As we settled into our daily habits and life in the Loir-et-Cher, Ben and I became curious about uncharted territory. We took detours and the long way home, driving around neighboring villages and the backcountry, trying both the get lost and to find places that felt like they could be home. From the heights of the left bank of the Cher river, we admired the hillsides and valley of the right bank and the opposing village Thésée, where patchwork plots of organic grapevines were cultivated by veteran winemaker Bruno Allion.
“You like this view, don't you” I'd ask Ben, leaving off the question mark because I already knew the response. Luckily I didn't need an answer, because Ben's reaction would simply be a big smile- it was a rare occasion for Ben to be a man of few words.
We were trying to travel in time- into a future where we would have our own abandoned winemaker's house to fix up, or find a family farmhouse to call our own.
May is a month of portes ouvertes, or open houses. Local winemakers, farmers, cheese makers, and other artisans open up their work spaces and invite the community to spend a day or two learning more about what they do. Events often include tastings, a shared meal, music, and sometimes late nights.
We were no stranger to the idea. Our portes had been very ouvertes ever since moving to the countryside- a happy and reassuring fact for me, since I wondered if leaving Paris might equate to disappearing as far as my friends who were still in the city were concerned. Luckily, we have faithful and wonderful friends willing to follow us to the countryside- bringing fun and lively discussion to our table, and sometimes late nights.
On these winding road trips in the hills of Pouillé I thought about all the things the future could bring, but I also fantasized about the perfect kitchen, about more rooms to hold even more friends, about dinners outside and vegetable gardens big enough to feed us through the summer months, with leftovers for the winter ones. And a bathtub.
It was fun to daydream but eventually the road led us to our real home, which was just fine for now. We were beginning to learn that even if we weren't living in our dream home, we were beginning to be a part of a community that made us feel like we had a place in Pouillé.
Portes Ouvertes work both ways- while we had opened our home to visitors and already had memories of dinners and late nights spent with friends both new and old, we were also grateful to the welcome that we had received from our neighbors.
This is one way I've experienced the kindness of neighbors since moving to Pouillé: Juliette and I knew that my across the street neighbors, a retired couple who had moved to Pouillé from Paris a little over 20 years ago, were looking for someone to prune the small plot of Cabernet vines in their backyard. Interested in meeting the neighbors, and with some free time on our hands, we arranged to meet with the couple and offer our services.
Pierre-Philippe and Marie-Claude invited us to have a café after a quick tour of their vines. Marie-Claude spoke with me in English about her time as a stagiare in kitchens in Cape Code, over 40 years ago, and Pierre-Philippe was earnest about negotiating a salary with Juliette and I, assuring us that he wanted to pay a fair rate for the work we would do.
“We're not really interested in the money,” we told him adding, “but we heard you may have a fermentation tank to sell?” There was our ulterior motive- 30 hectoliter fermentation tanks are hard to find used and expensive to buy new- word on the street was Pierre-Philippe had one he might be interested in getting rid of. “You're too late!”, he told us “I sold it awhile ago- you should've told me earlier!”
Juliette and I were slightly disappointed, but the conversation continued with pleasantries and plans for dinner parties together as we prepared to leave.
At the door, as we prepared to say goodbye Pierre seemed to have an idea that pleased him, “I'll tell you what,” he said leaning his head out the door and pointing into the distance, “you see those vines there? The Sauvignons?” We nodded, making out five rows of scraggly but growing Sauvignon vines. “Well if you're interested in those they're yours! But I don't want to hear anything about them- you do what you want, they're not my problem anymore!” Juliette and I looked at each other in disbelief. We had come for a chat and a coffee and a few hours of work, and were leaving with a plot of Sauvignon.
This is the magic of life in a small town in the French countryside, you never know where a porte ouverte will lead you.