Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Red (10/01/09)
TITLE: Voyage a Feuilles Rouge Vignobles
By Karen Pourbabaee
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(Journey to Red Leaf Vineyards)
Strolling along the Mississippi River banks seemed a distant memory. Whenever I needed to clear my head or contemplate a major decision the river was only a streetcar ride away. It was at the heart of New Orleans, my childhood home, but escaping to it brought me a sense of peace. Though imperceptible, knowing that the river flowed toward a destination gave me an assurance that my life did also. Just as God controlled this force of nature, His hand also moved the flow of my life toward its intended destination. It was part of my faith. And it was here that I made a decision that would change my destiny.
The shrill whistle of the train abruptly brought me back into the moment. I was visually soaking in verdant valleys and tree-lined hilltops on the rail route through the Languedoc region of France. Quaint villages and farmhouses dotted the landscape as we neared our destination between Cite de Carcassone and the Black Mountains. Reaching for my bag, I pulled out a picture frame in which I had placed a pressed red leaf long ago and penned the caption in French: Feuilles Rouge Vignobles October 1938.
Just a simple frame with a pretty red leaf from the abundant sunset maples at Red Leaf Vineyards. Originally owned by Jean-Pierre LeBlanc, the estate passed down to generations like many French vineyard estates. My great great grandfather immigrated to America, settling in the French region of Louisiana, leaving his brother to continue the family business. My father, Gerard LeBlanc, reconnecting with his French relatives, brought our family to visit Red Leaf Vineyards in the fall of 1938 when I was twelve.
It was a unique experience meeting my French relatives and being their guest at the campagne for several weeks. The farmhouse had a serene charm with its terracotta floors, lime-washed walls
and oak-beamed ceilings. Shuttered windows from upstairs bedrooms opened to reveal astounding views of the vineyard slopes. In the mornings we enjoyed breakfast on the mountain-
view sunlit terrace , then explored the thirty hectares of vineyards with the caretakers children, Suzette, Aimee and Jacques. We worked alongside the vendangeurs , took bicycle rides through the countryside, and relished picnics of fromage,baguettes, and red grape juice. Monsieur Caillouet, the caretaker,told us that Alicante grapes grown here were the only variety that bear red juice.
We enjoyed the crisp autumn air and the wonder of brilliant red fall leaves. A favorite activity was collecting the sunset maple leaves, on a quest for the deepest red, for each evening after dinner on the red geranium-spilled courtyard, the adults became official judges of our red leaf contest. One evening my winning leaf was slipped between the pages of my journal and later placed in the frame I held today. Opening the journal , I smiled, reading the memories and autographs penned by my French friends. Letters were tucked into the back of the journal,including those from Jacques, most faithful in corresponding through the years. Every fall he had sent a sunset maple leaf as a reminder of our good times, oftentimes including pictures of the estate and vineyards (and himself of course!).
It was shocking to hear of the untimely deaths of my relatives, Charles and Marie LeBlanc, in a car accident. The lawyer for the estate notified my father four months ago that Feuilles Rouge Vignobles had been left to our family in their will. This fact became the impetus to much soul searching and prayer.
It is October 1951, and once again I am journeying toward another fall adventure. As my train nears Casserone, a view of the Aude River emerges…perhaps a new place to stroll. Thirty minutes later, the train came to a halt. Waiting for me as I stepped out to a new life, were Monsieur and Madam Caillouet. They would take me, Adrienne LeBlanc, heiress to Feuilles Rouge Vignobles, home.
Arriving at the estate, I took a deep breath, inhaling the aromas of the vine strewn coteau. Harvest was progressing and the sunset maples seemed more vibrant than ever.
“Adrienne…” I slowly turned to a vaguely familiar voice. There stood Jacques with two empty baskets in hand. “I’ve been waiting a long time to gather leaves with you again ”, he smiled.
“Likewise, Jacques! ”, I smiled, taking my basket in hand.
From the hilltop, my eyes turned to the horizon as the October sun was setting, casting its red splendor over Feuilles Rouge Vignobles.
*Author’s notes: 1)campagne: traditional French closed courtyard farmhouse 2) vendangeurs: grape pickers 3) fromage: cheese 4) baguette: crusty French bread 5) hectare: French unit of measurement , about 2.5 acres 6) coteau: hillside or slope
**Word count: 749 without title and notes
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