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Entries from February 2005

le sol

Sol_1 le sol (sohl) noun, masculine
  1. ground, earth; soil
  2. floor

le sol natal = native soil
cloué au sol = rooted to the spot
le personnel au sol = ground staff
sol glissant = slippery floor/ground
étendu sur le sol = spread out on the ground

Citation du Jour:
Les vers de terre s'enfoncent dans le sol pour ne pas tomber amoureux des étoiles.

Earthworms bury themselves in the ground so as not to fall in love with the stars.
--Yvan Audouard

Roots  by Jean-Marc Espinasse

These last few years have seen the appearance of a number of vineyards known as "New World". We often think that they produce uniform industrial wines, but should we systematically oppose wines of the "New World" to those of our "Old Europe"?

In fact, there are many similarities between these wines. Beginning with the grape varieties used, which are issued from the best clones. Also, methods of wine making are more and more uniform and, notably, the same winemakers are making the wines. [Because they travel from one area to another, they are known as "oenologues volants" or "flying winemakers". They make wines in the autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and then travel to the Southern Hemisphere in the spring].

In the 19th century, the English went to Australia to cultivate the vines. In South Africa and in Argentina, wine making is equally ancestral and doesn't therefore have any new character.

In Europe, above all it is the "terroir" (unique local soil and tradition) that dominates. This idea of "appellation contrôlée" (in which a label assures the origins of a wine) guarantees an authenticity that permits the soil to express all of its potential. This is the result of centuries of accumulated know-how where we have realized which grape variety adapts itself best to which climate and
soil. This notion of soil associates itself as well to the concept "Chateau," and the idea that vines belong to the same vineyard and are passed on from generation to generation. Because of this, a traditional vineyard will often have a lot of old vines which, due to their age, will have developed a profound root system permitting auto-sufficiency in water and food. These roots descend into the far reaches of the soil to take in all of its complexity;  these old vines produce unique grapes, and therefore exceptional wines. On the other hand, the yield is low, but, as the vines have been passed down from the family, there is no quantitive production necessity, in regards to matters of financing. These qualificative aspects are not exclusive to "Old Europe". Proof that two different worlds do not exist in these matters: certain wine-makers in Oregon have created the DRC (Deep Root Coalition) to prohibit irrigation in the Willamette Valley and in reference to Domaine de la Romanée Conti where the vines are often over one hundred years old.

The difference, therefore, is situated upon this point, rather than upon the geographical origin of the vineyard.

Examples include: Merlot, planted in the center of Napa Valley, where there is no justification for planting such grape vines (considering the soil in that region -- where automatic watering prevents the vines from taking root, and where there are astronomical yields), and Chardonnay planted in the Languedoc (where continental climate, necessary for this grape variety, is inexistent). Most of the time grape varieties planted in such areas produce uniform wines and must respond, above all, to productivity norms driven by investors who have nothing to do with passion and quality.

Thus, to characterize these industrial wines, instead of saying "wines of the New World," I'd say: "New wines of the world."

To your health!

Jean-Marc Espinasse is a French wine lover. Apart from managing, along with his uncle, a little family vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, he is selecting "soulful wines" throughout France, Spain and Italy to offer to US wine importers. He is also educating people in wine, mainly in corporate companies but also in schools like the Wine MBA program in Bordeaux.

Families of the Vine : Seasons Among the Winemakers of Southwest France "Sanders’s book brings contemporary winemaking in France to life....Absorbing and informative." --Library Journal

la racine

field of sleeping grape vines (c) Kristin Espinasse
racine (ra-seen) noun, feminine
1. root

les racines = roots (origins)

prendre racine = to take root
prendre le mal à la racine = to get to the root of the problem

Citation du Jour
La tempérance est un arbre qui a pour racine le contentement de peu, et pour fruits le calme et la paix.

Temperance is a tree, it has for its roots: contentment with little, and for its fruit, calm and peace. --Ferdinand Denis

Today's column is in French and is written by my wine-loving husband, Jean-Marc. You'll have the weekend to read it (!) and I'll be back on Monday with the (very rough) translation.

                                  RACINES   by Jean-Marc Espinasse

Ces dernières années ont vu la mise en marché de nombreux vignobles dits du «Nouveau Monde» dont on pense souvent qu'ils produisent des vins industriels uniformes. Mais doit-on systématiquement opposer les vins du "Nouveau Monde" à ceux de notre "Vieille Europe" ?

En fait, il existe beaucoup de similitudes entre ces vins. A commencer par les cépages utilisés et qui sont issus des meilleurs clones. Et puis les méthodes de vinification sont de plus en plus uniformisés, notamment parce que les mêmes oenologues vinifient en automne dans l'hémisphère Nord et au printemps dans l'hémisphère Sud (on les appelle "oenologues volants").

Au XIXième siècle, beaucoup d'Anglais sont partis en Australie pour y cultiver la vigne. En Afrique du Sud, en Argentine, la culture de la vigne est également ancestrale et n'a donc pas de caractère nouveau.

En Europe, c'est avant tout le terroir qui domine. La notion d'appellation contrôlée garantie une authenticité lui permettant d'exprimer tout son potentiel. Ceci est le résultat de siècles de connaissances accumulées où l'on s'est rendu compte que tel cépage s'adapte mieux sur tel climat, tel sol. cette notion de terroir s'associe également à la notion de Château, à savoir des vignes appartenant aux même vignoble et transmises de générations en générations. De fait, un vignoble traditionnel aura souvent beaucoup de vieilles vignes qui, de part leur âge, auront développé un système racinaire profond permettant une autosuffisance en eau et en nourriture. Allant chercher dans les fins fonds des sols toute la complexité qu'ils contiennent, ces vieilles vignes produisent des raisins uniques et donc des vins exceptionnels. Par contre, les rendements sont faibles mais comme les vignes ont été transmises par la famille, il n'y a pas de nécessité quantitative pour raisons financières.  Ces aspects qualitatifs ne sont cependant pas exclusifs à la "Vieille Europe". Preuve qu'il n'existe pas deux mondes en la matière, certains vignerons en Oregon ont crée la DRC (Deep Root Coalition) afin de prohiber l'irrigation dans la Willamette Valley et en référence au Domaine de la Romanée Conti dont les vignes sont souvent centenaires.

C'est donc sur ce point que se situe la différence plutôt que sur l'origine géographique du vignoble.

Du Merlot planté au cour de la plaine de Napa Valley où absolument aucun élément de terroir ne se justifie, où le goutte-à-goutte empêche l'enracinement des vignes et donne des rendements astronomiques, du Chardonnay planté dans le Languedoc où la continentalité de terroir nécessaire à ce cépage est inexistante, n'ont de sens que pour produire des vins uniformes, devant répondre avant tout à des normes de productivité guidés par des investissements qui n'ont rien à voir avec la passion et la qualité.

Ainsi, pour caractériser ces vins industriels, au lieu de dire «vins du nouveau monde», je dirais plutôt «vignes nouvelles du monde».

A votre santé !
Jean-Marc Espinasse is a French wine lover. Apart from managing, along with his uncle, a little family vineyard in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, he is selecting "soulful wines" throughout France, Spain and Italy to offer to US wine importers. He is also educating people in wine, mainly in corporate companies but also in schools like the Wine MBA program in Bordeaux. More about Jean-Marc (the humorous side) in the book Words in a French Life.

Families of the Vine : Seasons Among the Winemakers of Southwest France "Sanders’s book brings contemporary winemaking in France to life....Absorbing and informative." --Library Journal

la crotte

Les arcs 010
Crotte makers in the southern French town of Tarradeau (Var).



noun, feminine


The first time we dined together, she remarked that I was stuffy. Specifically, she said she had the impression that she had spent the evening with "la Reine." Her remarks struck me as ironic, for it was this woman and her upper-class status which had so affected me.

So when it was my turn to invite my neighbor and her husband for le déjeuner, I took care to appear more relaxed, even though I was twice as nervous, given her previous impression of me.

Stuffy? Perhaps my nerves were to blame, for we were dining at the home of a local personality. Yes, I must have been a little bit crisp as I carefully sat down on an elegant sofa and began to take in my surroundings. The home was filled with romantic statues and modern-art paintings; fresh flowers dressed every table.

I thought about what I had worn that evening: did my attire lead her to classify me as coincée? I'd worn a long skirt and a button-down chemise under a cardigan. She had worn leopard and those glittery stiletto heels....

This time I wore all black, mindful to défaire one more button on my blouse. Though I had upped my efforts to be cool, relaxed, and very un-reine-like, my neighbor (now wearing sequins for our lunch date) had another agenda.

From the kitchen, where I was serving up steaming bowls of pumpkin-and-chestnut soup (soup, a.k.a. "the peasants' meal"... no queen would serve that!), I heard the laughter. Maybe it had something to do with my cooking? I had been so nervous at the idea of serving my neighbor's husband, a renowned chef!

When I went out to see what was so amusing, I found my husband and the invités standing, their eyes watering, their sides splitting.

"What? What is so funny?"

My eyes scanned the living room for any "laughable" objects strewn about, bricoles or bibelots I had looked at so often that the novelty had worn off. I saw nothing ridicule. Next, I checked my clothes to see whether something had gone wrong during the dressing stage. That is when I noticed my blouse, which was tucked into my underwear.

My fashion gaffe wasn't in tucking a shirt into a culotte (people do this all the time—don't they?), but in wearing low-waisted pants. Dumb, dumb, dumb!

The good news was that I was looking as down-to-earth as ever! Just how much more relaxed could one get? Such a get-up might de-throne this so-called "queen" once and for all, or at the very least earn a few "graceless" points with the neighbor who thinks me so stuffy, so reine-like.

I soon realized that no one was looking at my underwear. All eyes were fixed to the floor. Curious, I followed my guests' gazes. That's when I saw IT. So dull. So deflated, So dégoûtante! A caramel-toned coil lying atop the tiled floor right next to the dining table.

Une crotte!

I stood staring at it. Stunned. Une crotte de chien? But we don't have a dog....

Elbowed by the woman standing beside him, my husband began: "Kristi—what is that?" I looked to the others for an explanation. The blank looks I received only intensified my embarrassment. What happened next was the French version of The Twilight Zone.

Jean-Marc went over and picked up that crotte! Next, he handed it to my sequined guest, who then put it in her pocket....

That is when I realized I had been tricked—fooled by fake dog-doo, no less! 

But how to react? As dumbstruck as I was, I did not want to lose my new "unstuffy" status! I had worked so hard to dash any misconceptions! And I did not want my delayed response to condemn my neighbor, who I sensed did not mean any harm, but had found in that classic gag what she felt to be a friendly icebreaker.

"Where can I get one of those?" I ventured, walking my stiletto-heeled guest to the door after lunch.

"Here. You can have it. It's yours!" my neighbor winked, patting me on the shoulder, as pals do. It seemed I had somehow passed the test and, I hoped, found a new friend thanks to an old jest.


French Vocabulary

la reine = the queen
le déjeuner = lunch
coincé(e) = uptight
la chemise = shirt
 = to undo
un(e) invité(e) = a guest
une bricole = trinket
le bibelot = knickknack
ridicule = laughable
la culotte = underwear
dégoûtant(e) = disgusting
la crotte de chien = dog mess


Your Edits here, Please!

Did you spot any typos? Are the vocab words in order (any missing, any extras?) Thank you for submitting your corrections in the comments box.

Terms & Expressions:

Crotte! = Damn!
Je te dis crotte! = Get lost!
C'est de la crotte = It isn't worth a thing
ma crotte = my darling, my little sausage (probably best to stick to "ma cherie" or "mon cheri" :-)
crottes en chocolat = Christmas chocolates
une crotte de chien =  a dog dropping ; une crotte de nez = a booger

French Proverb:

Chantez pour une bourrique / Sing for a donkey
Elle vous donnera des crottes. / and she'll give you droppings.


On the island of Porquerolles: a Peugeot motobécane -- perfect for island cruising!