“The Orange Elephant” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_1532What’s wrong with this picture? Any loyal Alabama football fan would scream immediately in protest to an orange-painted elephant. Red is the only choice for the Crimson Tide football team of the University of Alabama. Orange is the color for the fine and outstanding competitive team of Auburn tigers in Alabama, the one yelling “War Eagle!Orange is just not right for an elephant! It’s enough to make your eyes water and skin itch!

Do you know what started the stampede of red elephants that appear in Alabama on everything from mailboxes to Superman Elephant tee shirts?redelephant You are familiar with those sports reporters that scream until they lose their voices with their sports commentary on your wide-screen televisions, I’m sure! One of their predecessors, Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal, wrote a colorful story back in 1930, recounting a game with Ole Miss. He unleashed the red elephants with these words: “At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble. There was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stampeded this Alabama varsity. It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”  So the legend began with Strupper and other sportswriters calling the Alabama linemen “Red Elephants”, with the crimson jerseys as the proper color reference for the elephants, not orange.

Trivia: Did you know that the Auburn tigers played their first bowl game in Havana, Cuba? The orange tigers played against Villanova and the game was tied at 7-7, making history as the first time two U.S. universities played a game on foreign soil. It was during a revolutionary time because Batista had just taken power, and the game was almost cancelled because his picture was not on the program. Now you know!IMG_1536Husband Jim and I found the out-of-place elephant with the wrong color coordination on the main road through Robion, France in early October of this year. The young manager of La Symphonie des Sens (The Symphony of the Senses) a store with patio furniture and animal art for sale was trying to sweep away the falling leaves from the front door when two Auburn fans parked at the edge of his property. We didn’t protest the colors, despite our loyalty to Auburn as the true owners of the bright orange color scheme, not a big, trumpeting elephant on a French terrace. We only asked permission for photos and kept quiet about the football story, unless Jim’s mouth got carried away out of my hearing range, which isn’t very far.IMG_1533 The nice Frenchman told Jim he was born in the U.S. and lived in Washington D.C. and Maryland when he was a little boy. I don’t know if he had ever spoken to a South Alabama character like Jim, but it must have livened up his day. Uh, the yard displayed some unusual animals painted Alabama crimson red. Don’t blame me for their choice of animals. For the sake of not being in trouble – I hope – I will stay neutral like the soft-bellied, green frog who silently posed on a recliner by the busy road.IMG_1537 Remember and heed the harmonious theme of the store: “The Symphony of the Senses”.

We did more than mosey around the patio furniture on the busy, main thoroughfare. Just a few blocks down from the colorful animal art, we found a sign pointing to the historic district. A short ride away from the busy road was a peaceful scene; although, the narrow streets were packed with cars uphill and in front of beautiful buildings painted in faded hues of raspberry, strawberry and lemon.

IMG_8735IMG_8724 IMG_8750If all of the cars were as cute as the white and red-topped Citroën 2CV that Jim found for sale I would be a happy photographer, but otherwise they are not photogenic, and I hunt desperately for a photo capture without bumper-to-bumper, ugly, modern vehicles. No offense to the auto industry because I want to ride my Jeep at home and rental cars in France! Why not roll out more of the lovable Citroën 2CVs?IMG_8752We enjoyed wandering around the old streets, and then we lingered for a late lunch at tables in the sun at the popular Café de la Poste by the ancient fountain. Signs here and there advertised an olive festival, so I asked our nice waitress for more information. She sounded like most hometown people who are rather unimpressed with their own local entertainment. She shrugged her shoulders and said it was just olive stuff for sale, just ordinary. I asked about music, or other special events, and she shook her head in the negative direction. The food was good, and the young lady was very helpful, like she truly enjoyed serving us. When we started to leave, Jim said some corny, funny something to the waitress who had been charmed by his Alabama born-and-bred manners. He reached to leave the tip by his plate, but the coins rolled off the table to the stone terrace. We, females, locked eyes with a knowing look and a smile, with silent communication voiced as: “Men!!IMG_8711Don’t judge a town by the main highway when you are driving around. Check a guidebook, or simply look for those signs that point to the fun and interesting part of town.

Why judge an elephant, a frog or a person by the color of their skin? You may miss out on a life-long friend, or a wonderful memory.
Thanks for coming around to see us. Please come again.

I have one final word that I would like to say. Jim and I were heart-broken to see the tragedy in Paris. We continue to pray for the dear friends we have met in France and all of their fellow countrymen, especially those harmed in this violence. We do believe peace will come, and there is hope.

“Two Domaines” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_1527October 8-9, 2015 – Two nights at the foot of the Luberon Mountains, in the heart of the vineyards, in a private two-bedroom cottage with a small terrace, oozing ambiance and a fireplace for the cool evenings sounded like the perfect antidote to jet lag. What could be better for the two nights before we moved on to our rental house, La Maison d’Artistes?

My head was pounding after a night without sleep on the flight to Marseilles, but thankfully the flight was smooth with no other problems as well as the drive to our reserved sanctuary in the Provence. Rows of grapevines and olive trees surrounded us. (click for the website) Domaine Faverot. Fields of lavender minus the lovely flowers which were already harvested still created a tranquil atmosphere. I was only dreaming of a heavenly bed inside the solid stone walls covered with flaming red vines and flanked with tall evergreen trees. Jim parked the car on the hillside, and I anxiously opened the door to a startling, loud noise echoing from the woods above. Donkeys were braying, “Hee-Haw! Hee-Haw!” Oh, my painful headache! I thought it would explode as the noise sounded like a hack-saw scraping on metal. I wondered why the donkeys were laughing at me and if this was some indication of where our trip was headed. Click for larger images – Domaine Faverot:

I walked through the cobbled courtyard and admired all of the colorful seating areas. I felt satisfied with everything I saw and relieved that I had found such a beautiful place. Then, the nice managers had to break the news to me that they were booked up, and I didn’t have a reservation through some mix-up that was my fault, not theirs. They were completely hospitable and offered to help us with another property under the same ownership. My disappointment led to thoughts that the other place would not be as nice. I saw only one picture of the living area with a very modern appearance, not the cozy cottage atmosphere that I desired. Quickly, I did a kick-in-the-seat to my downward spiraling attitude, telling myself that it was only two nights and to get over it!

Outside, with Jim trailing along to the car, I heard the “Hee-Haw” of the donkeys again. “Oh, shut up! You don’t know anything about making reservations on the internet, or what it’s like to have jet lag!” Jim caught up with me and asked, “What did you say?” Mumbling in reply, I minced no words explaining, “I wasn’t talking to you. I was telling the donkeys a thing or two.” Jim, very wisely, decided to leave that one alone.

We drove through road work with delays in two areas with dust and aggravation. It seemed that the donkeys were riding in the backseat of our rental car, still laughing as we waited in a line of traffic. Finally, we reached (click please) Domaine Des Peyre and my worries evaporated in a cloud of thankfulness for the kindness of these lovely people at both properties who helped us after hours of anticipation.IMG_9519“Domaine Des Peyre is located between Gordes and L’Isle sur la Sorgue in the heart of the Luberon. The 32-hectate (79 acre)-estate’s vines are planted in terraces among oak, olive, almond, cherry trees and garrigue which cover 22 hectares (54 acres). After a long period of inactivity, the estate was taken over by hotelier Georges Antoun (Newhotel Group) and Patricia Alexandre (former director of Gault Millau), who began restoring it two years ago. After a complete reorganization of the vineyard, the estate today is going through a revival.”

All of this impressive information had to stay on hold since I was more interested in the beautiful stairway with a huge chandelier that led to our own large second floor terrace. Inside, I found high-class facilities including a fully-fitted kitchen with dishwasher, oven, LCD screen TV, free wi-fi and everything of my heart’s desire, especially the large, comfortable bedroom next to a bathroom with double sinks and a power shower! IMG_8872IMG_8920The decoration was Provencal with a few antiques mixed with industrial furniture and modern art. I was feeling chic and with-it, or whatever the current expression is. Oh, and before I forget to mention it, there’s an infinity pool set among the vines, lavender and almond trees. We were wearing jackets and sweaters. The cool pool was not an option for us this time, but it must feel like an oasis during the heat of summer!IMG_8869

“The new owners wished to restore the wine estate to its full splendor. They have realized this by undertaking the complete restoration of one of the last remaining fortified farms in the region, taking care to respect the architectural features of the site while at the same time investing in, and carrying out, a major reorganization of the vineyard.”

Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered numerous remains of Roman houses. The farmhouse itself, dating from the 18th century, is thought to have been built on the foundations of a Gallo-Roman villa.

“For Richard Nicolet, (Click for Galerie Nicolet) in view of the quality of the project, opening his contemporary art gallery at the heart of the wine estate was an easy decision to make. Amongst the ancient architectural beams and stone walls, visitors can appreciate the contemporary works of sculptors, photographers and painters. In the boutique’s warm, informal yet chic ambiance, the Domain Des Peyre wine bottles flaunt their unique identity, each in their own contemporary design label.”IMG_8897

“A new air-conditioned, 400 square meters (4,305 square feet) wine-making cellar was constructed in time for the 2014 harvest. Built by DVTech, it features 18 stainless steel tanks and 8 concrete vats, a sorting table for removing any residual plant matter, a hydraulic press and highly efficient wine-making equipment. A visit to the cellar allows wine aficionados to gain an insight into the wine-making process.”

Special thanks to Guillaume de Roany, Sommelier, for taking Jim on a private wine tasting. Jim has been to many wine caves in the Loire, Burgundy, Dordogne and Bordeaux, but this was a unique visit. He was like an excited young kid going on his first camping trip. On second thought, perhaps Jim was anxiously stepping into the mature world of becoming a true wine aficionado. I was still recovering from my headache so I decided to spend my time on the sofa while he went off to explore the wine cellar. I heard about his adventure in bits and pieces when he returned and for days after, but I needed the full story. Today, he started before breakfast with his written version on ruled notebook paper, almost four pages. Please pardon us if there are errors in our understanding of this complex winery. We hope you enjoy the little tour. The following is Jim’s story:
“At 4:30 p.m. with everything closed, Guillaume met me and I had the privilege of tasting the blanc, rosé and rouge wines.”
LE SCOOP, White Luberon. Having a lovely pale yellow color, this opulent wine has notes of honeysuckle, hawthorn and ripe pear.
L’EQUIPE, Rosé Luberon. With its lovely pale pink color and fruity notes of melon, strawberry and grapefruit, this fresh wine is elegant on the palate and a perfect wine for summer.
LA GAZETTE, Red Ventoux. This wine opens with a peppery nose, evolves in the mouth with notes of red fruits.

“Guillaume’s father is a wine maker, so he has been involved all of his life. He smelled the wine as a boy to identify the various aromas. He trained his nose in the markets and said, “You can’t smell blueberry in the wine if you do not know how blueberries smell.” We moved on to the Oaking Cave with about a dozen new oak barrels. After this vintage the oak barrels will not be one-year-old, but one-vintage-old. They can be used for many vintages, and they are very expensive to buy new. The barrels lose value faster than a new car, from 600 euros to 10 euros in one vintage. The old barrels are sold to distilleries for whiskey, rum or brandy.”

“Next, we moved to the Vat Room. I’m not sure that is the correct name, but that is what I’m calling it. A large machine separated seeds and skin for the blanc wines. Rosé is made from juice from grapes that are crushed by the weight of the grapes. Grapes are then pressed to extract juice for the rouge wines. Juice, seeds and skins go into the vats and fermentation begins.”

“It was time for more tasting, but this time I tasted from the vats! Each vat marked the varietal of grape, the date and other information for the Chef of the Cave, a young lady with an impressive background. This was my impression from the tasting, bearing in mind that I do not have a trained nose, or exceptional taste buds.”
Blanc: Very young “green” a bit of pucker
Rosé: light, slightly fruity, dry, not sweet
Rouge: almost wine, almost 10% alcohol
“When the wine is ready, the vat is chilled by pumping cold liquid through an internal system of cooling tubes and fins to stop the fermentation. The final product will be a blend of more than one varietal. At Domaine Des Peyres it is not simply a recipe, but the wine is determined by sight, smell and taste. The sommelier has a say, but the Chef of the Cave has the final say. It sounded like the way my mother cooked in her kitchen with a dash of this, and a pinch of that, with her personal taste buds that had the final say.”

“Then we went up to the top of the vats. The blanc and rosé juices need only sit and ferment while the rouge is labor intensive. The juice must stay in contact with the seeds and skins to get the color, flavor and aroma, but the seeds and skin float on top. The lid on the vat is removed and they use a long stainless steel “T” handle as a plunger to push the seeds and skin down through the juice. This is done about 50 times per vat – every day! The easy method used in some other wineries is to pump the juice from the bottom up to the top. Then, it was time to go for a glass of wine!”

“Lastly, I must mention that before we went into the Vat Room Guillaume tested for SO₂ (Sulfur Dioxide) a natural by-product of fermentation. Thus, the wine contains sulfites. The test is a cigarette lighter flame. Everything is o.k. if the flame does not go out, but otherwise it can be as deadly as CO₂.”

“I lived through it safely, thanks to Guillaume and his expertise! It was the most fun that I’ve had in a long time, and I hope this year’s wines are a great success!  Thanks very much to Guillaume for an experience I will remember and share for a long time.”IMG_8878FIRST GOLD MEDAL
Domaine des Peyre was presented with their first gold medal for rosé wine, AOP Ventous, cuvée Paparazzi 2014. With 6,019 wines tasted during the competition, only 525 gold medals were attributed. We expect to see more awards and great success in their future.IMG_8900Our stay here was more rewarding than expected, a very pleasant surprise. We went to nearby Coustellet for our baguette and pastries each morning and explored nearby hill towns, with stories on those to come in the following weeks and months.IMG_8963 We had a leisurely, romantic dinner at Gustave Restaurant and returned to the domaine late in the night to see strings of lights and a gurgling fountain like something in a movie, except we were the characters. I would say stars in a movie, but we all know that Jim and I fit the part of “characters” much better.IMG_8922

As for the donkeys, I took time from my valuable sightseeing to run around to their residence on the hillside for a photography shoot. They wouldn’t show their faces, but the “Hee-Haws” were vibrating through the trees and vines. No doubt, they didn’t want me to tell them that I had the last laugh since I had a perfectly grand time!
I believe you will feel the same if you stay or visit at either of these two beautiful domaines: Domaine Faverot or Domaine Des Peyre.IMG_8905Note: All quotations above, except from Jim’s Story, are from Le Petit Journal du Domaine des Peyre Numero 001, May 2014.

Thank you for coming around to travel with Jim and me! We will have more beautiful villages to share in the coming weeks. If you have not entered your e-mail address to subscribe, perhaps this would be a good time. Just look to the top of the page to enter for free notification when the next story pops up.

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