King Cake

Chateau Coutet

September 16, 2014

After a wedding weekend in Bordeaux where my youngest sister Roxane was married on Saturday, I come home to Geneva to my sister’s apartment and what is on TV but a documentary about Saint-Émilion, this amazing piece of land in the Southwest of France.

The documentary opens with an interview of the owner of Angelus, one of the most amazing wineries in the area. My sister’s partner has promised my husband and I that we would get to open a bottle at Christmas time … And I just learned that there was significant product placement of this wine in Casino Royale … quite the coup!

(Photo by: Ada Polla)

Angelus is also near and dear to my heart because that is where we met on Friday for a visit to Roxane’s favorite vineyard. Not Angelus, but a small, family-owned (still) chateau called Chateau Coutet. There is no sign (that is part of the fun), except to meet across from Chateau Angelus and take the small dirt road immediately to the left. Very mysterious.

Mysterious, on purpose. The first thing that Adrien tells us is that his chateau is “non-classe” on purpose – it used to be, but it is easier to stay under the radar by note being “classe.” This enables his family to keep the value of the land under control – which in turn enables them to keep the vineyard in the family. Indeed, his pride shows through that Coutet is family owned, and has been for 400 years, aka 14 centuries. Unlike most of the other properties in the area, who have sold to large corporate investors, mostly foreign ones (he cites Asians). Why? Partly because the inheritance taxes when the father passes on to the next generation are so prohibitive (even more so when the land is officially “classe” and thus higher in value). And partly because the prices offered are so high it would be almost irresponsible to refuse to sell.

(Photo by: Ada Polla)

In any case, in the three hours we spend at Chateau Coutet, I learn a few things about Saint-Émilion / Bordeaux wines, and the Coutet label more specifically.

First, the wines of Saint-Émilion are typically blended from different grape varieties, the three main ones being Merlot (60% of the blend), Cabernet Franc (nearly 30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (around 10%).

Second, most vines of Saint-Émilion (probably most wines actually) are highly treated with pesticides and insecticides. However, at Chateau Coutet, no pesticides or insecticides have been used since the beginning. They are fully organic, and in turn fully dependent on the weather. And hence, their productions are quite small and niche. They don’t sell their wine ahead of having it actually made.

Third, Americans are the largest consumers of the wines of the Saint-Emilion region. Go figure …

Fourth, most vineyards in Saint-Émilion specialize in producing a single type of wine. Not here my Napa experiences of trying three red and three whites. We try red – from various years. The same blend, different weather conditions.

Finally, no rosé is made in Bordeaux (it’s kind of like Champagne… and appellation restriction). Instead, they make Claret (or Clairet). It is redder than a rosébut less than a red. It has 14% alcohol and (thus?) is more tannic. It will be perfect next summer, served chilled in the heat of summer.

I have to admit, we leave having ordered three cases of wine… the 2005 red which is ready to drink now, and the 2009 red which will be ready to drink in 4 years. And, of course, a case of Claret!


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Having a Bad Day? Some Things to Keep in Mind

September 7, 2014

A bad day. It happens to everyone. And not just on football Sundays when both the Patriots and the Saints lose to their respective nemeses. A few days ago I was starting to have a bad day, and somehow it turned into a better day. It made me think of things I can do to avoid bad days, or transform them when they start happening.

1. My mom always told me to wear a particularly pretty dress, and brighter red lipstick when I “wake up on the wrong side of the bed.” It works every time. Dress up, not down, when you are feeling grumpy.

2. It’s amazing what an extra hour of sleep can do. It gives me a different perspective. It unlocks my creativity. It enables me to solve problems more effectively. When I feel like crap, I give myself permission to sleep more.

3. There is nothing that cures work stress better than working. Even if it is the last thing I want to do, even if I want to do nothing, even if I am over it, just doing some work makes me feel better because at least I am being productive. If I am going to feel like crap, might as well be productive.

4. Related to point #3, sometimes I do the work thing I least want to do when I am feeling down. Again, if I am going to be feeling down anyway, I might as well do the thing that has been hanging over me for weeks – the thing on my to-do list I least want to do. At least then it’s done. No matter how I feel.

5. Enjoy the small things. Even when everything sucks, there is usually beauty in the mundane, in the everyday. The clouds. The tree outside my window. The orchid on my desk. Stop and smell the roses. It helps to put things in perspective.

6. Close a deal. Nothing gives me a better high than a new client, than a new deal. As a few of the Sharks say, “revenue cures all ills.” That includes a bad mood.

7. Avoid email. The emails I wish I had never sent usually happen when I am in a bad mood or upset or annoyed. I try to remind myself to pick up the phone if I receive a frustrating email while in a bad mood. There is something to be said for using a phone as a phone…

8. Perform a random act of kindness. Do something for someone else. Again, my mother always told me that doing something nice for someone is actually doing something nice for yourself. Even more important than how it makes the other person feel is how it will make you feel. Just like red lipstick, this works every time.

9. Think of one thing you are grateful for. Many of my BFFs have started gratitude journals, and now I know why. Nothing like reminding myself of all of the amazing people and things in my life to make me forget about all the things I might think are wrong.

10. Remember that bad days last just as long as good days, and not one second longer.

And finally, I remind myself of yet another thing my mother said. “Choose to be happy,” she recommends; “it is in your power to decide how you feel.” She must be on to something since Tony Robbins agrees: “How you feel is not the result of what is happening in your life – it is your interpretation of what is happening.”


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Disco Will Never Die

August 31, 2014

A few weeks ago I got a call from a beloved New Orleanian, Anais St. John, a seductive, talented Jazz vocalist whom I first heard singing at the Windsor Court bar (I remember a song about a dentist named Dr. Long John “drilling for cavities”). She was calling to tell me about a Donna Summer show she was doing during Labor Day Weekend in New Orleans. I wanted to ask “Donna who?” but didn’t dare. Don’t blame me. I was born in the late 70s and was raised in Europe. Coincidentally, when this call came in, I was in the car in Tennessee between Memphis and Nashville with a man from Kentucky driving, a man who loves Donna Summer and had just started playing a song of hers.

I took this as a sign from the universe that I needed to attend that show. So I spent last night at Allways Theatre in the lower Marigny watching Anais become Donna Summer. The first thing I realized is that while I didn’t know the name, I knew the music of the “Queen of disco.” The second thing I realized is that my husband knows all the words to every Donna Summer song. And the third thing I realized is that the evening was quintessentially New Orleans. This was not karaoke. I was listening to Donna Summer music played by a full band involving keyboards, bass, guitar, drums, percussion, saxophone, two vocalists, and two dancers. An analog version of electronic music performed in the digital age – performed perfectly.

Anais’ three costumes were perfectly disco. She started out in a long-sleeved gold lame deep v-neck dress and bright green eyeshadow. Switched to a sleevless black sequined dress cut even lower, and ended as to be expected in tight black pants and a sparkling gold top (an outfit that at least a few women in the crowd were wearing).

Anais was the perfect impersonation of Donna Summer, and described herself as having much in common with LaDonna Adrian Gaines: “We are both chocolate; both tall; we both have big hair. We both married white men, have a background in musical theater, and a flair for the dramatic.” Indeed!

It was an amazing evening. If I could, I would go back tonight. Summer’s songs are still playing in my head, reminding me of a few key life truths:

  • Sometimes, enough is enough is enough.
  • Love to love the one you love.
  • When all else fails, just dance the night away.
  • Don’t ever stop listening to the radio.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover. Bad girls are sometimes good girls.
  • Treat everyone with kindness because everyone is working hard for their money.
  • And disco will never die …


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