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You may remember, a couple of ‘blogs back I was chatting about wine tasting? We’ve had a lovely experience recently that some of you may be interested in. Following on too from my ‘blog about ‘Twitter’, I came in contact with Cathy & Nigel, who run a business not too far from us called ‘le tasting room‘. They were in need of someone to take a few snaps of their guests enjoying a tasting session for an article due to be published in a magazine. They’d seen from my shameless use of Twitter to show the world some of my snaps, that I can use a camera from time to time. So, as they needed the images pretty quickly, but didn’t have a tasting lined up for a few days, they also asked if we could provide up to 6 willing volunteers from Le Chant d’Oiseau? Now, given that we attract a fair few people that love a glass (or two) of the nectar of the Gods, that was the easy part!

So, on the given morning, Nigel very kindly came to pick up some of our guinea pigs, and I followed in my own car. Nigel has a 9-seater mini-bus that’s used for transporting his clients from/to vineyards, producers, stations, airports etc. so that wasn’t a problem. From here to le tasting room is only a 30 minute journey, so not a huge distance to cover. It’s nestled on the shallow slopes away from the southern banks of la Loire in Cumeray, a delightfully sleepy little village, full of charm and character. Great views all around, and within easy reach of the river, and some lovely towns and villages alongside the water. Gennes is lovely, as is Les Rosiers and it’s only a few more clicks to Saumur, with all its attractions.

The tasting is a very laid back affair, with lots of information on the different vines, methods, regions of the Loire, the appellations system and loads of other useful stuff. That’s before you even touch a drop! We started the day with a little trip into Nigel & Cathy’s front garden, and their very own vineyard. This is a group of different vines which have only recently been planted, with the aim of showing clients what each variety looks like, as well as illustrating various methods of viticulure, grafting for example. It’s a lovely spot, with the backdrop of the house with its ancient vine winding its way across the front elevation.

Nigel & Cathy explain 'grafting'

Nigel & Cathy explain 'grafting'

Sybill the labrador's heard it all before...

Sybil the labrador's heard it all before...

After having the growth process, cultivation and harvesting explained to them, our volunteers were led around the back and down to ‘le tasting room’ proper, to sample a few glasses of gorgeous Loire valley vintages!

The tasting room itself is within the house, just a perfect place to do business, and this room does also double as an office space too. Here, our volunteers were treated to tastings of three different types of white wines from different regions and producers across the Loire. Cathy led her disciples of the vine through the various ‘senses’ used to distinguish one wine from another. She described what they were smelling and tasting, and also feeling, as each of the wines, with all their very different qualities do different things to the mouth! Gargling and spitting is the order of the day here, with Cathy expertly leading the way! Our volunteers decided to savour the experience though seeing as none of them were driving!

Sniff...

Sniff...

Swill around the glass and sniff again...

Swill around the glass and sniff again...

...and taste!

...and taste!

The guinea pigs worked their way through three white varietals, happily making notes and asking Cathy’s advice. After the whites, we moved onto the reds. So, back out into the warm sunshine to enjoy the early afternoon for  a few minutes and chat about what they’d learned from their visit so far.

Then, the doors were opened to the cave, where Nigel & Cathy had set out a table ready for their volunteers to sample a couple of platters of gorgeous home-made canapés as well as a few well-chosen reds of the area. It’s a stunning setting, nicely representative of these types of ‘maison de maitres’ in the area and very well lit (a photographer’s nightmare) in subtle alcoves and with downlighters. It’s impressive, and Cathy recounts stories of American guests who just love this type of setting.

Stunning setting for a wine tasting. Agreed?

Stunning setting for a wine tasting. Agreed?

On very hot days, it’s a delight to be able to retreat into the cool interior of the cave and relax while Cathy & Nigel impart their knowledge to you. For just €100 per person, you could enjoy a full day with the couple, being led to local vineyards by bicycle after a tasting to ramble among the vines, then return via a local café to a four course gourmet dinner served by candlelight in the cave. Superbe!

The canapés proved popular with the guinea pigs, and it was then onto tasting the three very different reds of the area.

Mmm. Canapés.

Mmm. Canapés.

Caution! Guinea pigs at work!

Caution! Guinea pigs at work!

Lots of laughs were had by all, questions asked and answered expertly given by Cathy & Nigel. Our team of tasters felt they’d learned enough in just a short few hours to make a more informed decision on what wines to choose when browsing the shelves of the local supermarkets, both here in France as well as back at home in the UK. The day was formally declared a complete success. I got a few images that I hope Cathy & Nigel will be able to use, our willing team of campers turned wine tasters felt they’d learned alot, and Nigel & Cathy – our hosts, were able to offer an insight into the wines of the area, well delivered in a language that our guests could understand.

Cheers!

Cheers!

With thanks to Cathy Shore and Nigel Henton of le tasting room. With grateful thanks also to our team of (very) willing guinea pigs – Sue, Nigel, Colin, Liz, Mandy & Rob.

If you’d like more information, just click on the links, or give Nigel & Cathy a call on 0033 241 79 80  21 to discuss your requirements. Cathy can also be contacted by e-mail on cathy@letastingroom.com

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2009

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Bonjour!

It feels like ages since I last apologised for not updating the ‘blog! Indeed it is, June 23rd was the last time. Apologies then, but we really have had a very, very busy summer. It still is busy, but with the regulars having left Le Chant d’Oiseau on Saturday the dynamics have changed slightly. We still have some lovely guests here, but the ones we know well have left until next year, but the e-mails and ‘phone calls telling us how much they’ve enjoyed yet another holiday here are still coming in, and they’re keeping us fueled with enthusiasm for now!

Our anniversary party is fast becoming a social ‘must’, with more & more of our French friends joining in the fun & games as well as English ex-pat friends and guests too. We now have a throng of returning guests who make a point of ensuring their holidays span over the 5th August – our ‘official’ birthday. Our summer holidays are usually excellent, but made even more so by the fact that we ourselves now haunt the gate, and the driveway for signs of our friends arriving to spend yet another two (or even three) weeks in the sun with us. It’s still full-on hard work for Syb & I, but it’s made fun because we’re surrounded by guests who’ve become good friends over the past three years. So, it was with a heavy heart, and a tear in the eye that we said ‘au revoir’ to our lovely ‘Boomerang Gang’ this year as we set off early on Saturday morning to drive to Chartres, where I’d been asked to be the official photographer at a wedding at the Chateau d’Esclimont! Sounds grand, eh? Well – it is! The wedding went well, the weather was stunning, the setting was breathtaking and the guests were all up for the occasion! It seemed strange in a way that it was us leaving our guests behind. Normally, we open the gates for them and wave them off back to blighty. This time, we were on the receiving end of the waves and cries of ‘see you next year’ instead. It served as a reminder of why we don’t leave this place very often at all!

Anyway, our party was a great success with all our guests mingling and attempting communication. One highlight was Syb being driven around the campsite on the pillion of Bruno’s (our boulanger friend) quadbike! I managed not to get a picture, but did manage to get a couple of Hannah having a go after! I made what has become a customary speech to the assembled throng in French first, then reverted to English to say the same to our English guests. There was much hilarity when I finished my French speech and begun in English…Apparently, many of our guests were mesmerised by my command of this beautiful language, and they were struck by the stark differences in ‘accents’. You see, my French accent is, well…French I suppose, but my English one is true Yorkshire! A bit of a culture shock for many! Still, at least our lovely French friends and neighbours appreciated my efforts. They understood most of it too!

The evening progressed well into the wee hours, and the last guests to arrive – after the party had finished and we were in the kitchen tidying up, were Isabel & Arnaud, our other boulanger friends. They’d been out for a family meal that evening, and were due to leave the next morning for a well-deserved holiday, but still thought to come & say hello, and bring us a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a great bottle of red! They stayed chatting with us for an hour in the kitchen, sat around the table, until the kids started yawning. So, we polished off the cognac, bade farewell and went to bed, happy at being here for another year, with the prospect of another year to come. We’re already making plans for the 4th Anniversary Party. If you want to come & see for yourself what we have lined up, you’d better book early as spaces are going fast!

We had some friends over from the UK during that same period of time and they came to each and every meal we cooked. You may know that during the season, Syb cooks for everyone on site twice weekly. Gite guests and campers alike sit around, eat good home-cooked food, drink good wine and have a laugh and a chat with their fellow holidaymakers. This year’s been no exception, and many friendships have been forged under the canvas of our two gazebo’s erected in the old barn for this purpose. Well, the barn’s undergone several transformations in this past year. Firstly, the gazebo’s went up. They looked lovely. Then this spring, after the ravages of the busy summer last year, I decided to lay a permanent tiled floor using the tommettes we salvaged from our loft when we converted it into our bedrooms. That made everything so much easier, and fitted right in with the look & feel of the place. We had some fairly strong winds last year, ripping the canvas roofs of the gazebo’s. I’ve repaired them a few times quite successfully, but the gales we had a few weeks ago put paid to any further repair work – they were completely shredded! So, I decided to take the bull by the horns and make a new roof from materials easily bought from Bricoman! I was gobsmacked to say the least at the offers of help coming in from our campers left & right. Everyone got stuck in, building, cutting, sawing, hammering and drilling. In just two days – or 13 hours, we created a fully waterproof, solid continuous roof which looks absolutely perfect. Not only that but also a lean-to for to cover our two barbeques too! So – in the face of such generosity, what can be done? A barn-raising party perhaps? This has been a fortnight to end all fortnights. So much laughter, cameraderie and generosity of spirit has rarely been seen. Despite the heat, our friends and guests were happy to contribute as much or as little as they felt comfortable with and the result is an area we’re proud to have here at Le Chant!

In fact, this ‘blog should be dedicated to the following people, without whom Le Chant d’Oiseau wouldn’t be quite the place it is now. So, in no particular order – a BIG shout of thanks goes to:

Joe, David, Andy, Jon, Doc, Tony, Dan & Marquey. Our sincere thanks to all of you for your friendship and your effort!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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Ok, so. The last time I sat in this very chair attempting to guide you all through the chicanery of life in France, I left you with the perhaps distressing thought that I was about to impose my ‘unclehood’ on my poor sister’s baby, right? Well, things didn’t quite turn out that way, and for many & varied reasons, my gorgeous sister and her equally gorgeous (in a back-slapping, lager drinking, manly way of speaking) had to make a heart-wrenching decision to terminate their pregnancy due to a sequence of tests that left them in no doubt of their baby’s chances of surviving and leading any semblance of a normal life. Baby Connor had Spina Bifida to a quite alarming degree. Coupled with multiple defects, this meant that the less cruel option was to give him the dignity in death that he would never have had in his probably very short little life. It was a very sad time for all the family, and my two sisters and their husbands, already very close, have been brought even closer together if at all possible by those events.

Anyway, as sad as they were, the whole family came out to France for a long weekend of fun, laughter, tears and love in September. They’re all fine and although baby Connor may never have drawn breath, he certainly didn’t lack for love. In the pictures of him that I was privileged to see, he was beautiful, just like my sister. Although it may seem to some that it’s strange, to give a name to a child never destined to live, it’s really not. It’s bestowing a personality upon him, and ensuring that his memory will live on. He’ll always be a child, my sister’s first child, and no less special for not having cried, suckled, made a sandcastle on a beach, nor never known his uncle.

I’ve actually struggled for some months with creating a form of words to explain the situation here within the Blog, because believe it or not, I do get folks visiting us all the time who tell me they read it. I’ve opened up the software and sat at the keyboard attempting to tell you all of the past few months of hell. It always ended the same way. I’d shut down the program and go play scrabble on Facebook instead! Or, I’d disappear somewhere to shed a few tears myself. Not this time. This time it’s just flowed, from my heart and I like the way it looks. I hope my sister does too. By the way, she and her husband are expecting again, so, this time – everything’s crossed. Which makes it kind of difficult to pee straight!

Right, we’re often invited to John & Mary’s for a few beers and a laugh and one night they’d decided to invite a few folks ’round to have a bit of a BBQ and a bonfire. So Syb & I decided we’d go on the bikes with her mum following on the shopping trolley. Actually, when I say ‘shopping trolley’, it’s not actually one of those steel things often seen at the base of canal bridges, in an attempt to create a natural reef, or even sometimes in Asda; no, it’s one of those electrically powered things that are a complete menace on the roads in the UK. There was a story on the news the other night about a lady who was mown down by one at a terrific speed of almost 4 miles an hour, causing a broken leg when she stepped into the road to avoid it and was hit by a passing car doing 40! I think I’ve mentioned mum and her off-roading antics before? This night was no exception. She has the road sense of a baffled hedgehog caught in the glare of a 40 ton truck at the best of times. We have quite a busy main road at the end of our 2 mile lane. There must be, oh, at least 20 cars and lorries per day that use it. Have you ever noticed the similarities between the words ‘stop’ and ‘go’? No? Neither had we until that evening. Stop plainly meant go, and vice versa in the parallel universe between mother’s ears. The look of sheer horror on the face of the driver of the huge 4×4 as he bore down on this mad, grey haired old lady driving something across his path that he’d previously only seen in the adverts at the back of ‘Saga’ magazines in the doctor’s waiting room was quite something to behold. All Syb & I could do was close our eyes and practice calling the number for the Sapeurs Pompiers while waiting for the impact. As luck would have it, the car swerved down the road in which we were traveling, and missed mum by a few feet! Thank God the French are such crazy drivers!

Even as we were just getting over the shock, a few miles down the road, mum swerved into John & Mary’s drive and almost immediately scattered half a dozen plastic patio chairs, coming to a halt just inches from mine host, clutching a gin & tonic with his eyes closed. Now I think about it, he and the 4×4 driver looked painfully similar.

Anyway, we proceeded to have quite a good night. Tales were told, jokes were shared and much drink was drunk. It came to going home time and we all saddled up for the ride home. Mum set off in the lead with lights blazing. Syb & I brought up the rear. We’ve figured it out that it’s safer for us if mum’s in front, as it’s just too stressful having her going off-road behind us all the time. I’d just stopped for a mo to adjust my posture, and wave goodbye to the hosts. As I put my foot down, the verge disappeared into the fossé running alongside the road. I completely lost my balance and ended up arse over tit in the ditch, laughing uncontrollably with the bike trying it’s best to force me further into the dyke! People came sauntering urgently from all angles to add further insult to my indignity when all of a sudden, lights came blasting down the road, and a horn sounded.

Whenever Bernard passes John’s, or our house, he hoots maniacally on the horn, and we, it has to be said do the same. That’s how I knew who it was. Even though it was gone midnight, the horn still called out it’s plaintive song to John….then it stopped, just a few feet from where I was still on my back giggling. If you’ve ever suffered a Frenchman taking the piss out of you, you know what it’s like to be humiliated thoroughly, and completely! In the most friendly, and companionable way imaginable. We just can’t take offence at Bernard. His smile is infectious, the gleam in his eye is wicked and we love he & Mauricette dearly! Anyway, Syb & mum wobbled off back to the farm, while Bernard, Mauricette, Mary, John & I laid waste to some more good French wine!

So, good & bad and sad also to report in this update. I promise I’ll be more on the ball from now on as I appear to have found an impetus again. I still haven’t told you about the duck. Or the boar, or the night of the rugby semi-final…

Until the next time,

Au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2007

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The first time I met Bernard was round at my mate John’s place. He was there just on the off-chance that a bottle of decent red had been opened. Not much chance of that because John & Mary only drink rubbish…they’re from Bratferd y’see? Anyway, there was indeed a splash or two of passable vin rouge being drunk and I’d just called in to see how they were getting on with a couple of guests we’d sent their way for B&B as we were full. The two English guests were decidedly confused with the level of (loud) French being spoken by John, Mary, Bernard & myself. Bernard becomes very animated when drawn on a subject he knows lots about. Bernard is very knowledgeable about many things – hunting (naturally), local places (naturally), wine (naturally) food (naturally) and many, many other things (er, naturally). He used to be a stonemason, and a pretty good one by all accounts (naturally). I’ve seen the evidence of his work a few times and I have to say I’m extremely impressed. But, on this particular evening we were chatting about hunting. That’s Bernard’s passion in life. His home is one big trophy room with many species of stuffed animal both large and small decorating the walls and shelves wherever you look. The two English guests were fed a translation of the discussion and I knew that one of them owned a local property with a lake attached. The guy in question was stocking the lake with good quality fish and wanted measures in place to ‘detract’ the local heron population from abusing the hospitality of the English lake owners by eating the new arrivals! So, I offered Bernard’s services as their very own gamekeeper! Bernard was thrilled with the prospect of a new place to shoot and after the necessary permissions were set down in black & white, we drank to the success of the venture! (Naturally!)

Quite a few months later, and Bernard and his wife Mauricette, have become regular visitors here at Le Chant d’Oiseau, often bringing large wooden crates stuffed full of the most delicious tasting home-grown produce from their potager, a huge expanse of land behind their home given over to growing all sorts of market garden produce, and very good it is too. They take no money for their stuff, but we sit down instead, have a chat and drink some wine. We often dish up the contents of the gifts from Bernard among our guests.

The first time Bernard & Mauricette came bearing gifts was to present us with the very first duck shot on his new playground! It was beautifully presented fresh for the oven. We accepted this gorgeous gift with saliva glands on overtime. A few days later, while Syb & I were on our way back from an outing, we asked Niall (by telephone) to pop it into the oven for tea. When we arrived home the smell of freshly cooked duck emanating from the farmhouse was delicious! I carved and portioned it out. Niall declined, insisting he wasn’t that hungry. Now, that’s akin to asking what religion the Pope is, or where bears go to the toilet… Niall is ALWAYS hungry. He used to eat for England until we swopped shirts at half-time. He can now eat for France! His appetite is legendary among those that know us well. The lad can’t take a 5 minute car journey to the supermarket without taking along a snack for the journey! he’s always been the same, ever since he was small. He’s no longer small, he’s HUGE, which brings us back to the duck. After reminding him a few more times of the reputation as France’s answer to Desperate Dan, he finally came clean. He couldn’t eat it, as he’d seen the bullet hole when he put the duck in the oven! Bless! So, due homage was paid to Bernard, and his skill with his fusil, and we toasted the poor birds demise with a bottle of red. A fit and proper send off we thought.

We’ve made some good friends here. Both French & English. All of our near neighbours are French, and they’ve been nothing short of welcoming with us. We’ve already told you about the invitation last Easter round at Gérard & Sylviane’s? We’ve also made friends with David Chevallier, the vigneron (very handy, knowing a vigneron) and his brother, Pascal the roofer (not quite as handy as we drink more wine than we build roofs, but still handy all the same…). Nelly et Bruno from the village boulangerie also. They’re lovely, and we’ve looked forward to their visits each morning with the daily delivery of fresh bread. Not just because their bread and pastries are fantastic, but also because they have a real zest for life, they’re what we call ‘Super Sympa’ too. They like the English, especially those that make an effort to chat and build a life here, the same as they do. There’s a few characters that we’ve become friends with in the local bar too. Alain and his wife took over from Miriam at the Café de la Poste after she sold up. The name had to be changed of course as the Post Office moved to the other end of the village, and the old one’s now the creperie. Keep up….the post office isn’t a post office anymore, it’s a restaurant and they’re tired of being asked by little old ladies how much a parcel to Marcel will cost. So, the Café de la Poste is now ‘Le Manureva’. Alain has come to know John & I quite well, as we spend a bit of time in there lately, after working on some project or other. They have opened up a little restaurant to the rear and it’s brilliant! Alain is the most genial bar owner I’ve ever met, and we often can’t get away from the place because he’s insisting on buying another drink for us. I haven’t a clue how he manages to earn a living, because he loses count after a few beers…
I took my Dad, my eldest son and my two brothers in law there a few weeks back and they were stunned! Because Alain was very chatty (although they understood little), and because he kept sending his little son out with plates full of goodies for us. My family couldn’t believe this sort of kindness, so Alain & I explained ‘C’est normale’. When he bought us all a drink after we’d spent quite a few euro with him, my poor old Dad was almost moved to tears! He’d never been bought a pint by a landlord in the Uk in all his years of drinking!

The village has certainly been brought back to life since we’ve been here. The creperie, Alain’s bar, Nathalie & Gilles taking over the small village store have all helped. Even ‘Rocky’ at Le Bar Centrale has smartened up his act and has opened up a small ‘Bistro’ in the back room of his bar. We’re building up to trying it out one of these days. Rocky isn’t really his name, it’s just what we’ve christened him since we heard he was a rock star in a previous life! He’s taken on the role of village entertainments officer where live music’s concerned and he seems to know his stuff! It’s a strange little bar though, and Rocky’s usually to be found asleep in the back. We’ve had to wake him up to be served before. It’s still a fairly friendly place for a beer, even though he & his wife (we think, though no evidence of a ring) seem to be completely bemused by the English, but don’t mind pouring the 1664! There used to be a fairly large restaurant at the end of the village, opposite Rocky’s place called Le Cheval Blanc. It closed down shortly before we came here in August 2005. The good news is though that it’s now up for sale, hopefully with a view to turning it back into a working restaurant/bar again. There’s always room for one more eaterie, after all – this IS France!

Until next time,

Au Revoir.

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2007

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