15 September 2009

La campagne!

Okay, I'm going to attempt to title these. The first one (with the flags) is from an American WWII memorial that we passed on our way to and from Vertus. I don't know what town it was in, but it was one of the towns where the American soldiers stayed during the French Occupation. This same caption goes for the stone façade.

The inscription says "Their Name Liveth For Evermore"

This is the front of the Renault's country home in Vertus, France built in 1902. C'est jolie, non?

This is the Garden in the back of the country home. It is small but very pretty. It's in need of some TLC since the Renaults haven't been there for a while. To the right is the raspberry bush!

This is the street of the village that the Renault's
house is on. Here, having a country house doesn't necessarily mean that there house is on a plot of land (like a ranch house or farm house). It's actually in a small village with about 3,000 inhabitants although during the Vendange, it increases to 9,000 because many people (gypsies) migrate around france to help with different seasons of grape picking, and in this season they reside here. Many of them come in RVs but some just pitch tents.

These two pictures are of the vineyards you can see heading out of Vertus. All of the specks of white are trucks and trailers that are out there to be filled with grapes. Some of them are the trailers of the gypsies that migrate here to work.

Ok, so this is my first time uploading photos on here... not sure exactly how it works cause they're kinda all out of order. These are my photos from my weekend in the french countryside! Sadly I did not have my camera for everything we did, but maybe I'll be able to go back there sometime in the next 10 months and photo document things better.

Well, this past weekend I went to my host family's country house which is in Champagne country in a little village called Vertus. It's about 2 hours outside of Paris. We went there for the Vendange (I'm pretty sure that's how you spell it) which is a kind of festival during this time of year when they pick the grapes for Champagne. My host father, Olivier, grew up in Vertus, and his father still lives there, so they own a piece of a vineyard. Here it's not like in Texas where you can have 600 acres of land, everything is very small, and only the largest Maisons de Champagne have their own large vineyards. Most of the other families in the village each own a small plot of land for their grapes. In the village (as well as around the rest of Champagne country) there are various brands of champagne that have their own (breweries? wineries? factories?... I don't know what you call that..), but there are also Co-ops that everyone can take part in. Did you know that you're not allowed to call sparkling wine champagne if it doesn't come from the Champagne region of France?

So, my family has a very nice 2 story house that has 4 bedrooms. It also has a wine cellar down below, which they call the "cave". The house was built in 1902, so it's very old and rustic. The cellar really does resemble a cave! It's not finished out at all, simply an unfinished 100 year old basement. Kinda creepy. The family doesn't get to go to their house as often as they'd like anymore now that the children are older, which I totally understand-- like my family and I used to go to the ranch when we were younger and now haven't been in years. They still go a couple times a year though. Out in the back garden they've got a raspberry bush (I told my family once that I like raspberries and raspberry flavored things and they've taken it a bit overboard), so they were excited to show me that. You can eat the berries right off the bush! Everyone in america is so paranoid about pesticides and all that, but I ate so much fruit straight from the source this past weekend! The raspberries were very very tasty.

We were only at the house for the day Saturday, and left Sunday, so it was a short trip. When we got there on Saturday, we went out to the vineyards. Olivier handed me something that resembled wire cutters and a pail and showed me how to cut grapes! Unfortunately, this is the part where I forgot my camera at the house :( I know, I suck. What you do to pick them is you pull off the surrounding leaves so you can see where the grapes are, then you find the stem, then SNIP! and put it in your pail! The grapes are the tiny (size of a dime or a little bigger) green champagne grapes, which I thought were really bitter, but actually they are ridiculously sweet!! I would love to eat these grapes instead of the ones we buy at grocery stores. We ate them straight off the vine, and they were amazing! Cutting the grapes, you get all the sugary goo on your hands and it makes them really sticky, so Olivier showed me how to clean them. You take a bunch of grapes that are not ripe (still hard and very small) and you smush them in your hands-- since they are not ripe, they don't have any sugar in them, and it really washes your hands! And then your hands smell like grapes! Not sticky, smelling like grapes-- win, win! It was a really cool trick.

After we picked some grapes (doing that for too long can give you serious back pain!) Olivier took us (us is my little host sister, Marion, and her friends from school, Nicholas) to one of the champagne... for lack of a better term lets say "breweries." We went to the Vertus Co-op where apparently Olivier knows everyone because he was saying hi left and right (growing up in Vertus he used to work in some of these factories, so he knows a lot about the champagne process). The floors were all sticky of course, and, since it was the end of the work day, there were a ton of trucks and tractors bringing in their load of grapes for the day. First they weigh the grapes to know how much their putting in the presses, then there are 2 different types of presses they can go into. One is more old fashioned, the other more modern. The old fashioned one kind of looks like a big wooden barrel like Lucy in I Love Lucy jumps in to mash the grapes with her toes... except for instead of people mashing the grapes with their toes, this big mechanical press comes down and squishes all the grapes. I know, I know, not as fun as the villagers dancing on a big pile of grapes... if you want, you can imagine that instead. As the grapes are mashed, their juice runs down these trenches which lead to vats which are in the basement. The second method of pressing really isn't worth my explanation because I really don't understand at all how it works. What I got from it is that essentially it's a big metal round torpedo looking thing that the grapes go into then it goes woosh woosh all around and then grape juice comes out somewhere maybe and then the squished grapes are taken out somehow maybe. But after both of these are done, the juice goes into these vats below where they sit til the impurities sink to the bottom. Then there is the fermenting process, the addition of yeast, and the bottling, which I did not get to see. I hope you liked this addition of Champagne making for dummies.... or actually by dummies... since I have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm sure pictures would have helped here, but alas, I am the dummy who forgot her camera.

wooo... I definitely feel if I'm prattling on so much. Y'all tell me if you'd rather hear the Cliff's Notes version of my time in Paris next time instead. Brevity in writing has never been my thing.

Continuing... after the vineyards, Olivier took us to his grandmother's home which is in the village. They rent it out to someone now, but the family still keeps the garage and the garden. He opens the doors to the garage, and what is in there?? A 1944 US Army Jeep
yep... it looked just like this. Crazy. AND! It still runs!
So, we took it for a spin around town! You should have seen everyone's faces... there was one old man who looked like he had just seen a ghost!! Olivier explained to me that it was dropped in on a parachute during the invasion during WWII, and they left it here. It was very cool.
Anyway, after that he showed us the garden, which is terraced, so when you get up to it you can see everyone's roofs! It was very cool. They've got all kinds of things growing in the garden-- tomatoes, pumpkins, strawberries (which I tasted-YUM!), white figs (which I tasted... eh. I don't really get figs), white peaches (yum again), lettuce, onions, basil, flowers.... everything! It was very cool and very pretty. I asked Olivier how old the house was, and he didn't give me a straight answer but instead told a story that went a little something like this: "Well, about 20 years ago we were doing some renovations near the garage, and in opening the wall we found a skeleton of a woman! Archaeologists came to look at her and said that the body dated to the 12th century!" So, what I concluded from this story was WHOA. OLD. HOUSE. crazzyyyy.

Anyway, I think those are the interesting parts of my weekend in the french countryside. I hope you enjoyed this edition of Kimberly's travels :) Do let me know if I need to be more brief... when I write, the fingers just go and I just kind of let them.... haha.


  1. OMG ! You should be a novelist! I could see, taste, feel EVERYTHING!
    Keep writing! ALOT!

  2. I just looked at your Blog a second time and see that I mis-read the title. I thought it said "La Champagne!" Oops! Big difference!

  3. I love all the details - particularly the part about the jeep. When we were in France last year, we went to Normandy beach and the American cemetery. It would have been fun to see one running around.