Martina and I return to one of our favorite places–Le Degoutaud–a 100 acre B&B in Provence France. You can find them on the web here. We stayed here last year during the fall harvest and here is that link. If you want that perfect place in Provence, you can’t do better than Le Degoutaud.
Our little gite is on the left and it’s like spring weather even though it’s December. The harvest is over but the work never stops.
Pierre and Veronique (and Pierre’s parents, Hubert and Josephine) run this place and it’s not a hobby but a full time business with over 100 acres to manage–vineyards, apricot, fig and walnut orchards, many outbuildings, farm machinery, swimming pool, goats….., you name it and it needs tending to. Here Pierre, and his faithful dog Paco, run the backhoe. We’re clearing brush on some old orchard terraces so roll up your sleeves!
It’s chainsaw work and I grab the Stihl arbor saw–a very dangerous chainsaw as I discover when I lacerate my arm…..but it’s only a minor flesh-wound made good with french bandaids.
Brush is stacked and ignited–and it’s a dry season so we exhibit a high degree of caution! Once cleared new vines will be planted.
By the end of the day, we’re tuckered out. Here the Dentilles de Montmarail capture the evening sunset. Cretaceous limestone tilted on end behind me yield fossil ammonites in the vineyards so I keep my eyes pealed.
Martina not only works in the brushing department, but also helps out in the kitchen–here labeling fig confit. Le Degoutaud boasts a small magazin de ventre where most of the farm produce is offered for sale. Veronique and Pierre were proudly featured in a recent book on the farms of France–they epitomized the chapter on Provence.
Then there’s the vineyards. Pruning is very laborious work and there are acres upon acres to prune. And each vine is pruned twice–first to take out most of the canes, then a second round to select for the next season, six buds of good growth on each vine–quite a learning experience for me but I loved doing this. It’s male yoga with a little feng shui thrown in.
Here are the results. The two wines on the right are from the Cotes du Rhone, Beaumes de Venise. The one on the left is a Spanish wine; the second from Bordeaux (my next blogpost), the third is the hallmark of Beaumes de Venise–Muskat and this one is exquisite. The forth is a superb red wine made by a nearby cooperative, Vivre (@11 Euros)–we bought a case (6) for the holidays and enjoyed every drop. In front is a pruned cane removed from the cordones. When you work in the vineyards, you don’t feel bad sampling the results…..
One day I drive with Hubert (on right) to a local farm that sells hay. Got to keep his goats happy or we don’t get good milk for the delicious goat cheeses or fromage chevre. This farmer should be driving at La Mans with his tractor–in two feet of mud, he stacked 7 bails (100 kilos each) of hay in a few minutes with his huge Massey Ferguson tractor. Here, he and Hubert discuss in detailed French the subtle nuances of stacking hay in a very small trailer. When he finishes, he comes over to me and and points to each pocket of my pants–”I’ll put another bale in each pocket if you like” he proudly states. Here is a man on top of his game!
OK–let’s talk truffles. December to February is truffle season here in France and when you read this, you’ll know why they cost so much in the markets. Most folks use pigs or truffle-hounds to sniff these pungent fungi out–not Pierre. One day we walk to the upper vineyard and he grabs his pocket knife and cuts a switch from an oak tree–just the right size and shape–like a small hockey stick. Then he walks slowly ahead, bent down sweeping the ground from side to side with his stick, but only in certain areas between the vineyard and oak forest. Well, I’m a scientific type of guy and certainly no believer in witching for water or the like so I begin to doubt a few things here. Next thing he does is kneel down on the ground and study the rocks, sticking a marker stick vertically in the ground…..
….And on it goes–then, after marking a dozen or more sites, he tip-toes back to each stick, stares at the ground for a minute or two and finally begins to dig with his hands—sniffing the ground–and I mean really sniffing–he gets dirt all over his nose. What is going on here? Then he frantically digs deeper and finally come up with two truffles…..absolutely amazing!
And here they are–black truffles which are considered the best! I am completely mystified until he explains his secret…. (Notice the blister on my ring finger? It’s a wine cork extraction injury–this type of work is not for sissies!)
….Here is the secret–there is a special golden colored fly, suillia pallida, that can also smell the truffle. And it lights on small stones just above the buried truffles where it will lay it’s eggs. The larvae will consume the truffle to grow if left alone–but we get there first. No need for pigs, just look for this fly. Pierre first sweeps the ground to see them leave their perch, then marks each place with a stick….and on it goes until he’s selected several places. He then circles back carefully and observes the geographic center of the several flies–and that’s where he digs. And he can smell the truffles–I’ve a hard time when they’re in my hand. So now you know.
Truffles & Cotes du Rhone…… Time to visit the farmer’s market and gear up for a great dinner…..
It’s off to Bordeaux next so stay tuned….!