The area of my kitchen in which I am decidedly Greek is the part immediately in front of the kitchen sink. The base section of the faucet with the threading has completely come undone from the err… useful faucet bit (technical term), which now requires plumber’s tape to keep it connected to the base and hose. The water pressure, however, has different ideas about how this should go down and regularly overpowers the tape to shoot the faucet off the base and spray the wall next to the sink. I frequently forget to hold the faucet in place and inadvertently repeat this process every morning, followed closely by some choice Greek euphemism-cum-endearments (but in the moment are, of course, the former). I am certain one of our various duct tape solutions will win the day, but in the meantime I have a very, very clean wall.

Graphical analysis of (too) early mornings in my kitchen.

I’m learning to appreciate that the secret to language is less the words and more the body language: in the case here – the facial expressions, shrugs and sounds effects when one inevitably trails off. The shrugs are particularly useful for hiding the fact that I’ve run out of vocabulary, and instead suggest an air of …je ne sais quoi. Being an international class, we’re picking up phrases of more languages than just French: Dutch, Italian, Finnish, Spanish, Chinese, and of course Greek. I can cheers and shrug fluently in all of them!

Where are we…. week 7? It’s crazy how fast the weeks are flying by here. I’m actually trying not to think too hard of timing; now that I’ve bought my tickets home, I’m well aware that the next break is less than 4 weeks away. And THAT only lasts for 3 weeks. Then class again – 5 months interspersed with 2 weeks of vacation. Followed by 4-5 months of internship, then another 5 months of class… and BAM!  Final internship, which may or may not bring me back to Canada. And THEN I’M RELEASED INTO THE WILD. What a heady thought.  (also… crap… the point of this exercise was to NOT think about the timing.)

Thus far I haven’t said much about the people in my class; although if you’ve looked closely at the photos, you may have noticed the same faces popping up here and there. I’ve avoided details to give my classmates (the illusion of) their privacy, but I will introduce you to one of them in particular this week. Mark is a water engineer from California. He’s also left a non-wine career behind and decided to switch into viticulture and oenology, so clearly we have a lot in common. He has the dubious honour of being the tallest in the class, and can often be found photobombing or hamming it up in group photos. Mark is here in Bordeaux with his wife Lynn, who is on her own adventure involving wine – exploring the world of sommeliership. (Spellcheck is convinced that is not a word, but that sommeliers-hip is. Evidently I’ve put so much wine in my blog that the spellcheck is drunk…)

here they are

Here we are on our first harvest adventure, back in St Emilion many moons ago.  Lynn and Mark are in the back.

We have one more thing in common; Mark and Lynn are also writing a blog! You can find it here (and I’ll put up a recurring link once I figure out how to do that). Do check it out if you’re interested in fact-checking what I say, and/or reading an engineer’s perspective take on wine school in Bordeaux. There are some pretty bad-ass food posts and local recipes up there as well.


I’ve been working on my own recipes: quail stuffed with prunes, (wart-covered?) pumpkin converted into pumpkin soup with the addition of duck broth made from Thanksgiving leftovers.  I can’t take any credit for this rotisserie truck but thought you’d like to see it as much as I do.  Yes, those are potatoes roasting in the drippings…. mmmm….

I’ve skipped over this week’s classes but in brief: Principles of Accounting, which has taken some skill to understand both Francophone banking logic and translate financial statements from French to English; Principles of Economics – which is via Skype/distance education as our professor is currently on maternity leave; Statistical Analysis for our cooperage project on tannin (im)potential, and our Journal Club on organic and biodynamic viticulture practices. This last one was an interesting class discussion, but yielded more questions than answers. For the most part I find myself thinking that regardless of specific data on whether or how grape growth performs under each viticulture system, how I proceed will come down to the way of life I want for myself, my family and the people in and around my operation, and how I can manage it holistically – certainly with a minimum of additive/intervention, and an encouragement of bio- and business-diversity. The jury is still out on exactly what that looks like.

Sunset over campus, and vines all in a row.

Sunset over campus, and vines all in a row.

It’s been an odd week. There were low-lying clouds all week, which lent a bit of a somber attitude, yet somehow resulted in stunning sunsets each night.  Remembrance Day (or Armistice Day or Veterans’ Day) is a holiday here in France, so I was wandering through foggy vineyards that morning instead of being in class. I took the picture above because it looked a little surreal – I had the lines from In Flanders Fields running through my head all morning, and the rows disappearing into the mist seemed to capture the spirit of the poem rather eloquently.

candles in the windows

Candles light up the night

Fast forward to Friday night. The sense of the surreal didn’t end. By now you’ve read everything on the news about the attack in Paris.  I was safe in Bordeaux, but it was very, very strange to be reading the updates, knowing that the shootings were still going on just three hours north of me. I’m not going to say much more about it other than that it bothered me very much to see the appearance of comments on social media as to how and why the attack could have, should have been prevented, while people were still dying at the Bataclan. Surely we could have at least waited until the worst was over before we started sharing our vastly important points of view?

The weekend was a little quieter as a result. Music and sporting events were cancelled, and candles appeared in the windows during the three days of mourning, but life otherwise went on as normally as possible. I had a Canadian friend visiting the city, and we managed to have a proper bordelais weekend, with oysters in the market, tough macaron decisions, some time in the Jardin Publique and people-watching in the square.

Canadian content increases by 100%. Agonizing over the right shade of macaron, while a sax player jams in the shadow of St Andre.

I named this post ‘château on a cloud’ in part because I’m starting to think about what my future operation looks like (but since I’m in France, it’s a château, of course!). It’s good for me to have some ideas sketched out as we go through the classes so I ask more pointed questions that will help me refine my ideas. Other classmates are doing the same – some with existing operations, others with similarly nebulous acropoles – and we find ourselves brainstorming and debating our ideas long after class hours are over. It’s certainly enough to keep us busy for now.

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4 thoughts on “château on a cloud

  1. Enjoyed your update Cat- appreciate (and can relate to) your point of view on many items. Lucky gal, a gift of maple syrup, the real thing from Canada!

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