la terre

la veuve de la vendange

Winter Cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo of a modern cabanon with its carpet of white mustard flowers. Don't you just want to lose yourself in it?

la veuve de la vendange (lah vuv deuh lah von danzh)

    : crush widoww

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

I learned a new term last fall, while guiding yet another enthusiastic and brave bénévole out to the vine fields to help my husband, Chief Grape, with the work load.

"Yeah," said Eugenia, sympathetically, as she sped-walked (we wouldn't want to keep the Wine Chief waiting!) beside me in well-worn jeans and a grape-stained tee. "There is even a term for it!" 

It must have been in the way I looked: a little desperate? And I hadn't meant to show any evidence of exasperation. After all, the harvest and its flurry were over... and yet we were still soliciting helping hands (including Eugenia's) for tying up any harvest loose ends. 

"The harvest just keeps on going... and going... and going... At first it was two weeks, then four, then six. We began this harvest eight weeks ago!" I explained to our latest helper, as we dashed out to the field, buckets and scissors in hand. (I would leave Eugenia with Jean-Marc and our other volunteer, Jeffrey, in time to run back to the kitchen and stare into the fridge, wondering just what to throw together for an impromptu guest lunch. I didn't dare serve last night's noodles: a collection of scraped-from-the-kids'-plates pasta... fit for a close-knit family, but nowhere near appropriate for our volunteers! 

Huffing and puffing our way out to the field farthest from the house, Eugenia disclosed to me the well-known term used in the wine industry. "They call women like you "Crush Widows"!

Crush Widows! It was one of those "Aha! moments". So I was not alone in this very lonely state: the grape harvest: when vintners disappear from their wives and from the home and can be found somewhere out in the field or in the "cave" for the remains of the day. 

But what Eugenia didn't tell me was that Crush Widows don't suddenly lose their status—and regain their lost Love—after the grape crush. No! They wear their vine veils on into winter.... when their husbands are busy juggling the sales of their wine, the accounting, the bottling, the PR, and the pruning of their vines!
Pulling into the driveway last night I stopped in front of the cellar and lowered my window. I was lucky to find Jean-Marc outside and not lost to the depths of his cave

"Want to eat early tonight?" I had in mind a movie on T.V., one we could watch after an early meal... 
"I'll be at the vintners' meet-up. Remember?"
"Oh... that's right! (How I managed each time to forget...) Do you want us to wait for you for dinner?"
"I don't know when I'll be back..."
Voilà, une petite illustration of the term Crush Widow, which could well be a song by Ani DiFranco. I'd love to sing it now, with a feisty French accent!

This morning I woke up and checked the pan on the stove. His portion of rumsteak aux champignons was still waiting for him. I imagined Chief Grape had filled up on crackers, olives, and nuts during last night's vigneron meeting. This was all he needed to do! Join another Cercle de Vignerons!!!

Just then, my inner "Fairness Mediator" cleared her throat in time to remind me of the thousands of hours that I had given to starting up a website and filling it with stories. I remembered the day when Jean-Marc marched up to my computer and mumbled something about all my time being thrown into cyberspace... and for what benefit?!
I could be patient with Chief Grape. I could learn, as he eventually had to, to allow another's dream, and to do so encouragingly. And for what benefit? As Ani says, for the joy it brings.
Corrections are appreciated and comments are "one of those joys that writing brings". Click here to leave a message on the blog.

Jean-Marc & Kristi (c) Sophie Roussel Bourreli
He loves me. He loves those grapes. He loves me. He loves those grapes!

French Vocabulary

bénévole = volunteer
la cave = wine cellar
le rumsteak = round or rump steak
le vigneron = wine maker 
aux champignons = with mushrooms
cercle de vignerons = wine society

Audio file: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: (Click here to download MP3 file). Tip: can't hear the audio file? Try changing browsers (from Chrome to Firefox or...) or updating your audio software.

On les appelle "Les Veuves de la Vendange", ces femmes qui "perdent" leur mari chaque année en septembre, pendant le ramassage des raisins. We call them "Crush Widows", these women who "lose" their husbands each year, in September, during the grape harvest.

Name This Photo (That's Smokey, taken one year ago... when there was snow).
When you shop at Amazon, entering the story via any of the links below, your purchases help to support this free word journal - at no extra cost to you! Thanks for keeping this in mind. Here are some on my picks:
The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It
,,, The Widow Clicquot. Highly recommended! Both Jean-Marc and I loved this book, and took turned yanking it out of each other's hands during summer vacation. Click to see the reviews.
Kissing Bench
A cozy kissing bench for the garden. I'm looking for one of these in France, meantime, for US readers, you can get one at Amazon!

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Vendange vocab! I love it! How do you translate "crush widow"? (Is it "veuve de la vendange?)

P.S. It makes me happy, too, to see my husband happy because he loves his job.

Edred Ferdinands

I would like to point out that September in French is spelt "septembre" with the 's' in lower case.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Edred. Very helpful. Off to fix that now.

Edred Ferdinands

Just a little error once again. The 'leur' in ....leur maris.... should be 'leurs' since 'maris' is plural.

Kristin Espinasse

Merci encore! I had wondered about that leur / leurs.

Bill in St. Paul

Cute picture of you and J-m, Kristin. My title for Mr. Smokey's picture is: "I'm sure I buried my bone right here last Fall."

Mike Hardcastle

Hi Kristin,

Perhaps 'true love' is when we can encourage an accept with a good heart what our partner is (legitimately) occupied with whatever time it takes, and as you have found it works both ways. Family businesses always take over ones life but a holiday can be a new beginning. You both seem very busy and passionate about what you are doing and provide mutual support which I have found is a recipe for a good relationship.

Two super photos. I think you have Smokey figured out correctly Bill.


Catherine Burnett

From Smokey: Ollie., Ollie, in come free! (sp?)

Eileen deCamp

Love the story Kristin and the term "crush widow" and "Chief Grape"! haha
I happened upon a wine shop last night while waiting for my husband's suit to be tailored. I was so happy to find Domaine Rouge-Bleu's Mistral 2008. Can't wait to try it!

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

A possible title for Smokey’s photo might be:

“Pavlov’s New Experiment Results in a Classic Ostrich Pose”

A “thought bubble” in the upper right hand corner with Bill’s comment would complete the scene!

À bientôt

Leslie in Massachusetts

That picture is so beautifully composed, and the colors are lovely. Yes, I do want to sink down into those soft-looking flowers.

Suzanne, Monroe Township, NJ

I think the photo of you and Jean-Marc says it all ... you allow each other to follow your dream(s). And you make the most of your time together pursuing your shared dream.

I like both Herm's and Bill's captions. Here's another, "I know if I dig deep enough, I'll find le printemps!"


To your list of books situated in France: Judith Rock's superb mystery dealing with a Jesuit school, Baroque dance, and 17th century Paris.

The Rhetoric of Death

Judith Rock (Author)
› Visit Amazon's Judith Rock Page

› See all 13 customer reviews...

Julie Schorr

Merci, Kristin. I love the photo and the field of flowers looks very inviting! The picture of Smokey digging in the snow is precious. A dog's sense of smell never ceases to amaze me! What can he be sniffing in a few feet of snow?!

By the way, "une petite illustration". It is a feminine noun.


I've been peeking in on your blog for quite some time - always enjoy something here. I'm prompted to write after reading your saga of the little cat, Lily, that I happened upon a few days ago. Those two Liily pieces prompted me to subscribe to the blog - I don't want to miss any of your masterpieces. Very wonderful prose, Madam. Sometimes you hit us like thunder. Thank you.


Salut Kristin,
ca va? again words cannot thank you enough for your great blog posts that grace each morning that they arrive to me in Colorado. j'adore your philosophical mind and depth of character. again, you are a treasure of a human "bean." never cease being you.

Mary Ann Boysen

Oh how I Love this story. I am an artist and have two websites on which I spend a great deal of time. My husband greatly resents that time spent away from him. He is retired and we have only been married for two years (having spent the last 17 years together). I keep reminding him that the computer is my book. He reads incessantly so I feel that he should give me the time to do my computer work. I can't wait to share your "he loves me, he loves those grapes" story. Thank you for your wonderful website. I love France and hope to go back there again some day.


As a professor I see many, many students who have no passions. If they have a passion for learning, I can teach them anything (or really teach me how to learn it on their own), but I have never been able to create passion. Having seen so many passionless students, my greatest fear in raising my daughter was that she would have no passions. That fear was groundless as I can barely keep up with her. I am so glad that you and Jean-Marc have passions and that you celebrate them. and better yet, I get to benefit from both our passions! Tonight I will open a bottle of Mistral and read from your most recent book!

Marianne Rankin

I suggest "Recherche dans la neige" for the Smokey photo, although I like the other ideas, too.

In the USA, there is a term, "football widow." My cousin's wife is one of those. During football season, the wives can go shopping or do lots of things, but their hubbies are glued to the couch, watching the games. I've been glad not to have been a football widow.

Is the "veuve de la vendange" a real French expression, or is it a French version of the English "crush widow"?

Couples can have their activities (work-related or other), and they say it's good for husbands and wives to have some time apart, to explore interests the other may not have. So while I've been in choirs and swum laps, my husbands have done other things that interested them, such as riding antique trains, browsing in military museums, etc. As long as you also have time together, to forge bonds and keep them strong, the relationship should go well.

Linda R.

Veuve de la vendange - I'd never heard the expression but it certainly falls into place. My husband has been a cross-country (long distance running) and track&field coach for 48 years, and I've been une veuve des sports for 37 of them :) Our three children and I learned very early on, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and it has made for a very rich life. I lean more toward the arts so I consider myself well-rounded.

I like your last reflection best, "I could be patient ... I could learn, as he eventually had to, to allow another's dream, and to do so encouragingly. And for what benefit? As Ani says, for the joy it brings."

As I look back, I realize my husband has given me the same encouragement and leeway, sometimes in an off-handed manner, but the freedom to grow has been there. Very appreciative of your words and how they reflect my own feelings.


Hi Kristin,

-> "un petit illustration"
illustration is feminine, so, UNE illustration, and the adj becomes petitE
---> "une petite illustration"

-> Re:"ces femmes qui perdent leurs maris chaque september"
1) Yes, as said earlier on, it should be septembre, ("bre", not "ber")

2) ok, Edred may assume "maris" is plural, but.....
these women have only got ONE husband each (I think this is the case). The French approach to deal with the possessive adj "leur/leurs" has its own logic (to be respected):
The women are seen as individuals -> each of them loses her own husband.
Conclusion: it should be:
-> ces femmes qui perdent leur mari chaque septembRE (yes RE, not ER)

variations on "chaque septembre"
---> "chaque mois de septembre"
---> "tous les ans en septembre"
---> "chaque année en septembre" (this is what I like best)

---> ... "ces femmes qui perdent leur mari chaque année en septembre"...

Lovely photos Kristin!

I was expecting the mustard flowers to look like a bright yellow carpet... What a pleasant surprise to see these fluffly white balls! Great snowy flowers indeed!
Already in bloom at this time of the year?

Then at the very back of my mind, I got the impression you once gave us (in FWAD) a photo with a field of white mustard flowers and "un cabanon en ruines"..
Unfortunately, we no longer have access to the FWAD archives. With patience and a bit of luck, this is what I found:

Sandra Vann


Wonderful photos and lovely story and sentiment. Yes, we all must follow our dreams... and sharing in and supporting each other along the path is the key to true happiness. To a quiet film, fire and evening spent together en famille.

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

Your mustard-cabanon photo looks almost like an oil painting with its layers of color. All of your photos are great today. And, yes, I understand the "veuve" life. When in the midst of it, it's hard to maintain patience, but those passions that leave us eating alone are often the things that make a relationship strong and interesting. Mais oui.

Ken Boyd

I must say i really do admire your husband for actually working
in his own fields.......... here in the valley [ napa ] the owners are
reluctant to step out of their Beamers least their shoes get dirty .
All the while people without papers work for little wages .
Really, I do admire him .
Napa Valley

Suzanne K

Passion-one must all costs-don't let another destroy it-change course but stay on course...Its the journey-not the destination.
It sounds like I wrote that with a bit of I have lost many passions but now I can focus. Reading about your passions reminds me what its all about, life, and living that is.

joyce mason

"I know I buried that bone here..."
Title for picture. Love the crush widow term and the picture of you and hubby kissing you. He still has the other kind of crush on you!!

Linda R.

Oh, Joyce, what a darling comment - Kristin, you should be able to make a perfect valentine for Jean-Marc with that one (comment)!


Caption for Smokey's Photo - "Gee, I thought I'd left it here!"


Smokey picture:" Is this the way to China?" or "I thought that I saw that Squirrel go here. Now where is he?"
You and Jean-March are "love birds". It is good to let your love follow their dream as you follow yours.
And I love the photo of the field. The contrast of the swirly wines with the softness of the mustard flowers and the solid beige building with the burnt orange field behind and then the deep green trees interspersed again with the burnt orange.


Smokey's picture:

"Yup, that's Australia I can see down there. The sun's shining."

"But WHY can't I be an ostrich?"


It is just so obvious from the photo that you love eachother; grapes, websites, kids, dogs and all. Life is what makes up love, or is it love that makes life?

Lisa A., CA

I agree with Joyce and Linda's comments: Oooh la la ;)

What a wonderful story this was the first time I've heard that saying. At first I thought it was going to be a sad story, but to my surprise it was truely enjoyable!! The way you write I could totally see it as a movie.

Thank you for making me smile and laugh (about what to feed guests and your husband's meeting(s))! It is great you both can do what you love to do!!

Bob Haine

Smokey: "Ouch! How did that mousetrap get in here!?"


"I know I left that bifstek somewhere."

As for the mustard plant, it is a lovely sight to behold in your photograph, but a terrible nuisance in our woods. It's a constant battle to yank it out and make room for the good stuff.

Sharon Auckerman

Hi Kristin,
Remember the words to the old song "Love and Marriage"? There is a lot of truth there. I love the previous post. It spoke to me.

Bill Facker

"And don't you EVER invade my turf again!" Smokey snarled at the Polar Bear. Good thing too .. considering Polar Bears can eat a "bunch" of grapes. Aloha!

Karen W  (Towson, Maryland)

Everybody needs a warm cuddle after a hard days work. It's hard to carve out the time, isn't it?

I agree with Julie F in that the mustard seed field looks like a painting. It looks beautiful and soft. Is it soft? It is a crop, right?

Jules Greer

Hi Kristi my little angel. I love this post, each day as you trust yourself more and more to be yourself your stories soar.

You have grown right before our eyes - what a beautiful rose you are, each petal now opening up - filling our hearts with your love.



Bill Facker

Jules, I couldn't agree more with anyone's assessment of Kristin's writing .. it is truly stupendous. I also believe your support and love certainly must "fill her sails". You are a great example of what a parents love contributes to one's creativity. It is truly heartwarming to read the words of praise you share with your daughter. Aloha, Bill Facker

Marti Hinman

I would love to be "une veuve de la vendange". I can't thank you enough for your blog. I look forward to learning new expressions and reading your wonderful stories about your life in my favorite part of the world! Mille mercis.
Marti Hinman

Jennifer in OR

"So I was not alone in this very lonely state..." Oh, it's truly good to know you're not alone.

Jules Greer

Hi Kristi,

I just put in the little "Google" box:


to get my little fix of Jean-Marc today.
This story is so-o-o Jean_Marc.




"Re-bonjour à toi, Kristin, la charmante femme du vigneron"!

I never heard about "crush widow" before. The expression isn't used in England but there aren't many winemakers in this country!... The expression offered yesterday is still trotting around in my head today...

I decided to look at 'crush' and at 'widow' in my Collins English dictionary. I found the venerable book full of dust (Hmmm!) but didn't find any clue about 'crush widow'... Must be part of a professional jargon used in the US, as Marianne & Linda mentioned similar expressions -> 'football widow', "sport widow".
In French, I have no idea about a similar expression. I heard about "La vocation de veuve" related to sailors' wives whose husbands used to spend a very long time at sea, far from home (and sometimes didn't come back), but, I never heard about "la veuve du vigneron".

Sorry Kristin, I just noticed I typed -> "la veuve du vigneron". You said: "la veuve de la vendange", which is a literal translation of 'crush widow' - Difference?
"La veuve du vigneron" indicates your status (you are "veuve") and your husband's profession -> "vigneron". A very objective statement.
In "la veuve de la vendange", it is as if you're pointing at "la vendange", being 'the killer', or, let's say, the very reason why your husband disappears every year in September, leaving you alone, as 'a widow'. A more subjective and emotional approach indeed!

I must tell you I was very attracted by the powerful image of the 'Vine Veil' (a veil that you, "la Veuve") are virtually wearing in September. Is the widow's veil worn continuously right into the winter? I believe you must have had an incredible opportunity this year to remove that 'veil' while on holiday at Lanzarote, and again at Xmas in Domaine Rouge & Bleu, and in the New Year period in Sicily... It must have felt wonderful then to re-gain that space and time you need with each other.

All in all, Jean-Marc is "engagé à fond dans la passion de ses activités viticoles", just as you are with your own activities that absorb you beyond parental duties and daily chores. Does Jean-Marc, the Winemaker, think about himself as the 'Web Widower'? The 'Word Widower'?

As long as there is understanding and love, and the family is happy, I look at your temporary "veuvage" as an inevitable part of the fantastic 'Wine and Words' adventure.


I love this photo of the mustard carpet!! May Jean-Marc "crush you" with kisses when he returns!

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