Monday, June 20, 2022

À la table, Les Amis !


La Table des Amis de Provence is a new non-profit association based in St. Remy, designed to highlight the food, wine and culture of Provence through meals, cooking classes, winery tours, artisan visits, live music and more.

La Table des Amis is bi-lingual and multi-cultural, open to all ages and nationalities. While French members are wanted and welcome, the group will probably appeal more to expats, much the way that BritsNimesAAGP, the American Club of the RivieraNetwork Provence and others do. 

Because the La Table des Amis was founded by four amis with very different backgrounds, who are equally passionate about food and wine, most if not all events will have a strong gastronomic component. All experiences are designed to be “authentic, memorable, value for money and always enjoyed in the company of others.” 

The new association was the brainchild of David and Nitokrees (Nito) Carpita (she’s Egyptian, he’s American) who ran the popular cooking school Mas de Cornud in St. Remy for 25 years. In a 19th-century farmhouse with seven bedrooms, indoor and outdoor kitchens and a large potager, Nito did all the culinary (teaching and cooking) while David handled the business side and the wine. The cooking school (officially known as Seasons of Provence) had a reputation far beyond Provence, due to its thousands of happy guests from around the world but also thanks to David and Nito’s dedication to industry groups such as the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals).

For 25 years the Carpitas were very plugged in to the food world both in France and abroad…and then they pulled the plug. They closed the cooking school in 2015 and sold their large, gorgeous mas a few years later.

They were tired, I remember Nito telling me, and wanted to retire while they still had good health and energy. They wanted more time with family and friends, more travel, more time outdoors and more time to explore. The world they loved was food and wine tourism and they wanted to be on the other side already.

Once Mas de Cornud was sold, the Carpitas moved into a smaller St. Remy home (that they already owned) and began to renovate…and that’s where this new idea took root.  

“As the construction was progressing,” David explains, “I joked to Nito that it looked like we were building a new super duper kitchen…with a few bedrooms tacked on as an afterthought. And Nito confessed that she missed teaching cooking and would love to start giving classes again, so she wanted a kitchen that had all the right bells and whistles.”

David reminded her that they had been officially retired since late 2015 and that neither of them wanted to reverse gears. 

“But what about doing it for pleasure, not money?” he suggested. “What about doing classes for fun, for friends, for people who want to meet new people over great food and wine?” The Carpitas were already doing this very informally--organizing hikes, day trips and regular restaurant forays for pretty much anyone who wanted to join them—and Nito loved the idea. 

So a few weeks later at a meeting with his friend Jean-Yves Martin, a retired accountant, David suggested setting up a non-profit with the purpose “as wide as the sky—bringing friends together at the table.”

Jean-Yves loved the idea and even agreed to be President, as long as it wouldn’t take too much time. (Among other projects, he’s currently developing a rice farm outside his village of Tarascon…but we’ll save that story for another day!) David promised it wouldn’t, the papers were prepared and submitted, the sous prefecture approved and the new association became official in March, 2022.

Another founding member is our friend Barney Lehrer, a former professional cellist who brings to the table great credentials in the worlds of wine and tech. “Barney’s expertise in designing web sites has been an immense boost to our start up, not to mention his many contacts in the wine industry in France,” David says.

Pre-launch in April, the four founding members met up with the leaders of the AAGP, BritsNimes and the American Club of the Riviera (over lunch, of course!) to discuss ways in which the groups might work together, to complement each other rather than compete.

“We were really happy at how enthusiastic everyone was,” David reports. “They’ll all be spreading the word to their members.”

So far, there have been two official outings, both sold out with waiting lists: a gastronomic walk in the vineyards in the Duchess de Uzes AOP and a lunch celebrating the annual Transhumance festival in St. Remy. The next five events have just been announced:

  • July 1 – Dinner/concert with Los Cortes (Gypsy/Gipsy/Gitan music) at Bistrot de la Galine, St Remy. 
  • July 8 – Soiree musicale at Manade de Caillan, St Remy.
  • July 9 –  A very special event in Châteauneuf-du-Pape: a tasting of older Mayard vintages with Beatrice Mayard, the sixth generation of this Chateauneuf winemaking family.
  • July 12 – Dinner spectacle with Pablo at Sampado Village, Palud des Noves.
  • July 14 – Celebrating Bastille Day at the Bar Tabac des Alpilles in St Remy with dinner and a "jazz manouche" concert featuring Coco Briaval.

While you need not be a member to attend events for now, members will get advance notice and special pricing whenever possible. Members will also be encouraged to suggest and create their own events as long as they align with the group’s core values. Annual membership is €15 for singles and €25 for couples; you can sign up (or just join the mailing list) on the website here.  

Photos: (1) Nito and David Carpita ran Mas de Cornud and the Seasons of Provence Cooking School in St. Remy for 25 years, before retiring in 2015.  They created the new non-profit with two like-minded friends. (2) La Table des Amis just hosted its second event, a luncheon to celebrate the Transhumance festival in St. Remy, at the Bar Tabac des Alpilles. Another TdA event will be held there on Bastille Day. (3, 4) Barney Lehrer, left, one of the four founding members, on Transhumance day with his wife Madeleine. (5-8) Manade Caillan is the only ranch in St. Remy. They raise Camargue bulls on 100 hectares (with AOP and bio certification), sell meat and homemade charcuterie, welcome weddings and other events, offer overnight stays in a four-bedroom villa...and throw great open-to-the-public parties such as their Markets at the Manade which happen pretty much every other Friday night June through September. (9) We all love Bistro de la Galine, the laid-back roadhouse on the D99 just east of St. Remy. They have live music most Friday nights and the last meal I had there, in February, was fantastic. TdA will have a big table there on July 1st. (10-13) Winemakers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for six generations, the Mayard family currently cultivates 43 hectares: 40 red and three white. On July 9, Beatrice Mayard will host the Table des Amis for a private tasting of old vintages accompanied by small plates. (14, 15). The group known as Coco Briaval, led by Henri (Coco) Briaval, has been performing locally and internationally since 1965. These days the children of the three original members (Coco and his brothers Gilbert and René) and other family members often play with them. For more about the band, click here.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Venice in Les Baux: New Show at Carrières des Lumières

The Carrières des Lumières (Quarries of Light) is a magical space in a vast cave-like quarry at the base of the hilltop village of Les Baux de Provence. There in the cool darkness, 100 video projectors splash 2,000 still and moving images over an area of more than 75,000 square feet, onto the 45-f00t-high walls and onto the stone floor, while 74 speakers provide the perfectly choreographed soundtrack to what you’re seeing.  The sound-and-light show changes once a year and is one of the most-popular, most-visited sites in Provence. 

On March 4, the Carrières launched its new immersive exhibition for 2022. Called Venise La Sérénissime, it explores the artistic and architectural treasures of the gorgeous Italian city.  Traveling through the Grand Canal, lanes, squares, buildings and churches, you’ll be transported into the world of Venice—both holy and secular—and see all the symbols of the city’s extraordinary history. Expect to be immersed in Byzantine art and the impressive golden mosaics of Saint Mark’s Basilica, the masterpieces of Tintoretto, Bellini, and Canaletto, and the famous Mostra del Cinema, through photos of the actresses and actors of Italian neorealist films. 

The 40-minute show is set to the music of Vivaldi, Verdi, Albinoni, Handel and Paganini. I’ve always felt that the soundtrack plays a large part in the impact of show. People around here still talk about the brilliant pairing of Salvador Dali and Pink Floyd in 2020...loved it!

As in years past the 2022 program was created by Gianfranco Iannuzzi and produced by Culturespaces Digital. 

Also as in years past, there’s also a shorter, second program. This year it’s Yves Klein: Infinite Blue, focused on the work of the 20th-century, Nice-born artist (the son of two painters) who was inspired deeply throughout his career by the colors of the Mediterranean. The ten-minute Klein show is set to Mozart, Vivaldi, Thylacine and Brian Eno. (More about Klein is here and here.)

The two shows combined last about 50 minutes and run on a continuous loop. Both are on view until January 2, 2023.

The Carrières de Lumières sits in the Val d’Enfer, a stone's throw Les Baux itself; you can easily walk between them but on foot you have a bit of a climb up to the village itself.  These quarries produced the white limestone used for the construction of the village of Les Baux, the Château des Baux and many buildings in surrounding villages including St. Remy. Aluminum ore bauxite was discovered here in 1821 by geologist Pierre Berthier, who named it after the village. In 1935, the use of more-modern materials led to the quarries' demise.  

Dramatic and otherworldly looking, the area has inspired artists of all sorts; it provided the setting for Dante’s Divine Comedy and Gounod created his opera Mireille here. Later, Cocteau came here to film The Testament of Orpheus.  A 16-minute film tracing Cocteau’s life can be seen in the Salle Cocteau, adjacent to the main space.

The Carrières du Val d’Enfer have been awarded Natural Monument status in France. 

The first transformation of the abandoned quarries began in 1976 with the development of a project using the huge rocky walls for sound and light performances.

Formerly known as the Cathedrale des Images, the venue closed in 2011 and re-opened (after a €2 million re-do) as the Carrières de Lumières the following year. Since then, it’s been managed by Culturespaces. Founded by Bruno Monnier in 1990, Culturespaces is the leading private operator/manager of monuments, museums and art centers in France. The Culturespaces Foundation, founded in 2009, fosters access to art and culture for children affected by illness, disability or poverty. One of France’s benchmark foundations, it’s known for initiatives that blend culture, education and solidarity.

Based on the wide popularity of the Carrières de Lumières, Culturespaces has launched a number of similar “digital art centers” including the Atelier des Lumières, Paris (2018), the Bunker des Lumières, Jeju (2018), the Bassins des Lumières, Bordeaux (2020) and Infinity des Lumières, Dubai (2021). Three more venues are expected to open this year: The Hall des Lumières (New York), the Fabrique des Lumières (Amsterdam) and the Théâtre des Lumières (Seoul).

For a look at all the Carrieres shows since 2016, click here.

A full press kit in English is here.

If you’ve never been to the Carrieres des Lumières, you wander at leisure around the dark, cool indoor space. The stone floors are somewhat uneven so if you’re unsteady, bring a cane or walking stick. There are stone benches for those who want them and you can stay as long as you like. As you exit, there’s a small but interesting shop selling books and other items pertaining to the history of Provence, Les Baux, the Carrières and the Val d’Infer.

The Cafe des Carrières is open from 10 am daily, closing at 5:30, 6 pm or 6:30 depending on the season, serving drinks, sandwiches and sweets.

As in years past, you can just show up at the Carrières and buy a ticket. But to avoid long lines in season, they suggest you boook online here.  You can also buy tickets in advance at the Carrières ticket office or at all FNAC stores. Pricing for 2022 is: €14.50 (adults), €13.50 seniors (65 and up), €12 students and free for journalists, jobseekers, the disabled and kids under 7. On the website you’ll see family rates and combined-visit prices (for the Carrières, the Chateau des Baux and the Musée Yves Brayer), along with background, directions and much more. 

Open seven days a week; last entry is one hour before closing.  

March: 9:30 am - 6 pm. 
April, May, June, Sept & Oct: 
9:30 am - 7 pm. 
July & Aug: 9 am - 7:30 pm. 
Nov, Dec, Jan: 10 am - 6 pm. 

Carrières des Lumières 

Route de Maillane  
13520 Les Baux de Provence 
Tel: +33 (0)4  90 49 20 02

Photos: (1) Poster for the new show. (2-10) Eight images of Venice in the immersive exhibit inside the quarry. As you can imagine it's hard to convey photographically what you'll see there in the cool, rocky darkness...but these should give you a pretty good idea. (11) One image from the Yves Klein show, which follows the Venice show on a continuous loop. (12)  The old bauxite quarry in daylight; the geologist who first discovered aluminum ore here named it after the village. (13) One section of the vast space is lit beautifully when the Carrieres hosts private parties and other events. I took this photo at the launch party for the new show a few years ago. (14) One of my favorite photos of the village of Les Baux, taken by Philippe Clairo

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Action! Ridley Scott's Winery is Open

Most people know that Sir Ridley Scott (he was knighted in 2003), is one of the top film directors in the world; his movies include GladiatorAlienBlade RunnerThelma & LouiseBlack Hawk Down and scores of other hits including House of Gucci (2021). His latest, a historical drama called Kitbag—with Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon and Vanessa Kirby as Empress Josephine--begins production this month.

What many people don’t know is that Ridley has lived part time in the Luberon region of Provence--and owned a vineyard here--since 1992, when he bought a pretty mas (farmhouse) planted with 11 hectares of vines.

I first interviewed Mr. Scott in 2006, for articles in Wine Spectator and Conde Nast Traveller UK. For CNT, we discussed A Good Year, the movie he had just shot based on the 2004 book of the same name, written by his dear friend Peter Mayle.

For Wine Spectator, we talked about his passion for wine and his burgeoning wine-maker hobby-turned-business. “The vineyard was in place when I bought the house...” he told me. “I grow syrah, and I sell to the co-op, the Vinicol. They come with their machines and take it away. Now we're deciding if we want to start doing our own pressing, our own bottles and labels; I'm on the threshold of taking that step.”

He crossed that threshold just a few years later, launching his own label in conjunction with the nearby Cave de Lumieres. From 2009 to 2017, a wine made only from Ridley’s grapes (as opposed to a blend from multiple farms), was bottled there under the Mas des Infermières label. He also expanded his property considerably. 

And now, finally, Ridley has taken the next very-big step and opened his own beautiful 1500-square-meter winery, cave, shop and tasting room, just across a large plot of vines from his historic Luberon home. Surrounding the winery are 30 hectares of grapes: large plots of grenache and syrah and a few smaller plots of carignan, clairette, vermentino and roussanne.

Located on a road called the Chemin des Infirmières, Ridley’s house was once owned by General Robert of Napoléon’s Army, who planted vines there (from 1810 to 1830) and made wine.  At one point the house became a hospital for injured soldiers and when there weren’t enough nurses to look after the patients, local farmers were enlisted to help.

Eventually the historic home became the Mas des Infermières, a play on the words for nurse (infirmière) and for farmer (fermier).

My friend Celine grew up down the road and calls this sun-drenched stretch of Luberon land “the most beautiful place on earth.”

Located half a kilometer from the village of Oppède le Vieux and not far from Menerbes, the new winery was designed by Bonnieux-based architect Andrew Corpe, an Englishman who has worked in Provence for more than 30 years. 

“The vineyard is a sanctuary of silence and sunshine,” Ridley says on the back of every bottle, in what’s meant to look like handwriting. “My family and I came here to paint, read and above all to enjoy the magical life that can be found here.” 

Another nice touch: Ridley illustrated all the distinctive labels himself.

The winery is still in soft-opening phase and will officially launch later in spring. It’s a wonderful addition to the wine scene in the Luberon and a fantastic visit for film fans thanks to the memorabilia on display: a helmet from Gladiator, space suits from Prometheus, Alien: Covenant and The Martian, gold coins from The Last Duel and the bicycle from House of Gucci, to name a few. More items are on their way.

Posters and blown-up movie stills line the walls; you’ll see Thelma and Louise in the rest room and a large poster for A Good Year in the tasting room.  Much of that 2006 movie, about a London stock broker who inherits his beloved uncle's Luberon vineyard and run-down 18th-century chateau, was filmed just down the road (“eight minutes from my house,” Scott has said), at the real-life winery Chateau La Canorgue. Other scenes were shot at the Marseille Airport, the Avignon train station and in the Luberon villages of Bonnieux, Gordes and Cucuron, where a fake moon was hung for a date-night scene and the large rectangular village bassin was filled with floating candles. 

The tasting room and shop at Mas des Infermières is modern and inviting, with soaring ceilings, lots of light and vineyard views. A dramatic spiral staircase leads down to a conference room, private cellar/wine library and the vast cave itself, where Bordeaux-sized (225 liter) oak barrels are lined up in perfect rows, doing their thing.

Back upstairs, you can buy the first wines made on site (the 2020 vintage), plus a limited supply of those made at the Cave de Lumières from Ridley’s grapes (2015, 2016 and 2017). Older vintages, in shorter supply, will be released as specials.

The 2020 wines--two rosés and one red--are 15€ per bottle in the shop. Two more reds and two whites are in the works.

You’ll also find accoutrements such as glassware, corkscrews and wine books...and a blended Mas des Infermières olive oil made with fruit from their 50 trees. This micro-production oil is sold only at the winery, for now.

In the large courtyard out front there’s an enormous old amphora (that once held olive oil) and two 1000-liter oak wine barrels. Roughly 150 years old, they were found in Ridley’s house and weatherproofed before being put on display.

When I first wandered into the parking lot of Infermières last summer to see if they had opened yet, I was delighted to find my old friend Thomas Camilleri running the show. I knew Thomas, a sommelier, from Domaine des Peyre, another popular Luberon wine estate; turns out that Ridley had lured him down the road to help create and run Mas des Infermières. Today Thomas oversees the shop and tasting room, working closely with Bordeaux-born winemaker Christophe Barraud (a sixth-generation wine grower) and sales director Melanie  de Rudder. Ridley comes down from London once a month.

Like many wineries in the region, Infermières was hit hard by a late frost in spring 2021; they lost roughly 45 percent of their grapes. Their 2022 is production is expected to be around 45,000 bottles.

All wines are certified by the Bee Friendly Association and carry a cute little gold bee sticker. The winery uses no pesticides or herbicides but isn’t certified organic because, as Thomas explains, “even organic products can kill the bees.” Instead, they're pursuing the environmentally friendly certification HVE: Haute Valeur Environmentale or High Environmental Value.

Landscaping projects still to be completed include more trees and the creation of a large pond surrounded by vines. Future goals include acquiring more land for grapes, the production of honey (they have bees) and creating a hiking path through the vines. In the future, special events might include outdoor film screenings; I would think that watching an epic drama about Napoléon on a property once owned by one of his Generals, at a winery owned by the film director, not so far from the famous Route de Napoleon, would be quite magical indeed.

For the time being, tastings at Mas des Infermières are free; walk-ins are welcome but groups should book ahead. The actual winemaking, barrel and labeling rooms are closed to the public but visits may be arranged by special request. A few different guided tours will be offered, by reservation, starting in April; a VIP tour will include a seated tasting of older vintages (2011, 2014, etc.). All details will appear on the website soon. Until then, follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates! 

Mas des Infermières
1575 Route du Four Neuf
84580 Oppede, France
+33 (0)4 90 75 66 16
Winter Hours: 10 to 12:30 and 2 to 6, Tues through Sat. Closed Sun and Mon.
Summer Hours: 10 to 7 daily.

Photos: (1) The winery at sunset. (2) Mr. Scott started with 11 hectares of vines and now has 30; he hopes to have more soon. (3) Ridley at home in Provence. (4) Ground was broken for the new winery in 2018 but Covid stalled the construction; it finally opened to the public a few months ago. You can clearly see how the architect referenced classic Provencal architecture in the design. (5-7) The dramatic entrance, tasting room and shop. (8) Sommelier Thomas Camilleri runs the tasting room and oversees wine tourism. (9-11) The tank, barrel and labeling rooms are currently closed to the public but might be part of upcoming tours. Tour details will be announced soon. (12, 13) Ridley Scott drew the lovely wine-label illustrations himself.  (14) The carignan harvest in 2021. A late frost wiped out as much as 45% of  the grapes.  (15-17) At the winery, movie memorabilia from Mr. Scott's career includes a space suit from the Martian, a poster for A Good Year (filmed down the road) and blown-up movie stills like this one from Thelma & Louise.  (18) Want to sleep among the vines? Three elegant vacation rentals (like this one) are being built. (19) My friend Celine (in an adorable photo from 1973) grew up just down the road from the winery and calls this part of the Luberon "The most beautiful place on earth." (20) The winery is a stone's throw from the medieval village of Oppède le Vieux, the oldest part of which is super historic, largely abandoned and fantastic to explore on foot. 

Note: The annual Festival de Nimes (June 17 to July 24, 2022) features a wide range of concerts in Nimes' stunning Roman amphitheater. A highlight this year  (on June 25) will be “Gladiator Live" – a cine-concert featuring Ridley Scott’s multi-Oscar-winning film shown on a giant screen  accompanied by 200 musicians and singers. The film will be shown in English, with French subtitles. For info: