Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Would you buy a bottle of champagne...

... from someone with dodgy French language skills?*

This was the question Frog and I were pondering, as we drove up to the borderlands of Belgium & France.

Frog is testing out several different types of sales channels for the champagne and since the house has never really gone into the world of salons or fairs, this is virgin territory for us both.

First up was a professional fair in London in September. If you discount the fact that was the day I began to miscarry, it all went very well. Wine buyers from the worlds of restaurants, distributers and retail came and sampled the family champagne. We had very positive feedback and have followed up with several solid sales prospects in the UK.

The bonus in London was that I could speak to my fellow countrymen whilst digging into some of my marketing skills and knowledge of the family house. Frog is fluent in English and relishes every opportunity to show off his ability.

Let's fast forward to last weekend, a first salon public... in Belgium. The plan was that this was a low key event where we could make our mistakes. I would do the running around, washing of glasses, keep note of sales etc., whilst Frog would do the sales spiel. The reality of course is that when you have hundreds of Wallonies wanting to get their €5 worth of entrance fee in free champagne tasting, you have to roll up the proverbial linguistic sleeves and get stuck in.

I am proud to say that I coped gallantly and even sold a decent amount of bottles myself, in between running to wash the stack of flutes at the tap set up at the back of the exhibition hall. It was a bonus to meet some lovely people from all over France who travel to sell their foods and wines. It was like eating all your favourite holiday foods in one place. We also found some friendly locals, although, the downside of a salon public is that you meet all the public. Including those you'd usually rather avoid.


  • Being situated next to a charcuterie stand from Les Ardeches, whose owner kept passing over a variety of saucissons for us to graze on during the day.
  • A lunch of foie gras sandwiches, bought from the flirty trio of guys from the Périgord.
  • The entertainment provided by the two hot tempered Basque girls. By Sunday evening, they were being dragged apart, screaming obscenities at each other, that I imagine were Euskara.


  • Handing over €700 in duties to the 'resident' Belgian customs man, who was more chunky knit cardigan and loafers than crisp HM Customs' uniform. Apparently the several flutes of champagne he consumed during the weekend didn't sweeten him up enough.
  • Frog pissing off the local celebrity and animateur of the salon, Pierrot of Lille by asking "And who are you?". Consequently, Frog had to later grovel and offer champagne, which led to him coming to our stand and interviewing Frog with a microphone. (Result: a huge crowd of Pierrot's followers crowding around the little stand and probably accounting for a good proportion of the weekend's sales.)
  • My sore aching feet.

* According to my Mum, it's also my English linguistic skills that are failing. Thank goodness the digital red pen doesn't exist yet...

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I found these cards on this site, courtesy of Daily Candy. It almost made me laugh, but not quite, since I was having a bit of a wobbly day yesterday. Anyhoo... My mum is, as we 'speak', driving down the A26 from Calais to Reims, to spend part of her half-term holidays chez nous. I can't believe that I haven't seen her since the wedding in May. Thank goodness for Skype, is all I can say.

I plan on using Mum's visit as an excuse to indulge in all the 'non-champagne' tourist visits that I haven't managed to do in the last year. It's the year of celebrating Art Deco in Reims, so expect an 'Art Deco Guide to Reims' post some time soon.

In fact, to start the tourist theme, here's a photo from last night's inauguration of the new lighting of the cathedral. The city seems to have cottoned onto the fact that our UNESCO World Heritage site has been woefully treated. A multi-million project to light the cathedral has finally been completed and we joined hundreds of other Remois on the parvis last night to watch the switching on ceremony. Our mayor spoke surprisingly eloquently and the 'unveiling' was gradual, the illuminations being introduced in phases, accompanied by a group from the local music conservatoire. The music was relayed by speakers all around the outside of the cathedral, so that you could wander around and take in the results. It was a great atmosphere and quite spectacular (I shed a tear and got emotional but that's probably just my raging hormones again). My photos, without a much needed tripod, didn't do it justice.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


... at the Nyetimber vineyard the English pickers get stools to sit on! You certainly wouldn't see that occurring in any of the vines in this region.

Seeing this photo today, I was reminded that we were given a bottle of this prize winning, English sparkling wine as an engagement gift from a couple of friends in England. Nyetimber retails at a very high price (over £25/€36) and there has been much talk about how they beat the quality of a large Champagne house in blind tastings. Well, they probably do rival some producers, as not every champagne house produces the highest quality. (And, at that price I should hope that it is a quality product.)

We put the gift aside and opened it one afternoon when we had Frog Mother, Father, Aunt and Uncle around for Sunday lunch. Everyone had a good taste and agreed it went down very well. However, once the mouthful was finished, there was something missing. It took us a while to put our finger on what that was. Finally, we realised that what this was was a lack of a certain taste, that infamous terroir that the French talk about, a familar note wasn't to be found in the English wine.

Of course, this was no blind tasting and the panel were a little biased (and somewhat keen to move to the table for lunch). However, if I showed Father Frog a photo of the English pickers, sat on stools, any credibility this wine had mustered would disappear in a flash!

Monday, October 09, 2006


Basque Evening 2
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

I like wedding gifts. Especially those that you can save for times when you need a bit of a pick up. We took advantage of the gift voucher for a weekend in the south-west and zoomed off on Friday in the TGV from Paris, destination South-West France.

Two nights and three days of discovery in an area that was new to Frog and me. Things that I found out:

  • Frog can comfortably put away five cakes in one day.
  • I can happily eat confit de canard every night, if offered.
  • If you order a rather rough local red, you don't notice after the first couple of mouthfuls. That is, as long as you don't try and taste it but swallow it down quickly. You can pleasantly manage a whole bottle that way.
  • We'll both believe we're exercising the food away by wandering around our temporary weekend home town.
  • Even a small branch of the largest bank in France (probably) blends into the local style.
  • The Salies de Béarn salt water has many uses, we enjoyed taking advantage of being pampered with the mineralising spa treatments.
  • We didn't giggle too much at the sight of each other wrapped up in hot mud packs.
  • The Atlantique's waves provide a surfer's paradise.
  • You can spend a Sunday afternoon sunbathing in the city of Biarritz followed by a stroll around an art exhibition.
  • If your stomach is big enough, it can stretch to one final Basque meal before heading back on a night train and couchette to Reims via Paris.

Monday, October 02, 2006


This weekend was the first following the successful harvest. Traditionally, this means having no plans, enjoying a lie-in and indulging in general slobbiness, which Frog and I relish. Except this year all the family were summoned to the village for an official meeting, Saturday 9am, to discuss the future of the House. For reasons of family discretion, I will have to save publishing any details of this, the latest part of the saga, for the book that deserves to be written, covering the highs and lows of a family viticulture business in this region.

By, the time Saturday had been taken up by an analysis of the morning's events, Sunday morning rolled around and we were still uptight so didn't manage a lie-in then, either. Once up, we enjoyed a long walk in the autumnal sunshine, through the city.

Reims is where the Germans surrendered to to the Allied Expedition in 1945. I've blogged about this before but we've never visited the place where the document was signed.

The headquarters of Eisenhower's allied forces were based in one of the local high schools, now named Lycée Franklin Roosevelt. So, it's here that a little museum has been created, and the original room preserved. Frog might have sat a couple of exams there, but had never visited the rooms.

There was something a little humbling about seeing the small class room and simple museum. A basic exhibition of photos showed Reims under occupation and documentation of its subsequent liberation. It's a relatively small city and there was a moment of realisation for me that, yes of course, the Square des Vicitimes de la Gestapo is placed just around the corner from our flat because that's where the Gestapo HQ was. And an 'oh' moment upon seeing a shot of the (then) sous-préfet of Reims smiling with Eisenhower. The sous-préfet shared not only the same family name as our current (somewhat derided) Mayor, but the same facial profile. Must be a family member we agreed*. Photos of the procession of the liberating forces show tanks rolling down our street alongside the café that Frog and I have a Friday evening coupe with our neighbour, the florist.

Strolling back home early evening and greeting another neighbour as we neared the flat, I realised that I'm getting to know my little city much better. I don't just live here, I feel like I'm becoming more a part of the city. This isn't another place that I'm passing through, this is where my life is and all plans for the future lie. It's a good feeling.

*Wikipedia tells me the sous-préfet was the father whose brother was one of the local victims of the Gestapo.