Mel and I have 50% of our hearts still in Provence. Every time we drive south from Paris we start to grin like silly lovers when we get south of Montelimar into the sunshine of Provence. We have lived there for a third of our married lives starting when we were in our 20s in 1969. The children were brought up there, schooled there from the age of 18 months (Charles) to 4 years (Sophie) and 3 years Amy (who arrived there after going through a 91/2 hour heart operation in London and who drank in the Provence sunshine as she recouped.
It is impossible to be stressed in Provence. The inhabitants still go to local markets every day for freshly baked bread and local produce. Heaven forbid, anyone who wants to see a lawyer, doctor, bank, politician or even go shopping between midi (12p.m. on the dot) and 3 – 4 p.m. as everything is firmly shut for lunch. Then it all revs up again until 7 p.m. Even the burglars take their lunch and siesta breaks!
Last December we were back in Provence together with our son, Charlie, and our wonderful sales representative from New Orleans, Preston Trahan, to make our 2018 Provence rose blends. We had left Charles in the rain of Burgundy with Preston as they were driving to the Loire to taste our new northern rosé and Touraine wines. Mel and I, meanwhile, happily sped south to our “Home Away” rental above Bandol on the Mediterranean coast. It was perched high in the perfumed hills of Le Beausset near where our Provence rosé is sourced.
Mel and I woke early and jumped into the rental car to go to the market to stock up the pantry with olive oil, fiery Dijon mustard, local lemons still attached to their leaves, Normandy butter, local salads and herbs, mandarins ripened on their trees and a ‘loup’ (Mediterranean sea bass called branzino) still practically twitching from the morning catch. Charles and Preston flew from Tours to Marseille the next day and we picked them both up and headed straight to our rental for lunch! We four sat on the bougainvillea-draped terrace munching on black shiny Nicoise and pale green picholine olives and quaffed icy glasses of the best Provence rosé in the world.
In the morning we all drove to see our friends and wine makers, Clement and Pauline Minne. They now own a fabulous vineyard in Bandol which makes some of the finest wines of Provence. Clem was assistant winemaker for many years at the great Bandol winery, Domaine Tempier. We visited them in their beautiful new cellars and offices, surrounded by rows of tall ancient cypresses like so many soldiers protecting the priceless cuvees and barrels of rosé and red wines inside the winery. It is here that we produce and blend our Le Charmel Provence Rosé. We were absolutely thrilled by our new 2018 vintage. Wonderful perfumes of honeysuckle and wild roses, it is more honeyed than the 2017 and yet it still retained the easy freshness of a magically well balanced wine that only the lavender hills of Provence seem to produce.
Next day, we drove down to Bandol to the farmers market. We couldn’t use the freeway because the “yellow jackets” had burnt all the toll booths the night before so we took the twisty turns of the minor lanes down to the harbor. After shopping we sat in cushioned wicker chairs in a lovely fish restaurant on the port and had oysters, rose prawns and whole dover sole meuniere and drank a lovely white wine from Cassis just a few miles up the coast.
Siesta and then all hell broke loose in the kitchen! Charlie wielded my huge chef’s knife (I always bring my own sharp knives from home) as he prepared the banquet for Clem, Pauline and their adorable 3 yr-old Marcel. His trusty ‘sous-chef’ Preston bellowed “Yes, chef!” every few minutes as he set the table and feverishly pitted olives, chopped salad and sang at the top of his voice! We started with champagne and Roquefort walnut bruschettas as we watched the sun setting over the Mediterranean and turning crimson and purple below us. Then we had paillards of chicken breast with lemon over radicchio and Belgian endive with divine green olive chutney. We drank our own wine and several bottles of wonderful Bandol from Clem’s own estate. Pauline had brought a box filled with individual “buches de Noel” (cakes in the shape of logs – a tradition in France). More chaos as Marcel tried to get a whole chocolate ‘buche’ into his mouth at once and after much hilarity and giggles he looked as if someone had thrown a chocolate mud pie all over his face.
After the sugar high Marcel then turned into a Tasmanian devil and whirled around the salon throwing the 3 American foam balls I had brought him (soccer, basketball and football) and jumping on the sofas like a madman yelling “Wheeeeee” until he landed on the coffee table and Pauline scooped him up and they hastily departed with a happy little boy in her arms.
The last day we had an amazing surprise in the tiny coastal port of Sanary sur mer, just 15 minutes down the hill from us. The decorations of the village were amazing. The churches and town hall were literally covered with cascading Christmas white lights from the top of the steeple and chimneys and the fishing boats along the promenade were decked the same from the top of their masts to the front and stern. Then there was the magical Christmas tree forest. They had created it in front of the town hall and had put trees of every size and shape in a 60 foot by 60 foot woodland with little paths all through it with log seats and a huge red letterbox in the middle of the maze for father Christmas. Every tree was decorated from top to bottom (15 ft tall to 4 ft tall) with every color and size of glass balls. The amazing thing I noticed as hundreds of happy revelers, children and teens ambled through it was that there wasn’t a speck of trash nor a cigarette butt in sight and that NO-ONE stole a single bauble from a single tree.
After an early dinner of soup de poisons and steak frites we were all sitting happily drinking Pastis and Suze (the yellow campari-like aperitif) on the port when a loud speaker announced a pre-Christmas fireworks extravaganza. The whole sky lit up over the bay for half an hour of gigantic gunpowder madness. We had a front seat view and the whole sky above us exploded with massive illuminations sent up from a barge in the bay. The bars were filled with locals who all screamed out OOOhs and AAAhs and clapped madly with us.