Fellow travelers recall their memories:My connection to Chateau Brandeau was through my mother, Dorothy Perkins. She and Fox grew up together in Santa Barbara in the 30’s and 40’s and are still good friends, though they live on separate continents. When I told my mother that I wanted to take a year off to travel in Europe before going to college she suggested I stop in to visit Fox and Peter at their vineyard in the southwest of France.
I arrived at the vineyard three months shy of my 18th birthday in the fall of 1976. Vendange had just finished a few days before. I had invited two of my friends from Santa Barbara, Erik Sween and Kevin Speer, to join me in my European travels and we all met up at Fox and Peter’s to begin our trip. As with most guests at Brandeau, we fell quickly into the rhythm of working, eating, drinking and sleeping with loads of laughter and memorable conversations layered into almost every activity. Soon after we arrived, Peter blended our three names together to make one, giving us the nick-name “Kwillick”–remarking on how the three of us were virtually inseparable. He’d say, “John, go wake up Kwillick. They drank too much last night and they are still asleep in the hayloft.” Or, “Let’s Have Kwillick weed the vegetable garden today.” Peter always had a way of memorializing his guests, making them feel special. I also remember being struck by how cheerful and happy the other guests were as they went about the various on the vineyard. They practically whistled while they worked.
The day I arrived, it was just before lunch so after the round of introductions and a quick tour of the property, I was led to a long, wooden table on the parapet overlooking the vineyard. The table was set simply, yet beautifully. When I looked at the salad I was startled to find flowers mixed in with the usual lettuces. “Why are there flowers in the salad?” I asked, incredulously. “Because Fox put them there.” I was told in a tone of reverence. “0h.” I said.
This was something that became a normal occurrence on the vineyard. I could pretty much count on finding at least one exotic food that I hadn’t eaten before–or one dining practice—at each meal. Over the many days that I spent on the vineyard in the months to come I tasted a plethora of foods for the first time. This is just a short list of the virgin tastings I had that first year: steamed mussels, paté, wine at lunch, cornichons, pasta al pesto, delicious vegetable soups with vegetables that I didn’t recognize, toasting bread on the fire, cooking meals in the hearth, blood sausage, prosciutto, Spanish brandy, wine at breakfast, eating an animal that had been walking around the previous day, all manner of mushrooms and duck confit and cheeses—so many wonderful cheeses that this untraveled California boy had never known existed. Perhaps the most delicious new mealtime practice was the postprandial nap. I felt like I had found an alternate universe where work got done and yet it didn’t feel like work at all: it felt like fun and it felt like everyone’s efforts and opinions and idiosyncrasies were valued.
It’s funny how hard it was to describe the appeal of the vineyard to friends and acquaintances. You’d tell them that you worked 8 hours a day, 6 days a week for no pay and only Sundays off and that it was one of the most fun experiences of your life and they’d look at you like you had joined a cult. Was it a cult? Hardly—though I suppose there were some things that it shared with a cult. There were benevolent and charismatic leaders, Fox and Peter, and the workers gave up their labor for free to support them and their philosophy. But instead of being driven by a religious or spiritual system of beliefs, the members worked toward an ideal of community, creativity, comradeship, fun and a bohemian ideal. Or maybe they were just working for room and board, all the wine they could drink and a little fun. Either way, everyone was thoroughly satisfied with the arrangement.
Before Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, there was Fox. While feeding her guests, Fox quietly infused them with her philosophy of food. Local, simple, delicious made with care and love. This philosophy of food and the lifestyle surrounding it is one of the most powerful memories of Brandeau for me. It affects my food habits and choices more than any other influence that I have been exposed to over the years and I will be forever grateful.
The other thing that sits in the forefront of my Brandeau memories is the diverse and interesting people that I met. You would sit next to a professor from Oxford one day and an Italian hippie potter the next. There were plenty of Americans and English around the table and working alongside you in the vines, but also Australians, Canadians, French, Swedes, South Africans, you name it. And everyone was welcomed and celebrated as uniquely special, and perfectly integrated into the family. The only time guests weren’t welcome was during the Christmas holidays. If you were at the vineyard, Fox and Peter would politely ask you to take off for a few days so that they could take a break from all the crowds to have some time for family. This seemed like a wise practice and no one that I knew of ever had a problem with it.
William Triggs, San Francisco, California
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