Thursday, October 18, 2018

Memories of my grandfather and my childhood in the vineyards

Memories of my grandfather 

and my childhood in the vineyards 

My Grandfather old "Pressoir" at my mother's house @LeDomduVin2013

Not sure why, but I'm thinking about my grandfather and my childhood in the vineyards (*). Probably because I was recently looking at some old family pictures, like this old "Pressoir" at my mother's house (in the picture above). It was the one my great-grandfather and, in turn, my grandfather used back in the days, and it reminds me of this period of my life, growing up in a small village of the Côtes de Bourg, with my grandfather, surrounded by the countryside and vineyards.

In any case, I always think about my grandfather and will always remember him. He was like a father figure to me and taught me so much about life, food, and wine, and so much more. He taught me invaluable principles, values, and morals about life and people and how I should try to conduct myself with myself and others, with respect and humility.  He taught me that simple things in life are always the best and that a happy life is not the result of what you can earn or buy, but what you make of it.  

Growing up in a lower-middle-class family, we did not have much money and were not doing much traveling, but we had a decent life overall, without extras or excess. We did not need any extras or excess anyway, or any other superfluous things money can buy, as we were happy, our own way, and thankful for what we had. We had each other and life was simple. It was the life of the countryside rhythmed by the seasons and the vineyard's life cycle. 

My grandfather holding some bottles and his dog in front of his garden @LeDomduVin 2010

Despite having worked as a construction worker, my grandfather was also a "vigneron", a person who tend the vines and take care of the vineyards, as well as a winemaker, in the region of the "Côtes de Bourg" (north-east of Bordeaux on the northern part of the right bank), where I grew up.

Originally from Vendée (a department in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west-central France, south of Nantes, facing the Atlantic Ocean), he moved further south to the Gironde department later on to live the rest of his life. He has lived all of his life in the countryside and never really liked the big cities. In fact, even if only 50 kilometers away, going to Bordeaux was a chore to him and he seldom driving there if he could avoid it.

He was a man of simple taste and small needs. He had been a blue-collar his whole life, and his daily attire consisted of his "Bleu de travail" (commonly known as the French worker jacket or "chore" jacket... coming back in fashion by the way), that he was wearing on all occasions, seven days a week, even well after retiring, as in fact he never really stopped working, and at the end of the day it was the only clothes he really felt comfortable in.

As you probably noticed on the picture above, another essential part of his daily outfit was his "Béret", (from the word "berret" in Occitan (Gascon) meaning “cap”), the unavoidable soft, round, flat-crowned black hat worn by most countrymen (and even women sometimes) in the southwest of France (and other regions of France too). This traditional Basque Béret never left his head no matter what he was doing or wearing (except maybe at night). He very rarely dressed in a suit, only on special occasions, weddings and funerals mainly, and it was a real burden for him to have to dress up. However, even wearing a suit, the Béret had to be on too. Most men of his age that I knew or met at that time dressed the part the way he did.

Côtes de Bourg Old Map - 1949 © by L. Larmat

Throughout his life, he lived in different houses prior to settling in the house I've always known. He even lived in the dependency of a Chateau at some point, when he was working at Chateau La Grolet, a 17th-century manor house producing a classic Côtes de Bourg wine, with a very good ratio value for money, where my mother and her siblings grew up for the most part of their childhood.

He settled down in the little village of "Comps" (you can see it on the above map), near the house of my great-grandfather on my mother side (a house that my mother inherited at some point when I was still a toddler and where I spent most of my life between the age of 10 and 18 years old, and she is still living here nowadays).

Back in the days of my youth, Comps was a charming and tranquil "bourgade" of less than 300 inhabitants living in houses outspread in the vineyards, with a few patches of green fields where cows, cheeps, horses, and even a donkey were grazing quietly. There was even a wild-boar farm, where one could stop by to feed them through the fence. The village has a quaint little church in which (I can proudly say) I got married back in 2005. It felt very intimate and private.

The quaint little church of Comps - Photo courtesy of Jack Ma

My mother's house (also in Comps as mentioned above), was only a few parcels of vineyards away from my grandfather's house and therefore I was often at his house. My grandfather's house was rustic and showed sign of the passage of time, but I felt comfortable there with him.

It was a decent size farmhouse with quite a few dependencies, surrounded by a garden comprising lots of varieties of fruit trees (Apple, Pear, Cherry, Fig, Plums, Nuts, Chestnut, Lemon, and even Kiwi), a vegetable garden where you could find pretty much all vegetables as well as a wild variety of flowers, plants, and herbs too. (You can see some of the pictures I took of his garden in a previous post I wrote back in 2010 where I was also writing about my grandfather, read it here)

Some of the vegetables and fruits of my grandfather's garden @leDomduVin 2007

This collage of pictures of some of the vegetables and fruits from my grandfather's garden brings back some sweet memories of him and of my childhood. Even the blue dots (or drop stains), on the tomatoes above, bring a smile to my face, as it is what we call, in Bordeaux, "La Bouillie Bordelaise", a blue-colored mixture of  "Sulfate de Cuivre" (copper sulfate) and some "Chaux" (lime), that my grandfather used to prepare himself prior to using his old portable copper "sulfateuse" to spray it around, while I was watching all of it with big eyes hoping that he would let me try....

In case you don't know, "La Bouillie Bordelaise" is still used as a fungicide sprayed in vineyards and gardens to prevent eventual damages caused by downy mildew, powdery mildew, and other fungi.

Old Copper "Sulfateuse" to spray "La Bouillie Bordelaise" ©LeDomduVin 2007

Apart from a multitude of vegetables and fruits in his garden, his farmhouse was also full of animals. Hens and roosters, rabbits, guinea pigs, turtledoves, goldfishes, cats and a dog were all living in harmony in this peaceful garden of heaven on earth. It was really fun for a child growing up in the countryside like me. I liked to pet them and feed them. Although all well fed, the hens were always hungry, running after me when I visited their "enclos à poule" (chicken coop) and always checking what I had in my hands for grains or other stuff to eat. The rabbits and more especially the guinea pigs were the same, you couldn't enter their coop without being harassed for food. And evidently, they eventually ended up on the table for the Sunday lunch or in Patés jars...  (hehehe...  evil mischievous quiet laugh... well, sorry, not my fault if we, as humans, are at the top of the food chain... I love these animals... in my plate too 😊)

As you can start to understand (after reading the above), I did not grow up like some kids from rich parents, going on vacations, by the beach all summer long and skying in winter and traveling all the time (and whatever else rich kids used to do). Nope. In fact, I was rich too, not of money, but of what Mother Nature had to offer and the freedom of doing pretty much all I wanted, as I spent most of my school year's vacations and summer vacation, often alone at my mother house and visiting my grandfather leaving nearby, while both my parents were working. My parents divorced when I was 6 and half years old, and therefore school days were usually at my father's house and weekends and vacations were at my mother's house (for the most part).

And despite part of my family and a few cousins, I did not have many friends living around in the countryside, but I did not mind either.
  • If raining, I usually spent my days drawing all sort of things or writing stories and poems (that I never published, unfortunately...), while listening to vinyl discs or the radio. Or otherwise, I was reading French/Belgium Bandes Dessinées and American comics, and eventually some books too... but not too many... (as I preferred to write stories rather than reading stories).  I was also watching a bit of TV sometimes, but when I was young only 3-5 channels were available and the programs were not that great - and I did not have Canal + either - so, I was not watching much TV after all - and I did not have a computer or a Minitel either... and smartphone did not exist... sigh....  Nowadays city kids will never understand... 

"Les Carrières" (or stone-pits in English) near Prignac-et-Marcamps and Tauriac (Gironde) -
Photo courtesy of

  • And if sunny, I was riding my bike everywhere in the neighboring villages (and further away, up to Bordeaux sometimes - roughly 50 kilometers far). Sometimes stopping by the Gironde river bank, near Prignac-et-Marcamps and Tauriac, to admire the scenery and landscape. Sometimes walking in a nearby forest overlooking the river bank to access and get lost in "Les Carrières", the numerous stone-pits found everywhere along the famous limestone plateau going roughly from the Côtes de Blaye (to the north) down to the Côtes de Castillon (to the south), from which the world renown "Pièrre de Bordeaux" was extracted to build the beautiful city of Bordeaux as well as most villages of the Gironde (Saint-Emilion being probably the most famous village built entirely with these limestone stones). Covering kilometers of galleries carved by men and running deep underground, the "carrières" (stone-pits)  were my hideouts (very similar to the one on the above picture courtesy of  

However, whatever I did, after a few hours I usually ended up visiting my grandfather for lunch and spent most of the rest of the day with him, most days. That is how I spent most of my vacations (including summer vacations). For some people, it must not sound very exciting, but back then that's all I knew and could do anyway, as we did not have the money for me to go anywhere else or do anything else. I had my bike, my freedom and the countryside and vineyards to myself and was keeping my grandfather company. 

It was instructive to be with him, as he was doing pretty much everything himself and knew how to do pretty much everything (more/less). He was part of these old generations who grow up and lived during the war. He lived through hard times with far less than what our society of consumption imposes us to have or buy (directly or indirectly) for our daily needs nowadays. 

Dominique Noel (me) in my grandfather's garden at the back of the house @LeDomduVin2007

All (or most should I say) fruits, vegetables and herbs we ate at his house came directly from his own garden, where he nurtured them daily with careful and close attention. It was great to have to wait for the right season to eat certain fruits and vegetables, it makes you fancy them even more (not like nowadays where you can buy pretty much anything you want the whole year long and at any seasons).

Here, this little table shows you the vegetables and fruits you should expect to find only in season at a French Market. Stop buying imported food, buy local and buy what's in season, it healthier for you and better for the environment.

Vegetables and fruits you should expect to find only in season at a French Market by ©LeDomduVin 2018 

My grandfather rarely bought his vegetables or fruits at the local Saturday or Sunday market (as he had pretty much everything he needed in his own backyard), yet it was still going there regularly to buy meat and fish, talk with friends and other people he knew, and often ended up buying a few vegetables and fruits to help the little "artisans" 😊. Sacré Papi, he was a genuine and generous man, always trying to help and please people, one way or another.

The eggs came from his hens. The "Paté de Lapin" came from his rabbits (mixed with pork meat he used to buy from a local butcher or at the market). I loved his "Paté de Lapin" and helped him a few times to prepare it. It was my favorite food in the world. He was not necessarily following a recipe either, he was more preparing it on instinct and depending on the meat supply too (sometimes more rabbit, sometimes more porc).

He also used to make his own jams from various fruits found in his garden, his eau-de-vie of plums and/or pears, as well as all of his "bocaux de legumes" (vegetable conserves), "bocaux de fruits" and Patés for winter.

There was always a "Jambon de Bayonne" (cured ham leg) hanging and slowly curing "dans la remise" (the dependency behind his house where he stored all kinds of things), in a cured ham cage made especially to prevent flies and other bugs to get in while allowing for plenty of ventilation for the ham to properly age. This Jambon was always coming handy for afternoon snacks or when it was time to take "L'Apéro".

Cured Ham Leg - Photo courtesy of here

L'Apéro (short for "apéritif") is a typical French traditional and cultural ritual, consisting of a non-formal gathering before dinner, marking the end of the day and usually inviting the family and friends or guests present in the house to stop all activities and have drinks and snacks while casually conversing about anything and everything prior the dinner... It is a great way to talk, open up, relax and cool down after a hard day at work or full of activities...

Just imagine, you leave your smartphone, tablet, TV, and computer aside and you communicate to and with "real" people while enjoying a drink or two and snacking goodies (charcuterie, cheese, pickles, olives, nuts) as a prelude to the dinner. You've got to love the French way of living... just for that... 😊 should try it some days, it is usually a cheerful moment worth having at least 3 times a week (Fri, Sat, and Sun).

Sunday lunch was traditionally a family lunch and usually the day of my grandfather's classic roasted chicken, or his famous sauteed rabbit with garlic and parsley, or the popular "Entrecôte Echalottes" (with shallots on top) grilled on the Sarments (the vines shouts cut then collected into ballots during winter), usually served with vegetables fresh from his garden. The french fries made with his potatoes were so rich and tasty and a delight with the Entrecôte (I remember picking them in "La Remise", then washing them, peeling them and cutting them prior frying them). Everyone invited was giving a hand to prepare Sunday lunch, and we always ended up being 6 to 8 to 10 people sometimes around the table. Family gatherings were always fun (I miss these days deeply....).

My grandfather cooking his very popular "Entrecôte Echalottes" (with shallots on top)
grilled on the Sarments (the vines shouts cut then collected into ballots during winter) ©LeDomduVin 2007  

Look at those rugged hands... I love these hands. My grandfather hands. These are the hands of a man who worked hard all of his life, in construction at first, then in the vineyards, showing signs of the passage of time as he was handling everything with his bare hands (on the construction sites, in the vineyards and at the cellar, in his garden, with his animals, repairing tools and machines when broken, etc..). Like most countryside men, he was not afraid to get his hands dirty and was accustomed to physical labor since his very early age.  

In fact, my grandfather was a humble and quiet man, more comfortable working with his hands than delivering a speech or writing an essay. A man of a few words in general, except when he was talking about the good and bad memories of his life prior, during and even after World War II. He had countless stories about this period of time, which fascinated me. The hideouts, the resistance, the Nazis, the wine, the scarcity of the food and supplies, how some people help to quietly fight, their own way, and how some people collaborated with the enemy. How difficult things were back then and how people learn how to be strong, how to do everything themselves and learned how to survive and continue living despite a certain danger at their door.

Picture of an American commissioned officer with farmers and bottles of wine in Normandie WWII -
Photo courtesy of 

I loved my grandfather for who he was and what he represented to me, for his knowledge and skills. He learned a lot of things through age and experiences of course, like anybody else. However, most of his knowledge came from the fact that when he was young, growing up in a farm during the war, he only had a dictionary, a few books and some volumes of a collection of something similar to Encyclopedia Britannica to read. (Imagine how smart your kid will be if he or she had to read the dictionary and/or Encyclopedia Britannica every day?). I was always learning just by listening to him talk. 

As you surely understood by reading some of the paragraphs above, my grandfather was an excellent cook (he raised his 3 kids practically alone, so he had time to experiment...). He was always preparing more food than needed (because he was a generous man first, but also probably as the result of not having had enough during the war) and his door was always opened for impromptu guests passing by to say hello or trying their luck by inviting themselves. Life in the countryside always brings people together, and usually, family and friends do not live far. Moreover, in a small village like "Comps", everybody knew each other back in those days, so visits around lunch or dinner by family members, neighbors or friends were quite common and, in fact, necessary to keep up with the latest gossips and stories.

Impromptu guest for the lunch by ©LeDomduVin 2018

My love for food first, and, then later, for wine, definitely came from him. As he was also a winemaker, making his own wine and wine for other sometimes too, consequently I have been introduced to and acquainted with wine since my very early age. I remember having my first sip of wine when I was about 6 years old.

It was a beautiful and warm day, in the afternoon, a Saturday or maybe a Sunday, as the family was around. My uncle, my grandfather's son, was sipping a glass of red wine and I was watching him lifting his elbow to bring the glass to his lips and sip it slowly. He looked at me and asked me if I wanted some. I said yes, and I guess the members of my family gathered around me, surely waiting for my reaction (something like that in the US will probably be denounced/reported, but in France, it is a common tradition, maybe not that early though....). So, I put the glass to my nose... it was fragrant and nearly made me sneeze. Then, I brought the glass to my lips and drank too fast a generous sip of that red wine, which made me cough for at least half an hour after that. Of course, I ridiculized myself and my whole family around was laughing out loud about this risible situation. But I kept a great souvenir of it.

I must admit that my grandfather's wine was not a "very good" wine. It was one these Cotes de Bourg wines of the late 70s, early 80s, made in quantity not necessarily in quality (like it was common practice back then). It was what we call in France "du picrate" or  "de la vinasse", basically a simple, "not-necessarily-bad" but "not-that-great" either, everyday wine. Drinkable it was, sure... but most importantly it served its purpose, being an accompaniment to the food on the table. My grandfather himself even used to cut it with a bit of water to cut the edges of it (acidity, tannins, bitterness, etc...), and finally, it was not so bad after all. We got used to it. 😊

My grandfather wine eduction or how kids get acquainted with wine in France by ©LeDomduVin 2018

And that's how from the age of 10 or 12 years old, I (and most of the kids I knew back then) started to have some wine in my glass when eating at my grandfather's house. First, I filled up my glass with water to which my grandfather added a few drops of wine to add color and some taste. I found it acidic and sour, but with food, it wasn't so bad. The older I got, the less water and the more wine the glass contained. By the time I reached 15 years old, I was drinking wine with no more water in it.

Same for beer, around the same age I started to have a touch of wine in a glass of water (10-12 years old), my grandfather also offered me to occasionally drink "Panaché" (a.k.a. "Shandy", basically a mix of beer and "limonade" quite famous back then in France, Belgium and Switzerland), a good alternative to beer, as it tastes more like a carbonated lemonade and the alcohol content is usually about 2% max (usually more about 1-1.5%), instead of 5% (and much higher) in general for beers. Anyone remembers "Panaché Chopp" made by the brewery "Kanterbräu"?.... no?... It was a classic back then in the early 80s. That is what I used to drink during the hot summer afternoons with my grandfather, seating on the bench in front of his house.

Here, this French Publicity below might remind you of something...  

French Publicity for "Chopp Panaché" back in the 80s - Photo Courtesy of

At the back of the house, "La Remise" (a huge dependency that he used as a room to store all sorts of stuff), was a real cavern of Alibaba. Once inside, it is was like an organized huge mess. Food (from the "patés" to the conserves, the ham to the potatoes, etc..), as well as some old mopeds (including the legendary "Solex" and other cyclo-motors like the classic "Peugeot 102" and the iconic "Peugeot 103" or even the "Motobecane AV79 and AV88" and other broken junks and detached pieces (kept just in case...), mingled with a mountain of coal "pour le poêle a charbon" (coal burning stove) and some wood logs for the "cheminées" in the various rooms, as well as some old barrels and a old "pressoir".

Without realizing it, my grandfather was surely affected by a hoarding disorder, as he had real difficulties to discard an impressive multitude of objects of all sorts that he accumulated over the last few decades. I could always hear him say that they could be useful one day, yet, that day never came and more junks and old stuff kept coming and piled up as I grew older. In fact, a museum of all these stuff could have been opened as he had such a huge collection of them, and some were real treasure for collectors and amateurs.

However, if you ventured a little further toward the back, this is where he established his cellar and put his barrels to age his wine. As the vines that he was tending at my mother's house, were uprooted when I was about 9 years old and that my grandfather did not have any other vines to tend to, he only kept 3-4 barrels only in the back of "la Remise". Once bottled, he had enough wine to last him for a good part of the year. The rest of the year, he was buying his wine by the "cubi" (old glass bottle or plastic bottle containing between 3 and 6 liters) from neighbors and friends that still owned some vineyards and were selling their wines as bulk rather than bottled.   

My grandfather and my son in the back of the dependency behind my grandfather's house ©LeDomduVin 2007

I love this picture above of my grandfather and my son in the back of "la Remise" back in 2007, or maybe was it in 2008?... not sure anymore, as my son would have been about 1 year old, but he seems bigger on that picture, maybe 2 years old?... maybe it is the "Afro" that makes his head bigger than it normally is 😊.. I'm only kidding, I love my son's hair, beautiful "Afro" style... for those of you who may not know, my wife is Afro-American and my kids are mixed. We have 2 beautiful kids with great curly hair and an arousing skin complexion. Love my kids.  

I want and I could write so much more about my grandfather and my childhood in the countryside and the vineyards, but I think that I will stop here for this post, which is already long enough as it is. I will write the following of this post in another post later on this year or next year, will see...

Meanwhile, you can always read a previous post I wrote back in 2010 where I was also talking about my grandfather, his garden and his famous "Escargots a la vinaigrette" recipe (read it here)

As for you, Papi, wherever you are now, I hope that you are resting in peace and that the wine is also good up there (wherever that is...). Simply know that I am thinking about you very often and I will never forget you. I'm ending this post with this classic posture of yours once you finished your meal... falling asleep on your chair for a little "siesta" after lunch... I love you Papi.

My grandfather falling asleep on your chair for a little "siesta" after lunch ©LeDomduVin 2007

That's all folks for today...!

Hope you enjoyed this post.... and always remember, that people only cease to exist in your heart and in your mind when you stop thinking or talking about them... so always remember and continue thinking and talking about the ones you loved and lost...

Cheers! Santé!

Dominique Noel a.k.a LeDomduVin

@ledomduvin #mygrandfather #mychildhood #memories #souvenirs #thoughts  #myfirstglassofwine #mychildhoodwithmygrandfather #mychildhoodinthecountrysideandvineyards #ledomduvin #lesphotosadom #lesdessinsadom #lesillustrationsadom #lesaventuresadom #wine #vin #wein #vino #cotesdebourg #bordeaux #france #food #vegetablesoftheseason  #fruits  #patedelapin #frenchmarketseasonalvegetablesandfruits

©LeDomduVin 2018

(*) Probably as well as it has been 21 years since I left France to live my life abroad, and it has been 5 years already that I have not been to France on my own or for work, and 7 years with my kids, for several reasons. Thinking of it, it is insane and sad for a French (American) guy like me. One day I will go back... one day... soon I hope... 

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