Beaujolais Nouveau Day, traditionally on the third Thursday of November, is a celebration of the end of the harvest in the Beaujolais region of France. In Uzes, the event is another good excuse to meet with friends in bars.
I wish I had the imagination to make up this crazy life I’m living in France. The best I can do is to write it down. The day and events of Beaujolais Nouveau are no exceptions.
Beaujolais Nouveau Day: A quiet start
The most exciting thing I had scheduled for Beaujolais Nouveau day was to finish up a blog entry, then to drift down to a wine store at some time to sample the first crop of Beaujolais. The wine store is a new find since it’s quite well hidden. It is in a “cave” at the back of a florist shop. If I could read the signs, I would have known about it before now. Nevertheless, I literally ran across the “Cave” on Wednesday and I stopped in to check it out.
Just by accident I asked the shop owner about Beaujolais Nouveau. He informed me that my query was quite timely. He was “unveiling” his Beaujolais Nouveau the next day, Thursday, November 21. Showing my total ignorance about wine, I asked if I could taste the new wine right then. I was already at the shop. Politely he informed me that French law forbids anyone to open a bottle before the prescribed date. He invited me to return the next day for a sampling.
On Thursday, November 21, when I was getting into writing the blog about my first house guest, and later going to the wine shop, Geoffrey called. “Looking for adventure,” he said.
I could see a smile on his face through his voice on the phone. “What’s up” I responded. “I’m really busy today, and I don’t want to spend any money.”
Apparently my reply wasn’t taken as a “no.” It showed I had a spark of interest. He had me on the hook. “Won’t cost you a dime,” he promised. “Just thought you might like to ride down the road to this little town for lunch,” he said cheerily. “Real French country food,” he added. You’ll love it.”
I agreed to meet him in 15 minutes in front of my building.
Somehow I had forgotten that I have “possession” of Mustang Sally. So Geoffrey has no car. That meant he was picking me up in the blue van. Fair enough. As promised, Geoffrey and the blue van showed up at the downstairs entrance to my apartment building, I squeezed into the front seat of the car that has no dashboard and no upholstery; I strapped myself in; and we headed to Blauzac, a tiny village about 20 minutes from Uzes.
The views along the road were of vineyards and ancient stone farm houses. The ride itself was already enough of an excuse to have put my other plans for the day aside. Arriving in Blauzac, I was immediately impressed with its raw beauty. This little town, tucked in the middle of nowhere, among wine fields, reminded me again that I am truly in France.
Lunch with the boys
The cafe Geoffrey talked about all the way to Blauzak was exactly as I imagined. The small, quaint, restaurant and bar was filled with men and smoke. Introductions to “Deborah” were accompanied with the offer of a drink and a toast. Only one person in the cafe could, or would, speak English — aside from me and Geoffrey. Soon the three of us started talking, even though there were many interruptions for translations.
We mostly talked about why so many French people smoke. I asked why rolling cigarettes is so popular. I was told that rolling cigarettes is not only cheaper than buying them by the pack, it’s also better for your health. Here’s the rationale: 1) rolling cigarettes means that you know what’s inside the wrapper. Cigarettes in packs are full of “garbage”; 2) rolled cigarettes have less tar and nicotine; and, most convincing to the roller fans, 3) you smoke fewer cigarettes because you’re pre-occupied during the few minutes it takes to roll them.
Where’s the beef? Soon it was 2pm and no sign of food… except for sightings of steaming hot onion soup the owner of the cafe served to lunch patrons who had shown up. I reminded Geoffrey why we had come this distance at lunch time. Almost immediately a table was set for Geoffrey, me, and our three new friends. Then out from the kitchen came our baskets of crusty bread, bowls of onion soup with croutons swimming on top, complete with melted cheese. After devouring the delicious soup, the “plat” (main course) was served. A choice of gardiane de taureau (bull stew) or saute de veau aux les olives, les champignons (veal stew with olives and mushrooms) — both resting over rice. All served from this modest kitchen by our gracious host and chef.
Good thing I’m retired and have nothing really important to do. But I do wonder how so many people can spend so much time in bars and cafes. By the time we left Blauzac, there was evidence that no one, with the exception of the bar owner and staff, planned to do any work that day
Beaujolais Nouveau Bar Hopping
I was bushed from all that eating and from struggling to participate in part English/mostly French conversations. My sweet little apartment and a nap were calling. The idea of going to the wine shop to try the Beaujolais nouveau was going on the back burner for next year. Geoffrey and I said our farewells and I thought that was that. Not so. Within 30 minutes my phone was ringing. Geoffrey. “I’m coming to pick you up to taste the new wines,” he said. “You can’t miss this.”
“Good grief,” I said to myself. Then realizing I’d hate to miss this blog opportunity, I said to Geoffrey, “OK, I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Beaujolais Nouveau Tasting #1
It was after 7pm when we reached the wine “cave” I had hoped to visit. It was closed. We took off down the street to another wine shop where there was definitely something going on. It was a party… not a big party … a gathering of the shop owner’s friends. We were invited to join the group and I was handed my first glass of the new wine. The small celebration included bottles of wine, baguettes of bread, a few types of cheese, and thin slices of French cured ham, all spread casually over the store counters near the checkout. According to Geoffrey, the wine connoisseurs were discussing the quality of the new wine — or lack, thereof. they said there was the presence of an artichoke flavor, not fruit, in the wine. They could have been joiking. I miss so much not understanding the French language.
To me, the taste of the new wine was very watery. Not uncommon for a freshly bottled Beaujolais, I was told. It was certainly drinkable and we could have stayed on and on. Another bar adventure was calling.
Beaujolais Nouveau Tasting #2
The second stop for Beaujolais Nouveau tasting was at a cafe/bar I’ve walked past many times since living in Uzes. Admittedly, I always walked on the opposite side of the street. As in most places in town, Geoffrey knew everyone in bar #2. He was greeted with open arms. They eyed me with suspicion. Trying to make my 5’10” self invisible was impossible.
“OK,” said I to myself: “You’re on this mission for a purpose.” With that, I bellied up to the bar beside the others. The bar keeper pulled out the wine flavor-of-the-day, Beaujolais Nouveau, and served me a glass. In no time, I’d made some new friends. At a table nearby, the young men offered to share the cheese, ham and bread.
When it was time to move on to the last leg of our Beaujolais hop, I was determined to make friends with the “big guy” at the end of the bar. He’s a former rugby player and he lives with his mom. I mean, who would expect the “big guy” in the corner to be a teddy bear?
Beaujolais Nouveau Tasting #3
Les Pieton is a cafe/bar I walk past several times a day. Sometime I stop to join people I know for a drink or a meal. This night there was definitely a party going on. The place was packed inside and out. The scene seemed even more crowded because all the other shops and restaurants along the main street had shut down. Even on the night of Beaujolais Nouveau, everything in Uzes is closed by 10 pm.
By this time I was ready to sit down and actually taste the wine. I pulled a bar stool up to a tall table outside and covered my legs with one of the blankets provided for chilly evenings. It is getting cold in Uzes with temperatures in the 40s and 50s farenheit (I don’t speak French, nor do I know the metric system!) To me the temperature is pleasant. To the French residents here, it’s really cold. They wear parkas with fur trim and hats. After another bottle of wine was uncorked and new acquaintances were made, I said my farewell to all. The night of Nouveau Beaujolais 2013 was now history.
Perhaps others bring in the end of the wine harvest with fanfare and at great expense. For me, I realize just how lucky I am to be having this simple, strange, new life. What I’m certain of — and learning more everyday — is that life is what we make it; we are all more alike than we are different; and that a spirit of adventure, instead of fear, leads to learning more about ourselves, understanding more about others; and to truly loving one another.