spring—countryside—wine = luscious escapade

I was mighty pleased when a couple three weeks ago I was asked to take two lovely women—a mother and daughter— for a jaunt to la Touraine in the Loire Valley. They had contacted me about going on one of my "day with a natural winemaker in the Loire Valley" excursions. What better way to usher in spring...
And I took them to the home and vineyards of my dear friend / magical winemaker Christophe Foucher and his small-scale domain la Lunotte that sits pretty on gentle hills just above the soothing, meandering river le Cher.

I picked up the gals at the Blois train station that Sunday and we drove south toward the le Cher and the village of Couffy on its southern bank. Eight hours later I navigated them back to the train station and they jumped on the train heading back to Paris... but over those eight hours—which passed like a flash—we cooked, sipped, tasted, wandered, ate, sipped again, wandered again, laughed and shared a whole lot. Much about living, naked, natural wine—nothing added, nothing taken away. Much about food—whole food from the harvest of the season, from the hands of artisans, from the hearts of passionate folk.

Let's see the menu that day was : farinata topped with green asparagus, carrots, red onion, fresh mint—beautifully plump stuffed artichokes, recipe down below—tarte tatin.

For nibbles we had a truly artisan goat cheese from the ferme-auberge la Lionnière just down the road. François and Françoise are the last in the region—and beyond—to let their goats roam free on beautiful stretches of land. Goat cheese that's simply excellent.

And of course to go with our little feast, many a bottle of Christophe's wine : Bulottes (100 % gamay), lightly sparkling—les Rossignoux  (100% sauvignon blanc)—les Petites Vignes (100% aamay)—le Haut Plessis (100% menu pineau)—les Ormeaux  (100% gamay)—la Flou (100% cabernet franc)—Brin de paille (late harvest sauvignon).

We visited his two cellars: one in the village of Châteauvieux, a stone's throw away, where he keeps his older vintages, and the other—le chai—in the building adjacent to his house, where he ferments, ages, and eventually bottles his recent vintages. And of course we wandered his vineyards, the vines already sending out baby emerald-green leaves. Another cycle underway... the sent of lilacs in the air was a sure sign that spring had sprung.

The sun was tipping toward the horizon, so I headed back to the train with my two dear women... and an extra bit of baggage : an old vine stalk that had given up the ghost and been pulled out of a row of vines. It seemed to inspire. It certainly had tales to tell.

And I'll leave it to the pictures below to tell a bit more the story of our day with a natural winemaker in la Touraine... in the Loire Valley.

morning café—lilacs
se mettre à la tâche
la main à la pâte
bon travail... now time for a sip
vines and sky
fields of colza—vine in hand—night falling
fumi—stuffed artichokes—le haut plessis

= best in late spring, early summer then again in autumn

4 large artichokes
1 lemon for rubbing the artichokes
1 lemon for garnish, sliced or quartered

stuffing :
50 gr | 1.7 oz rice cake crumbs, broken into small pieces (or breadcrumbs)
2 generous handfuls of flat parsley, coarsely chopped
1 generous handful fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled, halved, sprouts removed, and coarsely chopped
30 capers preserved in salt, rinsed well
70 gr | 2.5 oz Sultana raisins, softened in a bit of hot water and drained
40 gr | 1.4 oz walnuts, coarsely chopped
1  carrot, cut into small dice
20 – 30 green olives, cut into halves
50 gr | 1.7 oz Pecorino Sardo (or Parmigiano-Reggiano), freshly grated + some for garnish

Extra-virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper

cooking liquid:
2 fresh bay leaves
Dry white wine + water, equal amounts
1 lemon cut into quarters (use the lemon preciously zested)
Pinch black peppercorns

|||  Preheat the oven to 190 ˚C (375 ˚F).

|||  Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a skillet. Add the rice cake crumbs, carrots, capers and olives. Stir for a few minutes over medium heat until the crumbs are lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the rest of the stuffing ingredients, a drizzle of olive oil and a couple generous pinches of sea salt.

|||   Working with one artichoke at a time, first cut off the top 2 cm | 1/2 inch of the leaves. Rub with a halved lemon. Pull off the tough outer bottom leaves. Cut the stem flat with the bottom of the artichoke and trim off any tough green. Rub with the halved lemon. Now with your hands, gently but firmly pull the top of the leaves outward from the center, opening wide the artichoke until you get to the middle cluster of thin purple leaves. Pull out what you can with your hands. Now take a sharp paring knife and cut down around the bottom edge of that cluster, trying not to cut into the heart—this should free the cluster and you should be able to easily pull it out. Then with a large sturdy spoon, scrape out the choke; making sure to get the choke from up under the ridge. Rinse with water then squeeze in a bit of lemon juice and swirl around inside. Shake out any excess.

|||  Tightly stuff each artichoke with the rice cake mixture. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the top of the stuffing. Place the stuffed artichokes in a baking dish—one that just holds the artichokes. Place the lemon quarters, peppercorns and bay leaves around the artichokes and fill the baking dish with equal amounts of white wine and cold water to measure a good 1-inch deep.  Cover with parchment paper than tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour (the artichokes are done when the tip of a sharp knife easily pierces the heart). 5 minutes before they are cooked, remove the aluminum foil and parchment paper. Garnish with grated Pecorino and return to the oven for it to melt.

|||  Let cool for 10 – 15 minutes before serving. Cut each in half, leaving the heart intact. Spread slightly open and shower with freshly ground black pepper. Place a slice of lemon on each plate and serve.
note : if you wish to make a VEGAN variation, you can substitute 30 gr | 1 oz of white quinoa for the Pecorino. Rinse your quinoa a few times under running water over a bowl then drain. In a small pan bring 60 ml of water to a boil. Add the quinoa and a pinch of sea salt. Cover, lower the heat and cook at a simmer for 13 - 15 minutes—all the water should be absorbed. Remove from the heat. Fold a kitchen towel in four place over the pan then cover with the lid. Set aside for 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, fluff up with a fork and stir in a 1 - 2 teaspoons of nutritional yeast


  1. These photos are beautiful! I loved reading and gazing at this post!

    1. thank you! so pleased to hear... it is a beautiful region, the Loire. glad I could share it with you.