tension by two particular guests at the table who thought it was unfair the price of this experience per person was the same as what would be charged in a traditional restaurant. Restaurants are receiving support from the government while they are closed, some 10,000 euro a month. I am told some smaller restaurants with a low turnover are earning more money now than before under these rules.

The candles in the middle of the table

Yet still sitting at the lunch table, two decorations captured my attention. The lights on the ceiling and the candles in the middle.

Lights on the ceiling above the lunch table

Both symbolically hopeful of what company shared in person can do. Something people are finding necessary even when not permitted. Now it seems people will break out to make it happen.

P.S. I am conscious attending a lunch like this raises some ethical questions. Having stayed in Paris during the second confinement, it has been really interesting to watch the behaviour of Parisians. I’ve been stopped once on the streets on the phone by Police be reminded to pull my mask up to my nose, no fine was issued. I’ve seen liberty amongst the streets and people needing human connection as a basic right. I am not justifying the choices of doing something ‘illegal’ by the countries rules but I saw it as an opportunity to experience a one off, at an epicentre for ‘food’ and ‘wine’ . These two subjects a key reason I came to learn from this country.

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