mauvaise herbe
Aviner: a French verb having to do with winetasting


"Pain and Hope" as personified by Mama Braise (left) and Smokey Doo. Read about a wine farmer's struggle, in today's missive. 

la gnac (nee ack) noun, familiar

    pugnacity, the will to win

avoir la gnac (also spelled "gnaque", "niaque") : to be driven, "to have a fire in the belly" (thanks, "Newforest", for this updated definition).

This term "avoir la gnac" is used by a certain generation: French friends our age (Forty Somethings) will be familiar with it. But when asking my son and my daughter whether they knew the expression "avoir la niaque" they shook their teenage heads "non". Have you ever heard the term used (comments welcome, here)? It was spoken to me yesterday, over the telephone, during a chat with Aunt Marie-Françoise (who was referring to my daughter's passion for horseback riding). I had thought she meant "knack" as in "she has a knack for riding". But the term seems to have little in common with the Anglophone expression... or does it?

Audio File: listen to our son, Max, pronounce the following words: Download Gnac

la gnac: Comment expliquer son succès? Il a de la niaque! 

How to explain his success? He is driven!


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

Le filet mignon de porc turned out fine -- if my brother-in-law's behavior was any indication: I watched as Jacques "sauced", or mopped up, the juices from the rectangular glass casserole: there's no better sign of a recipe's réussite.. and watching my beau-frère (who was reared by the best cook in France) finish every last bite is la meilleure récompense for any cook's troubles. 

Seven of us were sitting beneath the mulberry tree, leaning over the picnic table there below, enjoying the late winter sun. If you looked to the ground below us, you'd spy springtime in the dirt: the green tips of bulbs could be seen pushing up, as well as several wheelbarrowfuls of weeds, or what would amount to several wheelbarrows... just as soon as we got to them. For now, it is the vineyard's weeds that are exhausting everyone: just one small parcel in question, but what a great big headache!

More than a headache, Jean-Marc bears white nights and cold sweats, or the emotional and physical torture inherent in organic, or biologique, farming. When he woke up Friday night with what he called "les palpitations", I asked him what was the matter: je crois que c'est une crise de panique.... he guessed, as he sat frozen, legs over the edge of the bed. He'd been to see the doctor for this, and was not too concerned (heart problems having been factored out). Nevertheless, this, along with the cold sweats, left him all the more discouraged.

But the next day, with the help of his jovial crew, one which grew and grew (Jacques and Michel arrived from Avignon), they caught up with work in the vines: whereas they were only one-sixth of the way through Friday's weed-o-thon, by the end of Saturday they had pulled weeds from half of the parcel!

I watched my husband closely, and noticed his spirits were lifting: more than the advance they had won that morning in the vines, he was cheered by the non-stop "blaguing"* coming from his buddies (oh, the French words I learned this weekend... nothing I could share here!). I leave you with photos of the bubbly crew, who made up for the raunchy jokes (mostly told out of the hostesses' ear range) by being perfectly polite and helpful in the kitchen (and they even brought the finest Belgian chocolates to sweeten our mouths -- lest I wash theirs out with Savon de Marseilles!!!).


Capture plein écran 21022011 095238Update!!!  Jean-Marc just learned that he won a gold medal for his Mistral 2009 wine in the Paris Wine Agricultural Fair. Go Chief Grape! You deserve it! May this award help soothe all those emotional aches and pains. And many more thanks go to all who helped pick those grapes, bottle these wines, and pull so many mauvaises herbes. Thank you so very much for such needed support! 

Le Coin Commentaires: Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are most welcome: click here to leave a comment or a note to Jean-Marc. Merci d'avance! 


To see all of the photos and to meet our jovial weed-o-thon crew, click here.

 Meet Jean-Marc in Milwaukee this coming March 10th for a tasting of his wines or later in many other US cities

French Vocabulary

le filet mignon de porc = pork tenderloin

la réussite = success

le beau-frère = brother-in-law

la meilleure récompense = the best reward

je crois que c'est une crise de panique = I think it is a panic attack

blaguer = to joke around, to tell jokes

merci d'avance = thanks in advance

le Savon de Marseille = a famous local soap, good for washing hands -- and even laundry! Buy a bar here, and help to support this French word journal :-)


Murder in passy Cara Black has a new book out! MURDER IN PASSY:

The village-like neighborhood of Passy, home to many of Paris’s wealthiest residents, is the last place one would expect a murder. But when Aimée Leduc’s godfather, Morbier, a policecommissaire, asks her to check on his girlfriend at her home there, that’s exactly what Aimée finds. Xavierre, a haut bourgeois matron of Basque origin, is strangled in her garden while Aimée waits inside. Circumstantial evidence makes Morbier the prime suspect, and to vindicate him, Aimée must identify the real killer. Her investigation leads her to police corruption; the radical Basque terrorist group, ETA; and a kidnapped Spanish princess.

Pick up a copy, here.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. Zelle®, an easy way to donate and there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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I love picking up vocabulary from your blog. (Did you know that in Italian, sopping up the plate with bread is called "fare la scarpetta," or doing the little shoe?)

Robin Katsaros

Bravo Jean-Marc! Way to go! All your hard work is paying proud of you.

And Kristi, I really think you should put together a little book of all those wonderful new "words & stories" you learned froom the vine workers. Possibly, "Tales from a Provence Vineyard", n'est pas? xo Robin

Teresa Engebretsen

Someday I hope to try Jean-Marc's wine... Félicitations!

Eileen deCamp

I'm going to open the Mistral 2008 tonight! Congratulations to Jean-Marc. All the hard work is paying off!


A gold medal for Mistral 2009!
Mille et mille bravos à Jean-Marc who couldn't have received any better news at this difficult time. This is the best medicine to cure his "crise de panique" and re-charge his "gnac/gnacque!"

gnac is a strong bite (un coup de dent, une morsure) and has become a (fashionable?) word spread by sport journalists who gave a feminine gender (LA gnac) to a masculine noun LE gnac.
"avoir du gnac" means "avoir du mordant" (from the verb mordre = to bite)

So, "la gnac/ gnaque" is a popular word. Will it stay feminine and will it keep two genders? I don't know. I heard it on TV last time I went to France. Is it more fashionable than "la combativité", "l'esprit de compétition" = the will to win
It certainly implies a lot of "entrain" (= enthusiasm).

I had no idea about the origin of the word. I just found out it comes from the Occitan language (south west of France)
See for yourself:

then, having the sound "gnac" bouncing in my head, I thought about "le cognac" - strong brandy produced in the Cognac region (southwest of France)- and about "l'Armagnac" produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, south west of France? Well, I don't think there is any link.
Saying that, "brandy" is, as the French say: "DE L'EAU DE VIE" -- and "vie" means life!

With all these connections bubbling in my mind, I decided to go and consult Wikipedia. I must share with you what I found out about some of the properties of the Armagnac brandy:
---> It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility.

PS ---> this empty space on the left is not only a waste of space that also reduces concentration when reading other people's posts, but ... I've just discovered it is 'a pain' when previewing your own comments. I clicked to read "Preview" and hated to see rows of such short lines going on and on, and only being able to read a few at a time.
We know we can send a post to make any comments, so, what is the use of all those red "Reply" buttons, when we can simply include our remarks to an individual, inside our own post, and in a personal way?
Hope "Chief Blog" will do something about it.


post just sent. Is there something wrong with my laptop? with viewing? The ends of the lines (on the right) are missing, but posts above are ok.
will try again a bit later... maybe things will get sorted out.

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Christine, enjoyed learning the Italian equivalent. Thanks!

Robin, Teresa, Eileen - merci for the wonderful féliciations.

Newforest - Chief Blog here :-) Yes, I agree, this new comment system is not what I had hoped (you're comment is hidden in the right margin! I'm off to check things out. P.S.: loving the notes you've added to "gnac"!


I especially like today's photo. Their golden fur silhouetted against the dark background is quite stunning. Do tell . . . Are Smokey's wounds a thing of the past? I will never forget that horrific tale of his attack.


Mille et mille MERCIS to "Chief Blog" and her 'knack' for re-formatting our "Coin Commentaires", removing unfriendly red buttons, and re-arranging the spacing on the left, re-concentrating our attention etc etc. The readers who didn't see the frustrating changes that started yesterday and brought more frustrations today will not understand what I am talking about. Never mind.
My very last note might have flown away (or was deleted, as no longer relevant?). As the formatting has gone back to normal, "tout va bien maintenant" (all is well now) - Ouf!

As that lost note also mentioned the lovely photos of the joyful "équipe" (team),I want to renew my appreciation for the hard work and high spirit.
"Eric, Olivier, Jacques et Michel,
★★★★★arracheurs de mauvaises herbes,
vous êtes tout simplement

Mike Hardcastle

Hi Kristin,

I can feel real sympathy for Jean-Marc having been proprietor of a small 'S.M.E.' business( the abbreviation exists in France - possibly as E.P.M.). I didn't have regular panic attacks but remember one very dramatic occasion driving on the motorway towards London when I had to move across to the nearside lane quite smartly, and slow down considerably (not my usual style) while I recovered my equilibrium. I'm sure that you will look after him well and 'the crew' are clearly providing good medicine. Congratulations on the Gold Medal, which must be good medicine too. All was well with me and I'm sure that all will be well with Jean-Marc also, with your support.

Fascinating post by Newforest about the origin of la gnac. It seems possible that 'knack' may derive from 'gnac' although my dictionary gives the origin of knack as 'knak' - a sharp knock - imitative origin.

Hi Jules,

Just to say that I did reply to your post, but not until this morning.

Best wishes,



Love your blog...In America we say...knack...i haven't heard the word in a while..will try to use it more often..with my "talented" friends!
1.a special skill, talent, or aptitude: He had a knack for saying the right thing.
2.a clever or adroit way of doing something.
Cheers! A bientot! Jennifer aka Gigi
ps. My hubby gets panic attacks...warm regards...
Also a "bad herb"=Weed...funny!


The English word "knack" is in French more that just "le savoir-faire" (the know-how)

It is "le don / le talent de faire" something with great expertise ....

No connection at all with le/la "gnac/gnacque"


BTW, the adjective "acharné" just popped in my head (verb "s'acharner").
Very appropriate in the "gnac" and the 'Jean-Marc-and-his-team' context
They all are "acharnés"
-> "arracheurs acharnés" (de mauvaises herbes)
Here, "acharné" means fierce and full of tenacity.
"Ils travaillent avec acharnement."
= they work relentlessly, with tenacity, determination.

"Allez, je vous donne trois étoiles supplémentaires" for your "acharnement & votre bonne humeur".


Everyday I read your post and give my little french lesson to all who will listen. Heritage is french/canadien but, it has not been used in a long time.Have thought of using some of your phrases on my blog but I don't want to cross any legal bruhahas. Passing your info 1 on 1 Have to say learning as much from your readers so it's a win win site for me.Keep those phrases coming ,ever since the dead man's butt,everyone is asking shat you said next.Tell you what kind of people I hang with. Kudos to Jean Marc,he is obviously what we cal a type AA (very high stress)but, that's probably why you love him. After all someone has to worry.Loving the journal,don't stop in every day to say thank you but, be assured I do (thank you)

Bill in St. Paul

Congratulations to Jean-Marc on his Paris Wine Agricultural Fair gold medal for his Mistral 2009. I'll have to see if Solo Vino has any yet. Smokey and Braise look so cute together - almost makes me want to get another Golden (almost).

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

Kudos to Jean-Marc for the Gold medal! An appropriate reward for a job well done. Unfortunately, success comes with a price. It’s hard to be "sans souci" (without worry, carefree) with the prospects of a new crop year.

I can only imagine the “blagues homme” (man jokes) and war stories that were exchanges among the crew. I’d love to hear them, but they would probably make the translator blush!

À bientôt


Chapeau, Jean-Marc! Alas, I'll miss his wine tasting in Washington, D.C., because I will be in Italy.


In my estimation, knack and will to win are two different things. Knack is more like an ability, where as will to win is determination.
Who knows if they were once related.

Love the pics of the pups.

Love you photos of your husband - so French, so handsome.


Oh congratulations to Jean-Marc.

Stress can do terrible things to our body. Hope Jean-Marc just needs some peace and quiet to recoup.

Susan Blackwood

Congratulations Jean-Marc! Bravo!
And to you Kristin, I Love love love your blog!
What a team the two of you make!


I have heard of "avoir le gnac". Though, like you, I thought it meant to have a gnac for something. Now I know what my host mother meant 2 years ago when she said I "avoir le gnac" for studying, for language, and for French culture. Or just living life I guess! :)

Thanks for a great entry. Learn something new everyday!

Mary Barrow

To me "avoir le gnac" means about the same thing as the Spanish "tener ganas" - to have the strong desire and drive to "ganar", to gain, to accomplish something, to win a victory. Kristin tiene ganas de aprender... French, in all its many nuances!

Mary, on the very far outskirts of Houston, Texas

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

Congratulations Jean-Marc! All your hard work has and is paying off.

Smile on my face with the cute dog pictures this morning. My dog is lying right next to my desk wondering why I am cooing over others dogs!

Kristin thanks for a wonderful post again. xoxo

Iris Mendels

Bravo to Jean-Marc for not using Round-up. Just read this awful story of a french vineyard owner who died of cancer from using (and perhaps over using) pesticides.
Bravo for the medaille "Or. I have to try to find your wine here in Northern California.

Jules Greer

I #$%! this stupid box - I have lost 3 comments to the "monster who eats my thoughts and words" this morning.

I don't know if I have the strength to try again!

@#$$@# !!!


Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for these WONDERFUL replies. I am forwarding them to Chief Grape! 

Mom, so sorry about the Comments Monster who eats your thoughts and words. Now, calm down, and read closely: here is how to select and save text (you can eventually paste the text into a new box) so that you never lose another comment:

To select text: Put your cursor in the comments box, then:
Hit CTRL. Then, with your finger still on CTRL use the other finger to hit a. (Control + a)

Next, to save the selected text to a (mysterious, hidden) clipboard, hit CTRL + s (same as before, by keeping your finger on the CTRL button while hitting s.

Now, do this after each sentence or paragraph (or just before hitting the fateful post comment button)! If you lose your comment, you can then use these commands:

CTRL + v (this will paste your selected text into the new box, after you have put your cursor there.

I know, I know, these instructions drive you nuts! Patience...  :-)


Jean-Marc Espinasse

Thank you for all your wishes.
Rewards are always welcome but the best ones are the comments I receive when people enjoy our wines.
And let me tell you that if i did not have an Angel named Kristi standing by me, I would already probably have given up this wine venture. Making wine is a dream for many people but, boy, it is hard sometimes !
Jean-Marc AKA Chief Grape

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Jules,

I’ve found it useful to use Microsoft’s Word and “copy and paste” in the Comments Box. The spelling and grammar functions are learning French faster than me and it’s becoming bilingual. Ha! It also saves stuff periodically.

À bientôt


Dear Jules,
just a little tip that might give you one of those winning smiles once again.

When you start typing your post, it might be better NOT TO TYPE IT DIRECTLY INTO YOUR COMMENTS BOX. A few wrong clicks might make it disappear, or you might click on Preview instead of Post. What you see looks exactly like a posted text. It is possible you think your comments have indeed been posted and next time you open FWAD, you notice your comments are not there!

How to avoid having to re-start typing the post you've 'lost'?

--> Go to the Start Menu of your laptop.
Open Word or Open Office, (according to what you've go / use) and DO ALL YOUR TYPING ON THE WHITE WINDOW IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR SCREEN (looks like a white A4 sheet)

--> When typing there, you can leave the text on your screen for as long as you like. Typing directly into the Comments Box has got a time limit after which your text is not accepted and won't get posted, which is frustrating when you have to suddenly go and do something else.

--> Anyway, when you are happy with your typing and editing,
- Select your text,
- then click on Copy... (and do NOT Delete!)
- click on "Paste".
Your comments will be get transferred into that box, all in one go. You may want to Preview it, then click on POST.

If by any chance something has gone wrong, and your comments have disappeared (for all sorts of reasons), at least, you still have your original - so, it's a matter of opening that file with your typing, Select, Copy and Paste again into the Comments Box.
and click on POST!

Hope it helps. There is always our dear CHIEF BLOG who can come to the rescue.
Keep smiling!


Hi Jules!
I can see 'Chief Blog' came very promptly to the rescue...
Well, you've got plenty of explanations for your 'homework' now.
Have a good time!
★★★ ♥ ★★★

Jules Greer





I am off to the Coffee Cup to have Chris make a hard copy of all of these wonderful instructions to keep right next to my computer.



Rosalinda Roll

Sarkozy used niaque to describe someone. The translation was quite a bit racier, and I don't dare repeat it here. Those of you who subscribed to Champs-Elysees may remember this. It was a few years ago, and the CD cum transcript has been discontinued.


Great post! As for la "gnac" being used by people of a certain generation, I know the expression is used in the song "Amour du sol" by the pop singer "Yelle," so maybe it is becoming popular with younger people as well?

Holly K

Just a head's up on Jean Marc's symptoms. If he continues to have palpitations and "cold sweats", particularly if the sweats are occurring at night, he needs to be seen by a physician other than a cardiologist. There may be a different problem going on. Good Luck and I hope he feels back to normal ASAP!

cheryl anderson

Congratulations on the most wonderful award.
I saw you on TV while in France during my yearly trip to Cap Martin
last Fall. Well done.
Hope you are in Chicago sometime to present one of your lectures.
Again, Congratulations.
cheryl anderson


Hello Rosalinda,
Indeed, from sport to politics, le gnac / la gnac/gnaque and its simplified spelling "niaque" has found its way to the public.
So, politicians described by journalists as having "la niaque", are politicians quite determined to win - with 'nerve and style'! -

thinking of an expression as familiar as "avoir du gnac / avoir de la gnacque/niaque"... What about:
-> "to have fire in the belly" which conveys the same condition for success, but maybe in a slightly more 'picturesque' sort of way?

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

CONGRATS to Chief Grape on the gold medal award! Such an honor and what divine timing! May this carry you through this difficult task and keep up your inspiration when weeds are growing desperation. I have cared for my farm w/o pesticides for thirteen years now. I understand the gloom and doom that weeds can present. I purchased a case of the Mistral year before last…must do so again. It was lovely and appreciate the chance to partake in the fruits of your dreams and hard work.

I would very much enjoy being a part of that well-fed and cheerful group gathered under your mulberry tree. I smile to think of the banter that goes on!

Being a life long equestrian, I am thrilled that Jackie has the opportunity and passion to follow her horse-crazy heart. I look forward to seeing her ride one day.

I love the photo of Smokey and Mama Braise. The title is poignant and oh so fitting. Enjoying the lively comments today has brought a big smile and more than one giggle (and learned a thing or two).

gail bingenheimer

cartonner = to be very successful


Something on "ac" as a place name ending: I was told by a learned type that it stood for the Latin "acumen" - & meant the gathering or bringing together of property. A thought to ponder in the land of "oc"...
I also want to thank whoever (Chief Blog?) puts together the reading lists on the sides of the posts. We've found some wonderful sources of information and just plain "getting in the mood for Provence" through the link to Amazon...

Susan Carter

Kudos to Jean-Marc!!! The award should make the remainder of the weeding alittle easier.

Kendal Shand

Congratulations, Jean-Marc, we make wine in Franschhoek South Africa, so we know what goes into a bottle of wine! Fantastic achievement, may there be many more, regards,

Lisa A., CA

You've made my night!...when reading your post: the non-stop "blaguing"* coming from his buddies (oh, the French words I learned this weekend... nothing I could share here!).

I couldn't stop a BIG Thank you to you for making me laugh!!! It feels great to laugh! I wish I could of heard the jokes. :)

Marianne Rankin

I'm sure I typed a comment the other day, but I can't find it. (I save the FWAD e-mails and look at them again to see others' comments in the next couple of days.)

Anyway, felicitations, Jean-Marc, a l'occasion d'avoir gagne le concours des vins!


Hi Kristen,

How wonderful to have friends and family that care so much and are willing to help you out. So happy to hear they accomplished much and had fun. Wish I could have been there at the picnic table with everyone. Sitting under a mulberry tree in Provence with good food and wine sounds like heaven to me! Congratulations to Jean Marc on his gold medal. I can't wait to try your wines. I'm not sure they're available in Vermont so I may have to travel to Boston to find some! Jean Marc-some good deep breathing sessions and meditation will help when you're worried. Be gentle with yourself and know that you're doing a great job!

Robyn Daniels

Many congratulations Jen-Marc on achieving recognition of your labours of love in creating your beloved wines. It is good also to see a man so lovingly acknowledge the part a wife plays in his life. Rewards are nothing without someone who 'gets you' and your dreams to share them with. Salut!

Jean-Claude Pertuzé

One more word? It’s definitely "le gnac ». "Lo nhac" in occitan/gascon, and with much more signification than "la niaque ». Including the knack, and the pride, and the look (how you wear the beret…)
And be careful with the dogs : they can gnac too!

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