For the past few days, I have been hosting a wonderful American group in Provence. We’ve been savoring some of the best sights, tastes and activities the region has to offer from historical tours of Avignon and Les-Baux-de-Provence to dégustations (wine tastings) in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas to a hands-on Provençal cooking class to shopping the marchés (open-air markets) in St. Rémy and Vaison-la-Romaine. As we’ve been visiting with our various French hosts each day, it is very evident how much the seasons and weather affect daily life here.

This past spring was quite cool and wet in France – I was still wearing sweaters and jackets in Paris at the end of June! – and accordingly, the growing season of fruits and vegetables everywhere has been super delayed. So what does that have to do with Provence right now? Walking around the Provence markets this week, we’ve seen piles of gorgeous tomatoes which is unusual for this time in September. Our Provence cuisine cooking class featured Goat Cheese Mousse with Tomatoes and Zucchini Tagliatelle, a dish made possible by the incredible heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes ripening on the vines at the moment.



And I loved this market vendor in St. Rémy who was selling the best cherry tomatoes I have ever seen. You could buy three barquettes for three euros, or approximately $4. I wanted to scoop up the entire table!


It was a similar story at the wineries we visited in the Rhône Valley. By mid-September each year, the grape harvest – le vendange – here is usually finished. However, this year vineyards just started harvesting white grapes a few days ago! Red grapes will follow meaning that this year’s vendange will wrap up towards the end of September or beginning of October. We heard this straight from vintner Christian Meffre of Château Raspail in Gigondas who hosted us for lunch and a tasting of his wonderful red wines. Here he is offering us an apéritif out amongst the vines which were still heavy with red grapes.



Château Raspail in the Gigondas area of the Rhône Valley

As the grapes have been finishing up their ripening this past week, the Rhône Valley winemakers have been hoping for sunny weather and also a bit of wind to keep the grapes dry. Fortunately for the grapes, the famous southern France wind, the mistral, began blowing a few days ago. Less fortunate for humans, the mistral can make the weather a bit chilly. It can also make visiting a village like Les Baux-de-Provence on the top of its limestone plateau a challenge when the sudden gusts almost blow you over.

At the asylum of St. Paul de Mausole where the artist Van Gogh interned himself for a year right before he died, the mistral was having its effects there too. As we went out the door into the garden of the former monastery, a note taped to the door warned about the strong wind – the "vent violent" in French. Don’t you love the expressiveness of the French language? Visitors were asked to keep the door closed – otherwise, il y a la porte qui claque (the door keeps slamming shut).



As summer flows into fall here in Provence, it is somewhat sobering to be reminded that so many livelihoods depend on nature and the seasons. Yet, the sun will be bright and radiant as usual in the deep Provence blue skies…wines from 2013 will be bottled…olives will be pressed for their fragrant green-golden oil…truffles and mushrooms will be gathered…leaves will turn beautiful reds and yellows…early morning mists will cloak the fields…smoke from wood-burning fires will scent the air…and the change of seasons will bring a whole new palette of foods and flavors to the table.