Monday, August 24, 2015

You're Invited: Grape Stomps in the Luberon

There seems to be no limit to what Lisa and Johann Pepin will get up to at their pretty organic farm, Les Pastras, in the rolling hills of the Southern Luberon. First they started offering truffle hunts and tastings...then it was olive-picking parties. Next came an "adopt a tree" program, followed by foraging and fishing expeditions. And now--as you probably guessed---they're inviting everyone to come and stomp grapes.

Yep, throughout the month of September, you can immerse yourself in one of the world's oldest traditions, stomping away in enormous antique oak barrels. The barrels are waist-high, roomy enough for 4+ people and offer the added bonus of a view of Cezanne's beloved Mont Sainte Victoire.

"I Love Lucy-style grape fights are definitely encouraged," Lisa proclaims.

Over the course of two or 2.5 hours, you'll be regaled with harvest stories passed down from generations of local farmers including the dark side of wine making such as grape and vine theft. You'll learn the difference between local grape varieties and wine styles...and how traditional harvests were done, with horses, back in the day...and hear about the impact of modern technology and techniques on the wine-making process. And of course you'll be given a French harvest nickname, in keeping with local tradition. (Johann and Lisa's nicknames are in old Provençal. He's Lou Rabassié, "the truffle hunter." She's La Grumo, "the Champagne bubbles.")

Each grape stomp is followed with a buffet of cheese, paté, charcuterie, red wine and a tasting of Les Pastras' olive oil and truffle oil. 

"It's an authentic French experience that's full of laughter, fun for all ages and makes great photos you'll cherish long after your toes are no longer sticky," Lisa says. "You can go wine tasting anywhere, but this is the only place you'll learn to sing traditional French drinking songs while you taste!" 

Les Pastras sits on eleven hectares of rolling farmland, of which five are planted with grapes. The newer vines were planted by Johann's grandparents, beginning in the 1970s. Older vines (such as the varietal known as Muscat of Alexandria) were planted by the previous owners and are more than 60 years old. 

Like a lot of small farmers, the couple has been selling their grapes to the local co-op, to be blended with other farms' grapes; the wine is then sold at the co-op by the jug, box or bottle. (The Pepins also sell their organic table grapes to fresh produce co-ops that offer weekly delivery of organic fruit and vegetable baskets, depending on what's in season.) 

More recently, however, they've begun bottling their own wine right at Les Pastras. "We fill, cork, and seal each bottle by hand, using wax, the way Johann's grandfather used to when Johann was a boy," Lisa tells me. "We feel like the traditional method and the old-school look of the bottles give our wine a classic, authentic image that pays homage to the property's history and Provençal winemaking over the years."

Down the road, Lisa says the plan is to control the whole process from A to Z. "We'll press, age, bottle, cork, and label Les Pastras wine right here, ourselves," she says. "Some day!"

Les Pastras' wine is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. It's not sold in stores and probably won't be until production can be increased. Meanwhile, you can buy it at the farm, priced at 12€ per bottle. "It's a smooth, medium-bodied, versatile red that goes as well with steak or lamb as with a roast chicken or cheese course," Lisa says. "It has notes of black currant, raspberry, and pepper and has a balanced level of dryness. As a Luberon wine, it's more full-bodied and closer in taste to a Côtes du Rhone than a Côteaux de Provence." 

As always, 50% of the profits from Les Pastras' products (which include a variety of olive- and truffle-based goodies such as Black Truffle Salt) go to the One Family orphanage in Haiti.

And what about those grapes that you and other guests have so elegantly mashed? For hygiene reasons, they won't go into the wine...but they won't be wasted. Since Les Pastras is all organic, the grapes will be used as natural fertilizer.

Wanna stomp? Here are all the details. The price (60€ per person for adults, 40€ kids) includes the grape stomp, cheese and charcuterie buffet, all you care to drink of Les Pastras red wine, an olive oil and truffle oil tasting.  Minimum: two people. Weekend tours at flexible hours, weekday tours at 10:30 am. Plan to spend 2 to 2.5 hours. Please book at least one week in advance. The stomping season runs September 1 –September 30 and of course, it's weather permitting.

If you can't visit the farm in September,  consider a truffle hunt instead; all the info on that is here. Truffle hunting at Les Pastras was recently named the #1 activity in the Luberon (out of 84) on Trip Advisor.

For more info or to book, email or call:,  +33 6 26 05 30 49. You can also find Lisa and Johann on Twitter and Facebook

Photos: Come Stomp With Me! Lisa Pepin is barefoot and ready for September; her old Provencal harvest nickname translates as "Champagne bubbles."  The Pepins (she's American, he's French) grow grapes, olives, nuts and fruit...and harvest truffles....on eleven hectares in the Southern Luberon. Johann (in the hat) is pictured strolling with guests.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Annual ABBYAC Show Starts Aug 26

Every summer, the multi-artist show ABBYAC takes over the beautiful gardens and interior of the Abbaye Saint-André, at the hilltop Fort Saint-André in Villeneuve Lez Avignon (yes, they spell it Lez not Les). This year, 22 artists are participating, showing sculptures, paintings, engravings, ceramics and installations...with Galerie 22 in Coustellet as the co-curator. The vernissage (opening) will be Wednesday Aug 26 from 6 pm to 9:30 pm and all are welcome; admission that evening is free. The show runs until Sunday Sept 6 and is open from 10 am to 6 pm, every day except Monday. Admission is 6€ for adults, free for kids under 8 and discounted for groups and families. In conjunction with ABBYAC, a nine-artist show called "Grandeur Nature" is ongoing at the Domaine Dalmeran in St. Etienne du Grès until August 29. For general info, go to the websites linked above. For specific questions, contact Marion Lamy, 06 12 51 15 80, 

Photos: Bas-Relief Angle in marble by David Logan.  A mixed-technique painting on canvas called Filet, by Enrique Mestre-Jaime. Corbeau by Christian Armandy, in painted steel. Horseman, a painting by Patrick Loste. Flottement, a sculpture in wood by Bruno Bienfait. The Abbaye and its garden.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Avignon Sound + Light Show Starts Aug 12

In Avignon, the monumental 3D sound-and-light show called Les Luminessences d’Avignon, is back in action as of this week. Performances are each evening, from Wednesday August 12 to Saturday October 3. New this year are three shows per week in English (10:15 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); otherwise the narration is all in French. The show tells the story of the Palais des Papes in 360 degrees, projected on the medieval walls of the Honour Courtyard. For info in English on the story, schedule, ticketing and more, click here