The Greenhouse Effect
The grape harvest is complete and green is fast escaping from the landscape of the coteau in southern France. The prized alicante grapes are now aging in oak vats at the vineyard estate. The process of winemaking continues as life itself does, a constant at Feuilles Rouge Vignobles for over a century.
Monsieur Caillouet has been so gracious, teaching me much about the vineyards and winemaking since I arrived nearly two months ago. He is overseer of the crop and vendangeurs. Jacques, earning a business degree several years ago, is now financial manager, having been mentored by my cousin Charles. Our wines have earned many distinctive awards in France and around the globe.
With winter approaching, we exchange feasts on the sunlit terrace for cozy dinners by a crackling fire in the great room. The aroma of Madame Caillouet’s stew simmering on the stove tantalizes the senses. From the greenhouse, “bouquet garni” are prepared and used in her French soups and stews. I enjoy harvesting the parsley, thyme, celery sprigs and bay leaves, tying them together in a green dried bouquet ready for the pot. Soon I shall become her apprentice! For there are no cookbooks that can produce her wonderful culinary delights!
Grabbing a shawl, I saunter to the courtyard to catch the last rays of sunlight. Wisteria vines have shed their sage leaves and the trees in the horizon are nearly bare. A few straggling red leaves drift in mid air. Absent are the many pots of red geraniums that usually adorned the courtyard. Already late November, I choose a quick brisk walk on the grounds to stir up my appetite for that simmering stew! Since my arrival, Madame cooks at the farmhouse rather than the caretakers home where she, Monsieur Caillouett and Jacques still live. As dusk approaches, I spy flickering lights in the old stone and glass greenhouse at the edge of the coteau. I wonder…
Back at the farmhouse, I stop momentarily at the fireplace warming my hands. Madame and her daughter, Aimee , are preparing the table for supper and with now toasty hands, I join in the evening ritual. Claude, Aimee’s husband, is gently singing to their infant daughter, Claire. The newly formed family of three live in the farmhouse with me, and Aimee and I have become dear friends. Jacques arrives with a bouquet of flowers from the greenhouse and slips them into the emerald vase on the table…that explains the flickering lights I suppose.
The scrumptious stew is definitely worth the wait! Gateau au chocolat with café served in dainty antique demitasse cups is the perfect finish to our fireside gathering. With kitchen duties complete, baby Claire and I settle in to the rocker, smiling and cooing in unison. After Monsieur and Madame Caillouet retire to their home, Jacques departs with a request in my direction, “Meet me at the greenhouse at 9 P.M.” I wonder…
Bundling up to face the November winds, I’m thankful the greenhouse will be warm. The full moon lights my path leading to a note on the greenhouse door:
“Your gift awaits…a green oasis in the starkness of winter.
Opening the door slowly, I am overcome by the intensity of floral fragrances and all the herbs of the “bouquet garni”. Lamp light disperses a warm glow from the center of the greenhouse, guiding my steps. No sign of Jacques.
The light pulls me toward a magical sight, for hidden in the midst of this vegetation is a petite “courtyard” with living walls. The paving stone floor is surrounded by pots of many-hued flowers…roses, peonies, violets, and yes, red geraniums! In one corner, the lamp sits near a basket of fresh cut flowers perched on a lovely wood table with two chairs…perfect for lunch or afternoon café. My eyes wander to another corner with a wooden lounge chair flanked by potted roses…a splendid spot for reading a good book or writing letters back home.
Feeling overwhelmed and slightly dizzy, I call for Jacques.
“I made the table and chairs myself, Adrienne.” states Jacques, as I spin around to face him entering the “courtyard”.
“Made from the sugar maple trees here…” he adds, smiling.
“Jacques, I-I don’t know what t-to say… it’s such a thoughtful and magnificent gift!” I stammer.
As Jacques hands me a rose from the basket, warmth flushes my cheeks. Is it the gift or the giver which affects me so?
As I look into his soulful blue eyes, I know.
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