Cold Weather And A Very Long Lunch

18 Nov

We set a record this week!  On Monday we went to lunch at John and April’s place.  It is only 200m from here so we walked across for 12h30.  We had a lovely roast lunch with Pineau/Bordeaux/Cognac and good conversation.  Next thing it was 17h30 so Leanne went back to our place and brought over the pot of French onion soup we had on the cooker.  We heated that on the wood burner, John made toast over the embers and dinner began.  We finally got back home, in the dark, at 19h30.  A seven hour lunch!  Epic.

The Pineau and Cognac we enjoyed so much on Monday were from J. Balluet in Neuvecq-le-Château, about 90 minutes drive away.  We were well equipped with colourful stories about Mr Balluet and the only way to get our own supplies was to pay a visit.  So that was Wednesday.  Mr Balluet was absolutely charming and took us on a personal tour of the distillery.  The business was started in 1845 by his great-great-great-grandfather.  He regaled us with stories and detailed information about the business and the process but I don’t have time to go into it all because today (Monday, 18th November) we are meant to be packing and cleaning to be ready to leave tomorrow morning.

This is the still that was installed by J. Balluet in 1968 to replace the original one from 1845.  It will start the new season's work soon and will stop either when the job is finished or it is 31st March 2014, whichever is sooner.  Cognac distillation must be completed by this date by order of the Appellation.  http://www.cognac.fr/cognac/_en/2_cognac/index.aspx?page=distillation

This is the still that was installed by J. Balluet in 1968 to replace the original one from 1845. It will start the new season’s work soon and will stop either when the job is finished or it is 31st March 2014, whichever is sooner. Cognac distillation must be completed by this date by order of the Appellation. http://www.cognac.fr/cognac/_en/2_cognac/index.aspx?page=distillation

This is Mr Jean Balluet himself beside the condenser section of the still while taking us on a tour.  He is opening a barrel...

This is Mr Jean Balluet himself beside the condenser section of the still while taking us on a tour. He is opening a barrel…

... for us to smell the cognac.  It was sweet and fruity and beautiful.  The glass panelled doors behind are closing off a small room with a single bed - once the distillation starts the distiller stays here full time.  The process is totally manual and needs frequent intervention based on years of experience.

… for us to smell the cognac. It was sweet and fruity and beautiful. The glass panelled doors behind are closing off a small room with a single bed – once the distillation starts the distiller stays here full time. The process is totally manual and needs frequent intervention based on years of experience.

As well as the oak barrels, cognac is matured in these oak vats.  Apparently the result is the same only slower.

As well as the oak barrels, cognac is matured in these oak vats. Apparently the result is the same only slower.

Naturally there was a tasting involved!

Naturally there was a tasting involved!

Barrels in a warehouse just starting to be covered by the fungus “torula compniacensis”.

Barrels in a warehouse just starting to be covered by the fungus “torula compniacensis”.

Barrels gaining character as they do their work.

Barrels gaining character as they do their work.

There is a now disused tower at the distillery that has had a viewing room made at the top complete with a map table.  This is the view over most of the distillery buildings.  Balluet also grows all his own grapes and owns many acres of surrounding land.

There is a now disused tower at the distillery that has had a viewing room made at the top complete with a map table. This is the view over most of the distillery buildings. Balluet also grows all his own grapes and owns many acres of surrounding land.

Another view from the tower this time over the village of Neuvecq-le-Château.

Another view from the tower this time over the village of Neuvecq-le-Château.

Mr Balluet told us that he has several warehouses full of cognac in barrels all around the village.  He also told us that you can always tell where the cognac is being stored because the normally orange clay roof tiles turn black with the “torula compniacensis” fungus.  It looks like it doesn't only affect the rooves.

Mr Balluet told us that he has several warehouses full of cognac in barrels all around the village. He also told us that you can always tell where the cognac is being stored because the normally orange clay roof tiles turn black with the “torula compniacensis” fungus. It looks like it doesn’t only affect the rooves.

We stopped for a coffee near Neuvecq-le-Château in the village of Matha.  When we came out the weather was in the process of changing and this cloud bank was moving in from the west.

We stopped for a coffee near Neuvecq-le-Château in the village of Matha. When we came out the weather was in the process of changing and this cloud bank was moving in from the west.

But the clouds did create some nice effects.

But the clouds did create some nice effects.

The weather has definitely turned a corner here this week.  Frost, fog, clear blue skies and icy winds.  Time to head south alright!  We did manage to finally get back to Niort for another quick visit on Saturday and Autumn is unmistakeable now.

Place de la Brèche in Niort is a new park on top of the new underground parking facility and beside the bus terminal.  Directly ahead is the beginning of the pedestrian precinct.

Place de la Brèche in Niort is a new park on top of the new underground parking facility and beside the bus terminal. Directly ahead is the beginning of the pedestrian precinct.

These door handles on a fashion store in Niort were cool.

These door handles on a fashion store in Niort were cool.

Niort was once the capital of France and a major port.  The river, la Sèvre, I understand is now more used for recreation.

Niort was once the capital of France and a major port. The river, la Sèvre, I understand is now more used for recreation.

The very Autumn feel on the walkway along the river.

The very Autumn feel on the walkway along the river.

After ‘not getting around to it’ for seven weeks we also went for a walk down the chemin (lane) that passes the house here.  We just did an hour’s walk down the lane and around the block.

This is what becomes of the lane that runs past the house we have been in for the last seven weeks.  It is still marked as a public road on the map!

This is what becomes of the lane that runs past the house we have been in for the last seven weeks. It is still marked as a public road on the map!

A little further along our Sunday walk I couldn't go past this poor old barn.

A little further along our Sunday walk I couldn’t go past this poor old barn.

Another local "road" but this one is used by the farmers with their tractors and it is passable by car (provided you don't mind a little mud on the wheels!).

Another local “road” but this one is used by the farmers with their tractors and it is passable by car (provided you don’t mind a little mud on the wheels!).

If one roller is good surely five will be better!

If one roller is good surely five will be better!

So that wraps up our time in the Charentes.  This coming week we will be on the road so next week’s epistle will more than likely be quite late.  We plan to arrive back at Sue’s place in Le Thoronet  on the 26th November.  The route is down the west side of France and into Spain, across to Pamplona then Andorra then eastwards to Le Thoronet.  Should be fun!

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2 Responses to “Cold Weather And A Very Long Lunch”

  1. Cognac Max November 18, 2013 at 16:51 #

    Wow, these are beautiful images – so funny that you went to Cognac Balluet! We have just visited their estate this summer, and I am sure the lady did the same “barrel” joke with you? Hurts in the nose, right?

    • bikernz November 18, 2013 at 18:18 #

      Glad you liked the images, thank you. The lady in the photos is my wife and yes, Mr Baluet did waft the beautiful aromas of the barrel right into her nose! Mind you, the smell is so lovely. We didn’t experience anything like hurt. We were in heaven!

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