1st Organic Wine Rendez-vous

Last Sunday for the first time ever,  Organic and Biodynamic winemakers exclusively from the Aude Department presented their wines together in our home Department.

The event was organized by a non-profit group called the BIOCIVAM (Oh how we LOVE acronyms in France with a burning French passion) whose express purpose is to develop and promote organic agriculture locally.


Kristel from the BIOCIVAM, the team from the Abbey de Saint Hilaire, and 20 or so winemakers from the area – us included – had been meeting and organizing for months.  Some passed out flyers at red lights – others at farmer’s markets.  There were posters all over the place and friends of friends passed the message on. We all worked together hoping that people would come to our event and taste our wines.

Not really knowing whether people would come. Worrying about whether or not people would come. And people came.

1000 people.

1000 people came to taste organic wine in the department that boasts the least populated county in France? It was a miracle… and it was so much fun. We showed our wines by theme: white, rosé, fruity red etc. so no one was behind their stand selling their own wine.   We opened bottles and washed glasses and the team at the entrance sold wine.

No stress – no competition – no one stuck all day behind their stand.


There was a tasting workshop with a sommelier and a local group singing — about wine…

And when it was all over, elated by the number of people who had come to taste our wines, we went down the store room to claim our unsold boxes, and we all found that there weren’t many. Or in our case that there weren’t any at all.


Thanks to our organizing-fairy Kristel (hustling around the abbey below) from the BIOCIVAM who is one of those people capable of bring even the most hard-headed-farm-alone-in-the-back-of-beyond types together and have them agreeing and working together.



Thanks also to the team at the Abbaye de St. Hilaire (below) – who work in a stone building that is 1200 years old and had us all shamed with their social media prowess. Because of them we had 1900 people invited to the Facebook Event.

and a lot of them came…. Who wouldn’t want to come and taste wine for free in a place that looks like this?

See you all next year for the 2nd edition!

Concert 2014 no. 2 – à DOUZENS!

After a successful jazz concert in the winery funded entirely by someone else in winter of 2012, we decided to go out on a limb and organize our own concert all by ourselves. I am, of course, writing that under a photo of my parents who spent 2 hrs putting together tapas plates.  All by ourselves* is a relative thing.

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The Trio d’en Bas (seen in my previous post with Elysian Fields) gave an incredible concert in the theater in Douzens. Here are some of their videos to give you an idea! I was so transfixed that I have no memory of receiving the birthday invitation my daughter’s little friend Melinda gave me WHILE the musicians were playing. They’re still friends – Lili and Melinda, now aged 8, but Lili didn’t go to her birthday.  I didn’t think she was invited. oops.

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I took no photos – becuase there was quite a crowd. There were fans of the group – curious villagers – and a group of 10 music lovers from Coustouge, a village with a total population of 80.  I call that a success.  That, and the fact that with wine and tapas and insistent hat-passing – we paid for the concert!!!

 photo mob

We also presented our new wine La Joupatière … but more on that later!

*Special thanks to Aline and Alex (for cooking), Mathilde (for magically appearing when we really needed a hand), Kat (for washing all of those glasses), Mom and Dad (obviously), the guys at the mayor’s office for setting up the seats and the the Trio (obviously)!

Our rosé on Garagiste and photos

Here is the Garagiste schpeal:

Weekend: 2013 Rosé

Dear Friends,

After tasting 300-400 examples of 2013 rosé over the last two months (from far and wide in France), there is no way to sugar-coat the obvious: this is a tough year.

The very best examples are excellent but there is an enormous gap between the merely palatable and the enjoyable. In most years, we find a wide ocean in the middle – in 2013, that ocean is reduced to a trickle from a leaky pipe in your backyard. While most of the top names have confirmed their standing (even in a tough year, they produced exemplary wine), a good number of famous properties have bottled ho-hum offerings that should be reduced in $. We will see if that happens.

Far from a 2002 Rhone or 1997 Bordeaux type of campaign, it is not a complete wash-out but the Grenache did have difficulties. Wine after wine (based on Grenache) had piquant/unripened acidity and a nondescript persona. They were not necessarily “bad” but they had nothing to get excited about. After searching far and wide for Grenache, it was evident that I had to look elsewhere.

So, why not look for examples that rely on Cinsault, Syrah and others (that were more sound and more successful in the vintage)?

That’s exactly what I did and there are nuggets of 2013 raspberry gold to be had.

Such as…


In the Chenançon vineyard (where the rosé is grown):The schpeal continues:

The schpeal continues:

2013 Colline de l’hirondelle Ventilo Rosé 750ml
From the rarely tasted Chenancon varietal (grown near Carcassonne), the Ventilo rosé gives the taster a fun and deeply colored summer bottle bursting with energy and sunshine. Like the Margui above, it has snap, crackle and pop aligned to riper and more unctuous wild raspberry fruit. The soil tone comes through as well with a long finish (especially for the vintage). Nothing profound, but who cares when its delivered in a package that is hardly attempting to redefine world politics. Of all the 2013 rosé I’ve tasted, the Ventilo hit the sweetest spots without being sweet at all (it is quite dry). What rosé is all about. BIO/organic.

For more info on this cute as a button entity: http://collinedelhirondelle.com/

And other photos for those of you not on Instagram !







Barbecue in the vineyards

We’re finishing up pruning! To break up the hours of hard labor we sometimes have barbecues in the vineyards.  Here we did some pruning (not a lot) in the old vineyard La Joupatière with  Nick Ryan,  Aussie wine writer and Belinda Heinrich.


vines barbac

Didier uses the vine cuttings to make bundles as a filter in the vats.  It is tied on the inside in front of the spigot  so it won’t get stopped up.  The cutting bundles work better than the  stainless filters you can buy so we, and many others, still use them.  When we are done with them we dry them and then they give that little sum’em sum’em to the barbecue.



Visit to the site of the future house and winery.  View from my future kitchen above!



And then… Vancouver!

Vancouver is 2.5-3 hours from Seattle.  No big deal as long as there is napping going on in the back of the car.



To our great delight – we stayed in a hotel in a skyscraper on the 16th floor.  Nina Ferrier age 3 – first night in a skyscraper. Very proud.




We walked around…


and took a ferry bus to an island…




The nitty gritty – Wine tasting with Dorothy and Carmen – who are presenting our wines to the BC monopoly… more on that exciting and complicated venture soon.



Oh and did I say that they rocked? The small ones were welcome at the tasting and the first person I met in the office had these hands….



fancy, fancy!


When we got back to Douzens after a month in the US, a friend from the village gave us this personalized bottle of Carthagène  (a sweet aperitif wine that’s traditional here) named “Cartha’Jenn” – for yours truly.   I’ve never felt more Douzenoise !
cool huh!


This summer  we had the oportunity to work with Jon Rimmerman at Garagiste out of Seattle, WA, for the first time. He sent out the following presentation then sold LOTS of our wine.  Colline on the WEST COAST!! Next time we do this I will let you know, dear reader, BEFORE the wine goes up for sale – so you can get some!

The Garagiste – as I understand it – is a really cool idea. It’s an email list and a warehouse. Judging from the e mails I receive – there is some really amazing food and wine that goes through that warehouse.
This is the skinny.

They send an email(below).
People reply.
They order the wine.
They pay us!
The wine arrives in the warehouse.
The people go get it – or have it sent to them.

The Colline family will be going to Seattle after Christmas to meet the folks and check out their outfit up close and personal.  Fun fun fun!!
Here goes! This is the complete presentation that went out to the Garagiste list – without the prices – discretion oblige!

Dear Friends,

A little dream.

A tiny gem.

A lot of hard work.

A mountain of fun.

Colline de L’hirondelle.

We all have a desire at one point or another in our lives – to cast aside a known reality in favor of an alluring unknown that holds as much promise as it does fear. The magnetism of a permanent escape of the foreign sort – an escapade of learning life anew – of growing vines, tending cow bells and whisking away to small town whistle-stops.

Some of us actually live that permanent escape.

Just ask Amy from La Gramière.

You can also ask one of the swallows below.

The goose-bumps of discovery remain the same for me, whether its in Nelson, NZ or Carcassonne, my intuitive cutis anserina usually tells me I have little time to lose or lose-out altogether. It’s the same intangible and intrinsic feeling I’ve had with so many of your past Email List favorites and it’s the same today.

As I stand in front of three glasses (that contain the wines I offer to you below), its apparent that a star is rising – off in the distance of the southwestern French horizon.

With undoubtedly the most charming and (for lack of a more cerebral word) cute labels in the trade, Colline de L’hirondelle is about to stamp their maker’s mark on the US wine-consciousness and that day begins this morning with a simple code of ethics:

Wine of a dream, a gem, of hard work and a Swallow Hill of fun.

The inspiration of Didier and Jennifer, this tiny project near Douzens is loaded with promise. Like last summer’s Oltretorrente (more on their second release in a few weeks), I knew I had about five minutes to secure any substantive rights to this wanderlust of an escape. While I also knew there would be missteps along the way (not every wine was going to be perfect – it’s only their first few vintages), the potential was too serious to pass up…

So I didn’t.

Nor should you.

If you think about it, how often can you sample BIO/organic Chenancon in pink and red colors?

If you said anything other than “never” I am suspicious.

With various rows, plots and soils surrounding their little “hill of the swallows”, the vine age ranges from near 90 years to 10 years. All are cared for and harvested with the tender pride reserved for small children.

With an emphasis on the above mentioned (and nearly unknown/local) Chenancon, this is a series of examples to dig into for its upfront fruity appeal but also its unexpected and quite deep/dark varietal tone. No, they are not the most complex of beverages but they are so much fun to drink and enjoy – what wine was always intended to be.

Dream. Gem. Work. Fun.

Thanks Jennifer and Didier for remembering what’s important and what isn’t – I have to re-orient my thinking every summer and kick myself in that over-swelled head of mine – to remind my mind that wine is about love and simple conversation, not about anything pompous, obtuse or what seems ridiculous as I peer at a wine farmer inching along in his 1956 tractor, barely able to make ends touch.

Something tells me, he’s proud and happy with his vinous life – without producing $1000 bottles, 100pts or trophy cases.

Just like Jennifer and Didier.

Community notes on all Colline de l’Hirondelle: http://www.cellartracker.com/list.asp?Table=Notes&iUserOverride=0&szSearch=colline+hirondelle

Lots of information here: http://www.collinedelhirondelle.com/


FIRST COME FIRST SERVED up to 12 x each wine until we run out:

2012 Colline de L’hirondelle “Ventilo” Rosé (Chenancon)
(this year’s rosé is particularly great – it’s a fruit-filled friend of the mineral-seeker with juicy red berries bursting within – it’s their best yet and it will last for at least another year with ease.)

2010 Colline de L’hirondelle “Cocolico” (Chenancon et al)
(this is their red wine focused on the indigenous Chenancon – it also bursts with deep-toned red fruit fun and a swagger across the palate that should not come this young in a winery’s life – a curiosity that is more than a question mark, it’s a cannonball off the high-dive into a pond of cherries, berries and a strong southern accent. The last time I checked, 2010 wasn’t the worst vintage in the South…)

2010 Colline de L’hirondelle “Oiseau” (Grenache et al)
(includes an 87 year old parcel of Carignan – the most accomplished of the three wines, this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan is more adult in nature but can’t hide its intent to run around in the backyard like the first day of summer vacation. More black fruit than red, more palate coating than juice-filled, it’s spice-tinged persona is not necessarily better than the above but it will turn heads…)


Didier made sure that the only sunny day in May was the day of our picnic and it was a beautiful day. See for yourself! Thanks Sam and Kat for your beautiful photos.  (black and white and faded color -Sam and group shots Kat) I think I took 5 photos the whole afternoon.

See you next year!
 A l’année prochaine!

Trois fois vin

After a long correspondence with Marie- Dominique – we are very excited to have Cocolico 2010 in the list of wines of the month on Trois Fois Vin
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Not only is she very knowledgeable and charming, but LOOK how cool her site is.  And orange is the color of the month. Half of the wines have orange in their labels! I feel a fad coming on!

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“Reading” in the vineyard

This year pruning the vineyards was an activity I REALLY looked forward to.

All this excitement was due to the discovery of audio books to listen to while pruning.  I wish “audiobook” sounded as cool as it is.

Didier went to the library and listened to l’Etranger by Camus, Sherlock Holmes read by someone who took himself VERY seriously and HALF, poor man, of Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda before his i-pod crapped out.

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I was luckier and have a tougher ipod. I started with books read by volunteers on a site called Librivox where I listened to all the Willa Cather they had. Well – READ WILLA CATHER,  SHE ROCKS! That’s my take on that one…

I started with My Antonia – 8:06 (yes, that’s 8 hours) and was transported – sometimes a different person reads each chapter – one of the readers did wonderful Bohemian accents with rolling r’s.

O! Pioneers  5:48 More bohemians among the plains protestants …. scandal in a small town.

Alexander’s Bridge  3:19 a short story of a midlife crisis and a bridge circa 1910

One of ours  13:35 winner of the 1923 Pulitzer Prize – a surprising mix of her slow old fashioned style and really modern ideas.

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Then I moved on to Edith Wharton for a little uplifting reading. I know, I’m kidding. I think they ALL end badly.

I started with Ethan Frome – 3:12 dated but still cool and a TOTAL DOWNER – Beautiful descriptions of the East Coast of the US in winter and small town life.

The House of Mirth – 12:32 Oh, the rise and fall of Lily Bart! – I spent at least a week with her and missed her when it was all over.

Madame de Treymes  2 hours- a short story set in France – love does not conquer all.

I didn’t listen to the Age of Innocence because Daniel Day Lewis did it so well on screen.


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After that I went out on a limb (I just wrote and erased “and read”) and listened to two books by Stewart Edward White, an author  I had never heard of.

Arizona Nights – 5:40 Fantastic stories of cowboys and the rough west read on Librivox by A.E. Moraney who has just the perfect twang in his voice.

The Blazed Trail – 11:27 a little bit of a capitalist manifesto for me but I loved the river men and the lumber camps in the cold North.

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Then I started going to the library so I switched to published audiobooks in French.  The trouble with them is that I  had trouble turning them off at the end of the day because they were so good.

My favorite (maybe of all – sorry Willa) is Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda (12 hours). It was read by a group of actors with the music and the sounds accompanying the story and felt like the best of a book and the best of a movie.

And then all the pruning was done!

I just bought The Scroll version of   On the Road….mmmm…..because there’s always work to do in the vineyards – even after the pruning is done.


Our first shipment of wine to Denmark left in the above automobile… traveled for countless hours through wind and gales and high water… and arrived in one piece thanks to Dag, our man in Denmark.  Now our northern neighbors can enjoy our delightful elixir… at least in Give!

The Colline in Denmark!


human chain




Didier with Dag and Patricia – our neighbors in the village ( they live across the street from the cellar – when they are in Douzens on vacation). They are some of our biggest fans.  They single-handedly organized the export of our wine to Denmark and then DROVE it there!



Shelf Talkers Massachusets style

I went to visit my uncle in Somerville and, as “work research” (I’m standing by that), went to the local wine store, a couple of times.  My uncle is one of the funniest people I know – and weirdly, this was the funniest wine store I’ve come across.  My enthusiastic uncle told the guy at the counter that I make wine.  The guy, equally enthusiastic, told me to come back to meet their buyer the next day.  “You can’t miss him,” he said.  “He’s the guy covered in tattoos.”  This is a WINE store we are talking about.

PS. My favorite is the last one.

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Yes this exists! Who knew. I think there is ample detail on the following “The Vegan Vine” sign.
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Concert Photos

Friday was the BIG day.  We hosted the Jason Adasiewicz – Sun Rooms trio in the winery with  Ars Ruralis.



All of those people are in our winery – eating tapas and quiche! (a friend and I made  9) and drinking wine.


the bar – and the volunteer bartenders who rocked

The kids – there were lots of kids – France – children at night concerts – in wineries – you’ve gotta love it


We now own ALL of those CDs.




Dancing to contemporary jazz.


mike reed

I wish there was sound on this photo.  I was transfixed – I served no wine.

The bass player did such an amazing fix-it job on the crappy red bass – that when he was done it sounded all right.  Crappy bass + piece of cardboard = rockin bass.  Who knew – I was really impressed.  He said it was part of the job dealing with rented instruments. Respect.


The board game in the middle – the parents really wanted to come to the concert. The board game kids were REALLY well behaved.


Then we tasted all of the vats.  All of them…and called them by number. “Let’s hit number 4!”


…and then the locals got into it and everyone got to bed at 3… or a little after 3. Okay 4.

PS Lili and I made 70 cookies.

We probably should have made 170.


Montlaur market

Last Tuesday was my last market day in Montlaur for the season.  In honor of that last day – here are some photos of warmer times.  We do two markets a week all summer.  Tuesday afternoon in Montlaur (pictured) and Saturday morning in Lagrasse (photos coming soon).  They are both my favorite market. Montlaur is closer and smaller – that’s pretty much the whole market pictured above.  There’s a pizza van, fruit, a general cheese van and a shady rotisserie van on the other side of the road, but as for the farmers in the farmer’s market – you’re lookin’ at it – and it’s great.

It takes place in front of the school, in front of the bench full of wise-cracking old folks – ladies on the right and gentlemen (I use the word in it’s most universal sense) on the left.


Nina’s helping us do a tasting here … such an action shot. I’m going in with the bottle – Didier is reaching for the opener….


It looks like I’m hanging out chatting with my friend Pavé but you would be wrong to underestimate  the power meeting that is going on here …

Didier and Pavé LOOK like they’re loafing on a bench but don’t be fooled – Pavé is a trained salesman and he gave us pointers all afternoon.

Pavé’s wave bottle set-up.  You laugh, but the next Saturday in our bigger market we sold TWICE as much wine as we usually sell, using Pavé’s tips.  All that from a guy in board shorts hanging out on a bench.


PS. What I really love about the market, other than the gnome seller, is that I get all of my wonderful organic veggies from Mr. Organic Veggie, Luc – the gnome seller’s father, and my bread and cheese from other friends.  And we shoot the shit and laugh a lot – and it’s great.



“Liberation” – an appropriately named French newspaper – did a special report on women in wine in France.  You can see it here (in French) – or here (in translation – half way down the page). Isabelle Legeron, above, one of only 3 French Masters of Wine said she likes the creative work of winemakers she finds under the labels Vin de France, Vin de Table, and Vin de Pays.  She even calls the AOC prehistoric. I’m a fan.


We chose to label our wines Vin de France and not in the famous AOCs for the following reasons:

Ventilo – pure Chenançon – grape that is not included in any appellation anywhere and is BEAUTIFUL – it’s also a varietal wine – AOC’s must be blends

Cocolico – 40% beautiful Chenançon

Oiseau 2011 – 7% beautiful Chenançon

Carignan 1515 – Varietal 100% Carignan – it’s also a Non Vintage – each blend has a certain amount of the following year’s Carignan goodness to give it that little “sumpum sumpum”

None of them would have been possible if we wanted to produce them as AOC wines.



Hanging out on grapes of Carignan in l’Hirondelle!… mmm

Another installment of the nature channel portion of the blog.  I can just see you all clapping your hands with glee. This beauty is a praying mantis and a very patient mantis at that, showing off its wings long enough for me to take a picture.  I had the team on “mantis watch” as we harvested.
Here’s a sample of what they found.
This one, I am told, is a lady Mediteranean Mantis Iris oratoria – ready to lay her eggs.
mantisMantis wings !

Harvest breakfast

breakfast – there’s a tablecloth on that tractor

When we are harvesting Didier is in charge of a lot of things: the tractor – the bins – the buckets – clippers- harvesters- I could go on…

I am in charge of breakfast. Breakfast doesn’t sound like a big deal but don’t be fooled! Traditionally there is a very copious breakfast that lasts AT LEAST a half an hour associated with harvesting. The harvesting team is counting on me! Breakfast is a VERY important thing.
The morning routine – complete with the purchase of fresh bread daily – is timed down to the minute and repeated pretty much every day for 10 days.

So when we were harvesting the plot called “hirondelle” there was a GLITCH in this well-oiled machine!

I had everything ready – paté, dry sausage, smelly cheese, fresh baguette, a thermos of coffee, WINE, glasses, cork screw…. you get the idea –  I got into the car with my heavy basket and the battery was dead.  I went to start the vineyard van and the battery was ALSO dead.

That’s 2 dead batteries in 5 minutes.

The team NEEDED their breakfast, and I NEEDED to harvest grapes –  so here is the vehicle that assured the delivery of harvester number 7 and breakfast.

sunrise bike

The light was amazing.
La lumière était incroyable.

PS:breakfast val

breakfast photo #2 – that time the car started