Christmas in the Loire

Dear Friends Near and Far,

How quickly Christmas comes round each year.

In France Christmas or ‘Noel’ is a time for the Family marked by Family Reunions.

Creche in Village Church

Creche in Village Church

In the Loire, our Churches and Cathedrals are packed for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – at 9pm!!, (the French are very logical and realise that midnight would be much too late to eat so they still call it Midnight Mass but start at nine)! Most Churches display a beautiful crèche.  Anyone visiting France during Christmastime should make sure they see a crèche as it’s definitely a must-see as so much work goes into creating them.   A few days before Christmas the family sets up a nativity scene on a little platform in the corner of the living room and some families decorate a Christmas tree but the crèche is much more important.  After mass, families celebrate with the Reveillon (the waking), with an expansive late-night feast.  This festive table can include:- Mussels, lobster, foie gras, escargot, delicious canapés, chestnuts, poultry, salads, and desserts including the traditional ‘Buche de Noel’ (a log shaped cake) all washed down with sparkling wines! After the Reveillon it’s customary to leave a candle burning in case the Virgin Mary passes by.  Children put shoes in front of the fireplace in the hopes that Pere Noel (aka Father Christmas) or baby Jesus will fill them with gifts.

Last Sunday, we enjoyed a lovely long lunch with our good friends Jean Pierre, Claire and their son Aurelien, eating the last of our freshly picked tomatoes from the garden.  Incredibly our last tomato harvest was on the 17th December and here’s the picture to prove it!

Tomato harvest on 17th. Dec.

Tomato harvest on 17th. Dec.

We practiced our gastronomic Christmas lunch recipe of Venison, and afterwards sampled the first home made Buche de Noel which Claire had prepared – all washed down and enjoyed with some great wines!  A nice prelude to Noel when Brian and I are looking forward to receiving our guests at “Le Clos des Guyons” for a Xmas Break Special – and it’s such a good excuse for indulgence!

Jean-Pierre, Claire, Aurelien et Brian

Jean-Pierre, Claire, Aurelien et Brian

The village of Le Puy Notre Dame has been busy hanging sparkling lights around the tiny rues, there are Santa’s dangling from windows and chimneys, the crèche in the Church has been lovingly created by a dedicated group of ladies including our neighbours, Jeanette et Robert Guyon and the little bright star on top of the Eglise is already twinkling for everyone to see for miles around.  So, before I continue with our hectic Christmas preparations, I would like to share with you a Christmas greeting:-

Christmas is full of shiny things that sparkle, gleam and glow;
These holiday pleasures dazzle us and yet, deep down, we know…

That Christmas has its special gifts but our year-round joy depends
On the cherished people in our lives our family and our friends”. 

It has been a frantically busy year for us with our wonderful guests, many with whom we have formed treasured friendships and are more like family to us now, so Brian and I would really like to thank you all, along with friends old and new, for your continued and enthusiastic support. We look forward to enjoying good times and interesting conversations over a glass or two of wine in the seasons to come in 2012.

Relax, uncork that bottle of wine drink and be merry!

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas, Peace, Joy and a Happy, Healthy and Blessed New Year!

Meilleurs Vœux et Bonne Année 2012!


from Sheila and Brian

Gites and Wine Tours in Loire Valley


Le Beaujolais Nouveau is here!

Beaujolais night in village

The hats get bought out late in the evening – as you can tell!!

Bonjour tout le monde!

At the stroke of midnight on the third Thursday of every November, France erupts into celebrations in honour of the unveiling (or should we say uncorking) of the Beaujolais Nouveau.  This year it celebrates its 60th anniversary with all the hallmarks of a vintage year.

This red wine is made from handpicked Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais region south of Burgundy (only 6 weeks old) where the beverage accounts for half of the region’s production. While most red wines improve with age this wine is all about freshness.  To make Beajolais Nouveau the winemakers use carbonic maceration in which whole grape clusters are thrown into a tank. The tank is then sealed, trapping the carbon dioxide from the fermentation process inside.  After three weeks in the tank the free run juice is collected, filtered and bottled.  The resulting young red wine is light bodied, with fresh cherry, raspberry and fruit flavours, accompanied by a distinctive banana aroma.  Many describe Beaujolais Nouveau as an easy to drink, fruity red wine, best drunk when chilled which makes for a festive wine to be gulped rather than sipped. I prefer a Beaujolais Village and particularly from  Moulin a Vents or Morgan as these are weightier with solid tannins, but all are certainly very drinkable and let’s not forget that the whole raison d’être of Beaujolais Nouveau is to be young, simple, fruity and fresh!

Generally, this time of the year, everything focuses on Beaujolais Nouveau but there are Vins Primeurs and Anjou Gamay Primeur celebrated in Pays de la Loire also. In fact there are fifteen Angevin vineyards producing about 10,000 bottles. These are on sale in our local cafés, bars, supermarkets, restaurants in and around Anjou and degustations are available in la ‘Maison du Vin’ de Saumur and Angers.

Regulations delay the wine’s release until the third week in November. Grand traditions have developed in honour of its release with the biggest festival taking place in Beaujeu, the ancient capital of the Beaujolais region. It springs to life during this weekend in November, hosting a massive party called Sarmentelles. The party gets its name from the French word for cuttings from the canes of grapevines called sarments, which are burned in the centre of town just prior to the grand midnight unveiling. Then the huge barrels are opened to much fanfare and party-goers indulge in the new wine for the festival’s 3 day duration. Other areas in France also celebrate the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. Lyon hosts the Beaujolympiades (Beaujolympics), marking the release of the wine with music and fireworks followed by 2 days of sampling. In Paris, restaurants host their Beaujolais Nouveau parties, staying open through the night uncorking hundreds of bottles.

Indeed, a couple of years ago we thought we would like to go to Beaujeu to see the festival for ourselves.  At that time we still had our old work companion, Meg, our  Border Collie, and together in our little sports car we set off  – it was so funny because she was such a big Collie and she sat squashed obediently in the back with her head in the middle of ours watching the road as if she was searching for a sheep opportunity at some point. In fact, after our visit to Beaujolais, we went in search of sheep for her and visited the Lozere region, a renown sheep area and the home of Roquefort, the famous cheese made from ewe’s milk.  We managed to find some sheep but not as we thought in the fields because, as it was late November they were all safely housed indoors, but we found these in a restaurant. Yes, truly amazing, we were on the AutoRoute and stopped off to stay overnight at a little logis that had a restaurant called ‘La Bergerie’ and inside there was a corner encased in glass with a sheep and her two lambs resting!  Meg had been mystified why she could not get to them through the glass –  it was her most pleasurable moment of our trip.  Have to say to this day Brian and I truly miss her as do our returning guests at Le Clos des Guyons, when on their arrival she used to treat everyone like sheep and try to round them up for us in the courtyard and then lie down to watch their every move!  In fact, when we also had Sam, our older Border Collie, the two of them used to do it!  Ah so many happy memories of our farm days and two wonderful hard working animals, we will never ever forget them. Anyway ……returning back to our visit to Beaujeu. It was certainly very memorable and atmospheric with live TV crews and cameras  everywhere. Visitors were having their photographs taken alongside the Temple of Bacchus, winemakers were busy setting up inside marquees and caterers were everywhere.  All the excitement and ceremony starts at midnight so a long wait but that night it just so happened that there was a Mistral wind blowing our heads off and I remember thinking how lucky we were with our climate in the Loire Valley which is much softer and not normally victims of this climatic change!

The next day we took the chance whilst in the region to visit the impressive headquarters of Georges Duboeuf who, for over 40 years has been regarded in the wine world as King of Beaujolais.  He has often been accredited with starting the whole Beaujolais Nouveau festival but, while it is certainly true that he gave it a huge boost, the wine itself dates back many centuries.  In 1788 the citizens of Lyon rioted in the streets because, in that year, the flood of  foaming, purple wine from the nearby hills simply did not arrive.  It was a sort of dress rehearsal for the revolution which came a year later!

Overall it was an interesting experience, but for all its razzmatazz, it made me think just how lucky we were to live in our part of the Loire, not only for its ‘douceur’ climate but for the great spectrum of AOC wines which you can find in the Val de Loire.

This year we walked up to our local restaurant Le Bouchon Ponot in Le Puy Notre Dame.

L'equipe de Beaujolais

The early birds got to share aperos, etc., with Jean-Yves et l’équipe

There were plates of delicious aperitifs and bottles of various Nouveau ready for sampling for the early invitées and, with generously filled glasses and lots of swirling and sniffing, conversation was animated about the grape, the terroir, etc.

This evening brought back humorous memories of last year with the antics of a local dairy farmer.  On arrival he announced that he was a ‘Papa’ after his wife had just given birth to a baby boy at the hospital in Saumur, to which there were shouts of  ‘Felicitations! It’s not just the wine that arrived today in France then!’  With tears of joy he proudly passed around photographs on his mobile phone showing his exhausted wife in her hospital bed smiling holding their new little son in her arms alongside a beaming doctor and nurses!  We asked when this happy event had taken place to which he said ‘Well just about an hour ago’.  We were a bit mystified as to why he was not still at the hospital with the new family and instead enjoying his ‘Pot au Feu’ and Nouveau!  Anyway, throughout the meal there were endless toasts of ‘A votre nouveau garcon’ et ‘Chin chin le petit garcon’ along with many others and further admirations of the photographs.  But finally, just before the desserts arrived, his happiness, and without doubt with the contribution of numerous toasts, it proved too much and he very, very slowly, slid from his chair onto the floor where he lay motionless. Well, his friend Jackie managed to pick him up and put him back on his feet, offering to take him safely home and get him to bed but, at the same time, there had been lots of discussions about what would happen to his cows at milking time in the morning, thinking maybe a team would have to be organised to help with this crisis.  Jackie told us not to worry as his friend would be on automatic pilot by then, even if he was still staggering a bit with a pretty bad headache!  Brian always used to say that life as a farmer is difficult enough without animals having alarm clocks built in!

Apologies this is a longer than anticipated blog by the way but I do so enjoy writing them when I have the time!

So, finally, if you are a Nouveau enthusiast, get your bottle and don’t wait too long to open it.  This is a great excuse to celebrate life, the love of the grape and a grand French tradition.  Brian and I raise our glasses to you all and to the spirit of Nouveau!


Sheila and Brian