In the wooden cigar box of keys that held the only clues to this old farming hamlet when we took possession, none of the tangle of rusty, misshapen bits of metal would fit this door.
We’d been at the house for a month or so that first summer, with more pressing concerns such as how to get water and electricity, before we decided to break in here. It’s on the sloping underside of what was once a stone barn, now Rob’s music room.
We assumed it would turn out to be the equivalent of a garden shed. But no. Once we were in, holding up a hurricane lamp to illuminate the dank dark interior, we found a sizeable stone flagged room. Some old tools lay around and a grindstone was propped against one wall, along with a large flaking painting of a lily in a vase.
At the back was the opening to a short passageway that led into a vaulted wine cellar or cave stretching some way under the courtyard. Dusty bottles – empty – lay on a raised gravel base between a jumble of barrels.
When we mentioned our find to one of our neighbours he told us that the farm was once renowned locally for its production of excellent vin de noix, a rich sweet walnut wine like a liqueur that the French often drink as an aperitif. And sure enough, in the garden there are three majestic walnut trees.
In autumn the nuts drop and we gather them, pulling off the outer casings that rot all too easily in the October rains, then let them dry out in a wire egg basket in the warmth of the kitchen. But by then it’s too late to make walnut wine. The time to brew is in June when the nuts are still green. And here is how to do it, thanks to Vanessa at A Writer’s Lot in
: link France
40 walnuts (still in their green outer casing)
7 litres red wine
1 litre eau de vie
2 kilos sugar
Cut each nut into 4-8 pieces and put into a 15-litre demijohn. Slice the oranges (with the peel left on) into strips and add to the nuts in the demijohn. Mix the wine, eau de vie and sugar in a bucket until sugar dissolves. Pour over the nuts and oranges. Leave for four months in a cool place, then strain and bottle. Santé!