Bonjour à Tous

Many apologies for not keeping our blogs ongoing! Having had our usual ups and downs of life again, another challenging period seems to have flown by as Sheila has been suffering with yet another mysterious and complicated back problem, which started the second week of January and has necessitated numerous medical rendezvous and lots of trauma, as we did not really know what the problem was though we managed to find out everything that it wasn’t!!  She is always now regarded with great surprise at our doctors because strangely enough, and we don’t know why, it always starts in January! To top it all this year – it even started again on exactly the same date as last year!! With great sighs of relief she is finally beginning to make progress now, and so my carer’s duties, of which there have been many, are diminishing giving me more time to look after the holiday gites, garden, etc.  In addition, myself and assorted friends have selflessly dedicated ourselves to a new charitable enterprise know as the BPS. This organisation is dedicated to keeping open those ancient sanctuaries of conviviality and sanctuary, (also known as bars), in these times of harsh economic adversity. In particular we organise a Sunday morning trawl of the bars in Doué la Fontaine in which largesse is dispensed in frightening quantities without a hint of personal gain. However, we can proudly state that, due in no small part to our unstinting efforts, no bar has had to close its doors on its desperate customers. – It’s the “Bar Preservation Society” by the way.

Am not sure really where to begin, but the best thing is to tell you about the early arrival summer which totally got its dates wrong and arrived at the end of February.  It has been incredible and this week we have had our guests, Margaret and Allan, (incidentally the very first guests in our gites in 2005), relaxing and unwinding in the swimming pool cooling down after long walks around and about the village and the vineyards. Also the local Boulangerie has been ‘en Fete’ at the weekend with Strawberry Fraisiers – just so mouthwatering and delicious, I am sure we are ploughing on kilos!  Seriously, the sun and heat has been frightening. We have been having courtyard temperatures of over 30° since late March. Spring is always mild here with the same number of sunshine hours as Provence but apparently it has been the driest Spring since 1900 and the sunniest in 50 years. But not everywhere in France has been like this. This year the South, the Languedoc and the East of France has seen a fair bit of rain and as I write this the south has had flash floods and massive storms. Good – serves ‘em right!!

Wine tasting

Ready for the start of judging

… I was honoured that I was again invited to judge at Le Concours des Vins de Loire at Juigné sur Loire last month, along with my friend, a retired winemaker, who, incidentally,  just managed to attend before going into hospital for an operation in Angers – to have his throat cut the next day! I tell you this year has not been easy in rue du Moulin!  Thankfully he is making a good recovery and so normal services are resuming as they say! At the wine judging, again a large gathering of over 100 wine professionals were assembled together and split into ‘juries’ of three. I was initially disappointed because I was on the list for the tasting of my least favourite wine of all, the Rosé, Cabernet d’Anjou, but standards were high and despite my personal preference, professional objectivity prevailed and I have to say I tasted some excellent new releases.  The trophies and medals were extremely well merited and there is no doubt that standards are forever improving year on year.  One of the strange things about a professional judging is how everyone’s private marks are uncannily similar. Proving that wine can be judged objectively and it is not down to that irritating phrase I hear so often, “we all have different tastes”. If you consider yourself a bit of a wine expert then phrases like that should not be allowed to pass your lips. A good wine is a good wine whether or not you happen to like that particular style.

Afterwards there was a huge “Thankyou” lunch presented just outside the hall in a marquee, alongside many bottles of the huge range of appellations we had analyzed earlier, and, of course, animated discussions and debates continued over lunch!

Meal after Judging

Great meal in the marquée

I have to say I really enjoyed participating in one of the most prestigious wine events in the region and having the opportunity to help in the selection of  new local wines from Anjou Saumur and the Touraine, talking to local winemakers and people who work in the wine industry.

Talking about wine. I have to tell you about a recent article entitled:-

“Oops just lost a few litres of wine?!!!” This was an article with a cartoon in Le Courrier de l’ouest, our regional paper, where a vineyard worker is on his knees in the wine chais thanking one of the Duane, (Customs Officers), for the apparent miracle of him changing water into wine!  I imagine the Douanes were quite amused by the cartoon.  I also imagine that they were decidedly not amused at the anonymous wine-makers protestations that the undeclared wine in his cellar was just forgetfulness, an oversight, a mere administrative error – all 72,000 litres of it!  It has now been distilled into industrial alcohol and, after legal proceedings; no doubt a very hefty fine will be en-route to the unfortunate winemaker.

There are new owners of the village Bar/Tabac/Poste in rue de la Collegiale. Sonia and her husband and family, have been warmly welcomed and are working hard to make their new venture a success. At the same time we have wished Nadine and Christian the best of luck in their well earned retirement.  The Bar is now open for longer hours with tables and parasols outside in the rue, a new TV has been installed, and there are fresh flowers on the tables! The downside is that we can no longer get the ‘eau-de-vie’ that used to come in a plastic Vittel bottle – now isn’t life tough!  It is quite common in France to order a café – vittel.  Only in Le Puy Notre Dame did the spring water mysteriously change into something very like Calvados.

Chez Jean-Yves, the village restaurant ‘Le Bouchon Ponot’ is going from strength to strength and we are apparently appointed as official fresh herb and salad suppliers – not that the bugger pays us anything of course but it keeps the herbs trimmed and I do get the occasional glass or two for nothing.

Just a little note on the current uproar over nuclear energy: Apparently Germany has now decided to withdraw completely from the nuclear sector and I think France should do the same. This conclusion was reached after noting that

Mutated Lollypop Tree

Mutated Lollypop Tree

one of our “lollipop trees” has mutated. – must be the proximity of the power station at Chinon! Sheila has mutated as well – she cleaned a cooker in a gite the other day. Amazing and hooray!!

Other news is that Le Puy Notre Dame has apparently been honoured by our previous American guests from three years ago, Andy and Lea Duffy, who are two architects. They wrote to tell us that after their memorable visit to the Loire and Le Puy they never forgot the lovely moments spent here and took back with them fresh ideas to fulfil their dream in 2010 to be Innkeepers in Oregon. They decided to choose ‘Le Puy’ as the new name of the Inn! In fact they have a room specially dedicated to The Loire for their guests to enjoy. We are honoured to think we contributed to their inspirations and are sure the villagers are delighted too.

The annual Fete des Village takes place on Sunday 26th June, when inhabitants celebrate the life of the ‘Petite Cité de Caractére’. Sophie, our representative in the Office of Tourisme, is busy informing every one of the planned animations, including an organised early morning walk through the vines, demonstrations of carving art in tuffeau, wine tastings, regional produce stalls and lots to eat, live jazz in the square by the side of the Eglise, can’t wait – let’s hope it’s a good sunny day for all the Ponots and Ponetts!!

Part of the herb garden

Part of the herb garden

And so the evening is approaching and it’s a great time of the year to relax and sit in the courtyard with a glass of wine and enjoy the peacefulness that is early summer! The smells of the flowers, lavender and newly created herb and vegetable garden area are so pleasurable. We can reflect that our renovations have made progress after almost seven years of dirt, dust, accidents (dare I mention that word) and pure, bloody frustration. Through it all we somehow managed to hang onto our enthusiasm for living in this beautiful part of the Loire Valley which we unquestionably now regard as home but, would we do a renovation like this again?  Not a bloody cat in hell’s chance!!

We would like to wish guests and friends a happy summer and look forward to seeing you! Let’s raise our glasses and make a toast to sunshine, bonne fetes, friendship, good wine – and perhaps for the return of the Vittel bottle!!

à bientôt
Gites in the Loire Valley