Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snippets from our Loire Valley Wine Tour Season 2010

What an amazing season 2010 has been for us and the vines. So busy that it has left little time for updating our blog and now it’s December and snowing - sheesh!

So at last here are some pictorial snippets from this year’s wine tour diary to get your mouth watering for next year. Don’t forget to request availability for 2011 NOW as we are already getting booked up and we wouldn’t want you to miss out.

Anyway here are some of the best bits :

Ambience with friends:

Wine tasting with winemaker Tessa Laroche at Domaine Roche aux Moines

In the caves at La Grande Maison with Guillaume Pire of Chateau de Fosse Seche

Our wine tour guests viewing the production line in action at Langlois Chateau

The Tasting Rooms:

Edouard Pisani-Ferry introduces his wines at Château de Targé

It's not only the excellent wine at Domaine Baumard the frescoes are pretty impressive too!

...and there is always a friendly welcome for our guests at Domaine St Just

The Fermentation & Maturation Tanks:

We have created our own micro-winery in the caves at La Grande Maison

But it's always fun to go out and peer into other tanks like Pascal Lambert's in Chinon

...or these revolutionary egg shaped fermentation tanks at Chateau de Fosse Seche

Tasting from Barrel or Tank:

You don't have to wear the red robe to taste wine here....

....but we do sometimes get the chance to taste directly from barrel with Seb at Chateau Dupetit Thouars

...or from the tank with Frederic Mabilleau in St Nicolas de Bourgeuil.

The 2010 Harvest:

We have been helping out with the hand harvest for many years now and hand pick our own few rows of Chenin Blanc too.

Harvesting with Melaric is a more than family affair!

The Terroir:

Learn a little about the soil structure and the wines that come from it.

Or view the soil profile in the vineyard.

Barrel tastings, hand harvesting, meeting the wine maker, viewing the bottling line, and discovering the vineyards are just some of the season’s activities. Read more about booking your wine tour here at La Grande Maison.

Wine Tours from La Grande Maison are also available by bike.

With picnics en-route by the Loire river or in the vineyards.

Or occasionally by boat if the river conditions are good!

You can read more about our Vineyard & Discovery offerings on wine writer Sarah Ahmed’s blog here : The Wine Detective.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Is it me or is the Loire Valley Tropical ?

Half way through the season now and the opportunity for an evening off beckons so we head off to our little cottage by the Loire River (La Petite Maison) in the commune of Chênehutte Trèves Cunault for an evening of rest and relaxation.

It’s a beautiful evening but so hot and we decide to cycle to the guinguette in Chênehutte - Le Futreau - a beautiful 10 minute ride along the Loire à Vélo cycle path that follows the river for over 800kms.

Now for those of you un-familiar with the term a 'guingette' (in this region of France) is a riverside restaurant or bar with live entertainment invariably from a French crooner and accompanied by particularly bad dancing.

The sun was shining and the Cremant de la Loire was chilled and delicious......

Chance to relax on the riverside deck before dinner.....

Our bikes were used as a prop to display the menu.........

There was evidence of at least the start of some very bad dancing..........

The restaurant was buzzing, full with about 60 people all patiently waiting in various stages of being served. Chantal (with extremely larged pencilled in eyebrows) was crooning away and everyone was happy.

The opportunity for some frivolity was obviously high on these ladies agendas....!

.....when BAM from out of no where, whistling down the river, comes the most powerful storm you can imagine. It was the first gust that sent the whole scene into disarray. The sky went black, tables blew over, umbrellas went flying, bottles and glasses broke as they hit the deck! Small children were tucked screaming under their parents arms and run to shelter. It was a scary moment and the rain came so heavy and fast that my pave’ de boeuf frites was swimming in seconds.

How to empty a restaurant in 2 seconds flat.....

Quick grab the bottle......

The restaurant across the road was instantly turned into what looked like a refugee centre. We watched with dismay as all the soaked diners simply sat down at new tables and waited for service to recommence amongst the chaos. They should have been wearing Don’t Panic - Normal Service will be Resumed as soon as Possible T-Shirts . Only in France! We helped the struggling waitress carry tables across the road in an attempt to restore some order and helped clear the debris from the deck.

We had left our dogs on the veranda back at the house and feared for the worst. Willow is so frightened with storms and we thought everything else would be awash so we jumped back on our bikes and cycled quickly home - to find it bone dry not a drop of rain had fallen - the dogs lying there with their 'why are you back so early look on their faces'.

The calm after the storm....... It was as if it had never happened!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Not In My Back Vineyard

We went on a ‘manifestation’ on Saturday.

That’s a protest in French. You might say it was a little too late after all the damn things have already been installed. But an email from an eager friend called us in to help swell the troops. After all imagine how you would feel if four of these 120m tall things had been installed above your roof!

There it is - the dreaded wind turbine or eolienne as they are known in France. A large lump of rotating metal that can be seen for 10’s of kilometers around embedded in an even larger lump of concrete. Metal that is slowly eating into the countryside under the ‘green guise’. Soon Anjou will be full of them if we don’t watch out. The promoters have plans for many more wind farms but the problem is there are only small groups in any commune prepared to fight against them.

So we all donned our ‘gilets jaune’ and went out on a miserably cold and damp Saturday in June to quietly protest at the inauguration (opening party) to which 250 people involved in the project had been invited but none of the local residents.

I wanted to share with you my observations as there are few people prepared to speak out against wind turbines as remarkably they seem to believe the ‘greenwash’ they are being fed. After all we don’t want nuclear do we (even though France is already 80% run on nuclear energy) and we are certainly running out of oil (now we have distributed it all over the Gulf of Mexico).

Here is what I saw at the inauguration:

1. On arrival at the site a large marquee had been erected for the party
2. Next to the marquee was a large bouncy castle (notion of free day out for the children springs to mind)
3. The local traiteur was busy delivering plates of gourmet food and sparkling wine
4. The Mayor of Antoigne arrived - he is the chap who is being paid for putting the wind turbines on his land but is also the chap who has the final say on development in his village!
5. The police were present (just in case we got nasty!)
6. The young promoters (just out of their prams) clutching their Valentino handbags and wearing Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses looked embarrassed when confronted by the opposition.
7. A great deal of back slapping was obviously going on as the get rich quickers chinked their glasses and look upwards at the monstrosities that they have installed.
8. Childrens books were handed out telling then how good wind turbines are. As the children bounced away on the inflatable castle powered by a noisy generator that drowned out the sound of the wind turbines rotating above (handy eh?)
9. We were invited to join the party (providing we took off our yellow jackets) obviously we did not take up this kind offer.

Don’t believe the hype - the Minister of State for France has already denounced eoliennes saying they do not produce the required amount of energy and has made a u turn in policy. But the promoters already have their teeth in persuading the greedy to give up their land for a meagre return. These 10 million euro projects are making ‘a few’ a lot of money. The promoters get approximately 350k euros per annum whilst the Mayor a modest 4k for leasing his land! In years to come these sites will be redundant. Like they are in Hawaii where nothing is left but a wind turbine graveyard of rusting metal. I will bet you that the get rich quickers will not come along and dismantle them then when they prove useless. Oh and another thing - life span 20 years - 6 years to offset their carbon foot print - so only 14 years productive operational life.

In the meantime the innocent victims of this #GREENWASH are suffering. Believe me they have sleepless nights but that’s not all.

The Innocent Victims:

1. They can’t open their windows because of the noise - it sounds like a constant storm battering and wears you down.
2. The flashing red and white lights are distracting and mean folks don’t want to go out and sit in their gardens under them and can be seen from at least 40 km away.
3. House prices are devalued by 20%. It’s a double edged sword as they can’t sell them so they can’t get away from the problem either.
4. The countryside around them has been destroyed and there is little bird life remaining in the surrounding area
5. The result is a lot of grief, stress and anxiety for all the residents of these tiny communes.

What about the Saumur-Anjou Vineyards - does anybody out there care?

I can’t believe that wind turbines are planned for parts of the Loire Valley Vineyards too.

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TAKE NOTICE!!! Bonnezeaux is certainly next on the list. I saw a report for 25 wind turbines for Chavagnes Luigné and the Layon / Anjou regions are also targeted. There are already areas in the vineyards of Anjou where they can be seen over 40 kilometres away. There are also plans for wind turbines in Tigné where Gérard Depardieu has his vineyards and in Concourson sur Layon where there are many wonderful Layon domaines plus many others.

The problem is most projects are planned for the borders of each commune so that there is little resistance other than that from the local villagers, who are then accused as usual of NIMBYISM. It is hard to pull a large group together when France works in communes. Who cares about the wind turbines planned for x when I live in y they say, even though x is only just across the field and the wind turbines will be very, very large indeed!

I worry for the the biodynamic producers like Marc Angeli of La Ferme de la Sansonnière who has already talked about concerns of radio masts killing the bee population. What will the eoliennes do I wonder? The wind turbines are Eco-Wolves in Sheeps clothing - the promoters pretending they are great for the environment whilst rubbing their hands all the way to the bank and leaving the locals to suffer.

The Alternatives:

My take is that if you want wind turbines then they should be installed in industrial areas where they do the innocent no harm and certainly don’t muck up the countryside, forever. Here are some alternatives we should at least be thinking about :

1. Wind Farms in Industrial Areas
2. Biomass - a renewable energy source, is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms, such as wood or waste.
3. Geothermic solutions
4. Photovoltaic - solar power.
5. Being responsible for our own energy consumption and generating what we can in the home. e.g. heat from woodburners, turn off lights when not in use, drive less or share lifts.
6. Candles - more romantic dinners ;)

If you (like me) were pro wind farms because you thought they were ECO then thank you for reading this I hope it has given you food for thought. RANT OVER!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side....

Wine features pretty highly on our agenda here at La Grande Maison but luckily we do have time to appreciate a few other things too. So we thought it time to share with you the delights of one of our favorite artists that we exhibit at the house.

Jo Watters-Pawlowski has a unique quality to her paintings. Born in Ghana in 1960 she studied at Worthing College of Art and Design in Sussex and Winchester School of Art in Hampshire, England from 1979 – 1983. From her studio in Sussex, during 1985-1994 she produced original, limited edition textiles for interiors, exhibiting in London she gained commissions worldwide.

Her transition from fabric to canvas evolved naturally and has enabled Jo to develop her creative skills using an alternative medium.

Her pictorial vocabulary was from the outset distinctive, a form of abstaction arranged to represent personal images and sounds. As a colourist, her work contextualises colour with movement, allowing the observer to explore their own emotions. Jo’s paintings are usually formed by a gradual build-up of successive layers of paint, a process that allows selecting areas of the painting to be masked and later, peeled back to expose colour and shape beneath.

Biography of paintings: (Indigo), Red, Purple, Orange, Pink and Brown: By Jo

A series of six small paintings resulted from a larger painting entitled Metamorphosis. The original painting was based on the classical instumental music composition ‘Metamorphosen’ written in 1945 by Richard Strauss (1864-1949).

In 2004 Herbie Flowers, musician, original member of the band Sky and famous for the base line in Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ commissioned me to create a painting based on this classical piece. Initially, visually interpreting the compostion was difficult, as I stuggled to bond with the music emotionally. A turbulent process ensued before I could finally complete the commission. Stauss had composed the piece for twenty-three strings and it was documented that various conductors had difficulty in interpreting the original score.

Certainly this group of paintings enabled me to extend my emotions towards the music. By identifying the aspects of sound and instrument in separate sequences. I was able to communicate feelings in moods of colour. The process helped me to understand and learn about the power behind Metamorphosen.

You now have the rare opportunity to view part of this collection at La Grande Maison. Those of you who have stayed before will already recognise Jo's work from the magnificent 'Blue' abstract displayed in the Great Hall.

If you are in the UK during the month of May don't miss out on the chance to go and see Jo's work exhibited as part of the Brighton Festival Artists Open Houses. Jo has grouped together with Niyati, Ruth & Bryony to form The Easelles a talented female group of artists based in the Ditchling area of Sussex.

The Blue Abstract in the Hall at La Grande Maison

Pink Abstract at La Grande Maison

Jo's latest work is on show in Ditchling during May and has evolved into still life representation of Fruits and Vegetables an example of which this beautiful Onion & Beetroot shows.

Jo Watters-Pawlowski is pleased to accept commissions or provide further information. Contact can be made through Micaela and Sue at La Grande Maison d’Arthenay or by email to

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Pots of Tea and Deco...

Crikey what happened to March, all of a sudden it's mid-April? We have been so busy with our Loire Wine Tours and B&B at La Grande Maison that we have had little time to update the blog. So just in case you have missed us we promised Virginie that we would tell you about her beautiful shop Pots & Deco in Candes St Martin, east of Saumur, in the Loire Valley.

It's a great spot to stop for a pot of tea or coffee on your route along the Loire River, all beautifully served in 'iiiii's' pottery. Virginie Boitiau in case you wondered where all the i's came from! Her signature on her works is iiiii.

Virginie takes her inspiration from the vineyards. Take this little pot for example, the blue colour is produced from the copper sulphate which is sprayed onto vines to protect them from mildew. Virginie collects the ash from burnt vine posts and makes a glaze for the pots. The reddish markings on the pots are created from the iron in the nails from the vine posts.

Take time to have a look at Stephanie Lherbette's painted furniture too....

....soft natural tones and muted hues.

Or disappear down into the wine cave "Enfin du Vin' to discover a fine selection of Loire Valley and Navarre wines.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

It's not just the wine sitting in our Loire Valley Vineyard B&B

It’s been a hectic week with Wine Salons here, there and everywhere. We’ve got tasting notes coming out of our ears from the Renaissance of Appellations, an Organic Biodynamic tasting in Angers; the Dive Bouteille, a Vin Naturel tasting held this year in the dry moat of Chateau de Breze; to the professional Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers.

We have found some stunning wines along the way which have sipped and slurped their way into our Wine Tour schedule. These liquid delights will be stocked in our cellars at La Grande Maison for you to enjoy too. But what we also wanted to share with you was our excitement at finding our wonderful re-cycled furniture for the hall.

Christophe Lorenzoni produces this most amazing furniture all from used wine barrels or tonneaux as they are known here in France. Now this is what I call re-cycling with style. These beautiful chairs are individual works of art. Made from used 228 litre Burgundy barrels they are crafted in oak. We even know which vineyard they came from and the wine that was stored in them!

The arms of this chair (provenance Domaine de Gramenon Vallée du Rhône ) are produced from the flat part of the barrels base, the clou or nails that originally held it in place are still incorporated in the design having been rubbed down so that they are smooth. The staves are stained red from the wine and the whole chair is held together using the original bilge hoop, the circular piece of metal that would have surrounded the barrel to hold it together.

The dining chairs are made from barrels used at Domaine de L’Abbaye in Provence. Each chair is made from staves (les douelles in French) of the same barrel. They are simply brushed and then coated in a acrylic matt varnish to protect the wood thus preserving the patina and the colour that they have acquired after years in the winery.

Each piece is unique. They are stunning, we love them and hope you will do too. We are obviously looking forward to collecting much more of Christophe’s work over the next few years and perhaps we’ll even convince him to use barrels from our vigneron neighbours here in the Loire!

We are also delighted to have been awarded an Ethical Stamp this year from Alastair Sawday of the Special Places to Stay guides. We have been awarded the Ethical Stamp in three categories Community, Environment and Food. You can view the entry for La Grande Maison here.