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73. Wedding in Beaujolais


We have just returned from a wedding in France, in Beaujolais. Mathieu, who spent a month here in Monmouth about 10 years ago, was getting married. You can buy his delicious wines in my shop: he makes Fleurie (he lives in Fleurie), Morgon, Chiroubles, Beaujolais Villages; he also makes Juliénas, straight Beaujolais and a pink fizz which he calls "Irresistible".

We flew out on Friday – early flight at 7 a.m. – and arrived at Lyon airport at half past nine. We had the day to ourselves, and went to look at the medieval walled town of Pérouges, perched on top of a hill above the modern town of Meximieux. It was a glorious day with uninterrupted sunshine. It got to 40 degrees centigrade. We had lunch outside underneath an awning in the town of Chalamont, and drank rosé. On Fridays in Chalamont there is street market in the afternoons, and we watched the traders set up their stalls as we finished our lunch. Mathieu had invited us for the Saturday, so we thought we would need to fend for ourselves on Friday evening, though he had said we could "come quickly" to his house. We bought cheese, bread and a gigantic tomato in the market and set off towards Fleurie. We were motoring along in the blistering sunshine, but up ahead in the distance past Fleurie there were towering thunderclouds. Then flashes of lightning. As we approached Fleurie the temperature began to drop and the sun disappeared behind the clouds.

We went to look for our lodgings, rang the doorbell. No answer. So we went to look for Mathieu. He told us that the place we had gone to was not where we were going to stay, but that his mother would show us later. There were bottles of wine open, including the "Irresistible", off-dry and delicious – and Crémant de Bourgogne, and Fleurie, and more besides. We had a drink or two. Mathieu told us that they were going to put up a fir tree outside his house.

Lying on the ground by his house, which is just across the road from his parents' house, was a sixty-foot-long fir tree. There is a custom in France that when a couple get married a fir tree is put up to mark the event, and it is taken down after a year, or sooner if the wife becomes pregnant. Mathieu's best man and various other close friends started digging a hole beside the house. It was a much bigger hole than was needed for the fir tree. It turned out that the custom also involved burying a wooden box filled with bottles of wine in the hole next to the fir tree. When the fir tree is taken down, the bottles are disinterred and there is a party.

Mathieu and his fiancée Pauline set about stripping off the side branches and bark of the tree, just leaving a top knot. Then Mathieu disappeared, and reappeared with a fork lift truck, and put a pallet on the forks. A group of hefty youths heaved the tree into place in the hole up against the house, and Mathieu's best man and another friend climbed on to the pallet. They were hoisted up, to the fork lift truck's fullest extent, so that they could secure the tree to the protruding rafters of the house. The fork lift truck swayed alarmingly. They hammered in nails, wound wire round the tree, and two hours after the digging started, the tree was in place, with the top knot sticking up above the roof of the house. Now they had to affix a heart inscribed with the names of Mathieu and Pauline, and the date of the marriage, to the fir tree. Job finally done.

Mathieu's mother, Liliane, appeared and we went off with her to our lodgings, a vast converted farm building, and we had the best room! We showered and returned to Mathieu's parents' house, where we had supper with them, and two other couples, friends of theirs.

That night we had the farm building where were lodging entirely to ourselves. Very relaxing.

The next day other people started arriving, and the car park filled up. We went down to see Mathieu. More wine. His parents invited us to have lunch with them, and Jean-Jacques, Mathieu's father motored off to Belleville, the main local town, to get pizza. Great pizza. More wine, including a bottle of the family's Beaujolais 2014 – delicious! 2014 was a brilliant vintage.

The marriage ceremony was due to take place at 3.30 in Chiroubles, the village of Pauline's family, a mile or two away.

Next month – read about the day of the wedding!