Lives & Times Of Valley Folks: Floriane Weyrich

by Steve Sparks, September 1, 2011

I met with Floriane at her home on Clark Road, on property owned by Roederer Estate Winery where she lives with the Roederer ‘boss’ — husband Arnaud, and sons Maxence and Mathis. We sat down at a table next to a window overlooking the vines and, with a jug of fresh lemon juice made with lemons from the tree outside.

Floriane was born in Caen, Normandy — a city badly bombed in World War II, just ten miles away from the D-Day beaches, to parents Jean-Marie Mellion and Nicole Etienne. On her mother’s side the family is from an isolated spot in Brittany although her grandparents moved to Normandy after the war and her grandfather worked for the railroads. Her father’s side have been in Normandy, from Ecots, like Boonville in terms of size since the mid-1600s, a rural family, although her great grandparents were tailors in the city of Lisieux, and therefore a little better off. The families were neighbors and both sides of the family were Catholic, attending church regularly, which is where Floriane’s parents met. “Everyone was Catholic — we had a few nuns in our family, and a priest too, and the whole town went to church. Normandy, in northern France, is very Catholic and I was born and raised in that religion — my husband, Arnaud, is from Alsace and was raised Protestant.”

By the late sixties, Floriane’s parents’ relationship was developing but her father was a pilot in the French Air Force. Eventually Nicole said he had to choose between the planes and her and he made his decision — they were married in 1970. Floriane was born in 1971. “My name was supposed to be spelled with two ‘n’s — Florianne, but my Dad got it wrong when it was registered so that was that. I have a younger brother, Gatien, born in 1974, and sister Charline in 1976. My mother got her teaching credentials and was a kindergarten teacher for thirty years. My father did just one year at college. In the early days he sold, installed, and maintained furnaces, started his own business when I was about seven, doing the maintenance of these large industrial furnaces for various industries from asphalt companies to large hospitals — they were huge appliances and it was a niche thing that he got in to. Both sides of my family were very working class and it was tough at times, although as kids we never suffered from it. I grew up in the city but when Dad started his own business we moved to the nearby village of Feuguerolles, only ten minutes from Caen but definitely in the countryside.”

“We raised various animals on our small farm — a few sheep, rabbits, ducks, chickens, geese, turkeys. It got a bit out of control and we ate rabbit alot! We started with just three sheep but it turned out that one of the young ewes was a ram! I had various farm chores on this small property where we also had potatoes, green beans. After our move, I did not go to the local school and stayed in school in Caen. I think I suffered from that, because this meant that I did not get to know the local kids very well at all. I did that for seven years until I was fifteen and went to high school, when the local children had to go into the town too as there was no local school for their age in the small village. I was a very good student, I must say. Good at most subjects although in France if that happens you are pushed towards mathematics. I liked art but was talked out of doing it by the teachers and counselors. My parents were easy-going and not pushy either way. I never really questioned what I liked. That isn’t the way in the French system. I took English and German and then Italian too. For the last two years at high school you get to drop a subject or two but still study several all the way to the end. I was good at math and enjoyed it but it was not my passion. I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up! I was good at school but the system was one where you are just fed information. It was very old-fashioned and not at all interactive. It is still more or less the same apparently and the kids are not engaged enough, in my opinion.”

There was no school sports — that is not the way in France. Sports are an activity you do outside school and you have to join a club of some sort. I took up horse riding out of school and that became my passion. The flat plains of Normandy are horse-riding country and Floriane spent many hours at the local riding school. My closest friends early on were my siblings and we were outside a lot, despite all the rain we get in Normandy... My parents had bought a 200 year-old house and there was lots of renovation work to be done — it took about twenty-five years. My friends in high school were not sure about visiting me there with the construction work always taking place so I mainly socialized at school, although with all of our extended family close by, much of my time out of school was spent with them.”

At the age of eighteen, Floriane graduated from high school and attended prep school to get her ready for the Grandes Ecole — a system of education higher than university, and very hard to get into. “This was in Caen and for two years I did forty hours of school and almost as much again for homework. It was very stressful and some of the teachers seemed to enjoy humiliating the students, both boys and girls, and some were basically sadistic. Many students dropped out but I passed after the two years. I would not wish that experience on my worst enemy. I guess they see it as a way of sorting out the best students — but unfortunately it is done in an eighteenth century style.”

During the summer breaks high school and the prep school, Floriane found jobs at work camps, similar to the Peace Corps. She worked in Tunisia, Belgium, and even in Arizona, helping on various projects such as castle and monument renewal and gardening. “You did not get paid but your room and board was provided. I enjoyed my experiences and it was a great way to discover other cultures. In Arizona, I was on a sort of commune, working in the fields and orchards and also in construction — hanging sheet rock and plastering.”

Floriane had specialized in biology, physics, and math at the prep school and she now moved away from Normandy to the south of France, to study at Agronomy College in the city of Montpelier. “I was twenty and with the studying so much easier in comparison, and with so much more freedom, I partied all the time. I took a biology and math major, studying viticulture too, and was there for three years, obtaining a masters degree in Food Technology. I had met Arnaud at the college, where he was studying viticulture, and we were seeing each other regularly before moving in together for a couple of years. You don’t ‘date’ in France; there is no process or protocol about what you can and cannot do at various times of the relationship. It is just not part of the culture. You do what feels right.”

In 1993 Arnaud, who was a year ahead of Floriane, had found a job with Roederer and was sent to their winery in Anderson Valley for a year. In1994, after graduating, Floriane began work at Perrier, the water company, as a research scientist in their facility near to Montpelier. She moved on six months later to a job in food safety with Dole — the dried fruit company. Arnaud was in the Valley during the phylloxera grape plague and he stayed from 1993-95 during which time Floriane came to visit and did some work in the laboratory at Roederer before returning to France in 1995. “Arnaud had suggested we stay in the States and I had said ‘Never!’ It was just too far away from home and family. Plus the Valley was too isolated for me, I thought. I did not know anybody as we had been staying in Ukiah. I took a job, based in Paris, working for the big retail company Carrefour where I was in charge of food safety for seven hundred stores. Arnaud returned and moved in with me. It is tough to be a wine worker in Paris and so he took a job in Quality Control, also for Carrefour. We both got to travel around a lot and saw many different settings and wineries. The job was not his dream but it was a great learning experience. I was on a plane a couple of days a week and it was a very stressful but we got to ‘play’ in Paris at the weekends. I was also still in touch with several friends from college in Montpelier and a few from prep school.”

Floriane realized that this was the way things had to be at the start of their careers. She and Arnaud kept the fact that they were a couple from their employer as traditionally this is not acceptable in retail and stores. Then she became pregnant and they were married in 1996, son Maxence being born in 1997 and then Mathis in 1999. “I took three-months off and then went back to work — the kids go to nursery at four months. However, the kids were always sick from the germs at school. It was hell. I thought about that small valley in the country.”

Arnaud had kept in contact with the people at Roederer and when they asked him what he was doing he told them and sent in his resumé. “With all the stress of the job and the issue of the kids health it was a good time to go. We were also sick and tired of Paris. Mathis became very sick and we had to get him out of there. With winemaker Michel planning to retire, Arnaud was offered a position and it was a great opportunity for him. All four of us came over in April 2000 for one year to see if I liked it. We lived in the Blue House on the Roederer property off Clark Road and the kids’ health improved and I was happy as a full-time Mom of a one and three year old. I decided to make it work and soon made friends with parents of other kids — the Kleins, Jeanne Eliades, the Schulte-Bispings. There was a period of transition and the kids spoke French. They went to daycare with Ellen Saxe on Greenwood Ridge and were soon speaking English and French with an American accent!”

After a year the family returned to France and lived in the center of the city of Reims, a city of about 300,000 people in the Champagne province. “We had stuff in Reims and Paris, everywhere it seemed — we ultimately moved 11 times in ten years. The apartment was unfurnished and there was no parking with lots of traffic — all very different from our experience in Anderson Valley. I was rehired by Carrefour and worked from home while Arnaud continued his training with Roederer. We stayed for a year but returned to the Valley in August, 2002 and then moved in 2003 where we have lived ever since, in the two-story White House at Roederer.”

The two boys attended pre-school and kindergarten as Floriane volunteered at the school. She had received a generous severance package from Carrefour and this allowed her to set up a consulting company for the food safety industry. “However, it turned out that the regulations were not as demanding here as in France and my expertise was not relevant locally, although I did do some consulting for Roederer and a cooperage company in Napa — a French company with European standards. Meanwhile when Adam Springwater found out I was French he assumed I must know something about soccer so he asked me to help him with the Youth Soccer program in the Valley, which I did for a few years. In 2004, I also took on a radio show on the local public radio station, KZYX, with Joelle Signorelli called ‘French Touch’ and after a couple of years I took it on by myself. I continued my horse riding with Brenda Stone and got to know other horse people in the Valley. It seems like in the last couple of years I am never at home, mainly due to my horse passion and through the school where the kids are always busy with something.”

Rod Basehore approached me one day and asked if the kids might be interested in being in one of his plays he does with the AV Theater Guild. They had done the drama camps with Charlotte Triplett and so they went for it. I took the kids to the rehearsals and soon I was involved backstage and generally helping out. It was for the kids. I had no ambitions in that area. I could never see myself on stage, never. The kids did the play the following year in 2009 and I did do one little skit in that, after Rod persuaded me. It was stressful but fun. I thought it was a one-time thing and there were no kids in the 2010 play. Then earlier this year Maxence said he wanted to be in this year’s play. Rod said he wanted someone for a small part so I said I’d read the script. It turns out the part of Honey Ray had been offered to Patty Liddy who did not have the time this year. The part was not small — it was a main role with lots of lines. It was Patty’s part and I am not that good. Rod said he felt I could do it. I started to rehearse and liked the cast and we were soon all really into it. It was a really fun experience I never thought I would have. Marcus Magdalena has taken over from Rod as director of the Theatre Guild and I look forward to doing some more.”

Floriane did lots of fundraising for the Elementary School and was volunteer chairperson for the PTAV. (Parent Teachers). This whole scene became a big part of her social life. Then in 2010 she became assistant to the director of the AV Winegrowers Association — Janis McDonald, which involves lots of work with the Alsace and Pinot Noir festivals. “It is part-time and just enough. I have stopped my involvement with the Elementary School and starting a PTAV branch at the Junior High/High School. I remain very involved in my kids' lives. I have given French lessons to some people who have asked and we encourage our own boys to follow their French culture with books, writing, and food. I still do lots of riding, with people such as Anne Fashauer and Milla Handley and my horse is boarded on Holmes ranch Road at Sharon and Deborah’s place. He is sixteen and called Ricky. That remains lots of fun to me and I do it every other day, mainly dressage in the ring. It is very good for me, very therapeutic, almost meditative.”

I asked Floriane for a verbal image of her father. “A risk-taker. That is not easy in France. It is very different here.” And her mother? “The opposite of Dad. She loves kids and is a great cook.” And what does she like most about the Valley? “I get to do things I never would have done in France. In this country you can fail and start again.” And what don’t you like about the Valley? “People leaving.”

I asked Floriane for her brief responses to a few Valley topics.

The wineries and their impact? — “Well it is one crop that can legally bring in enough money into the Valley to support the families who live here. It makes money off the wonderful land we have and hopefully does it in the right way. It’s too bad that there are so many absentee-owners of wineries — those that are run by people not involved in the community in any way. They make their money here but do not contribute and that is an unfortunate in-balance.”

KZYX radio? “I’m glad it is here. I see that there is lots of hard work put in by many people and I enjoy working there. John Coate and his team have done a great job when you see the numbers — the station was in financial peril with $200K in debts but he has worked to bring that down to $50K.”

The AVA? “When we first moved here I did not like some of the slander that was in there. The wineries have had some bad experiences with the AVA and that’s too bad. There should be a more open and friendly dialogue between the two, and others also — the paper, the wineries, the radio station are all potentially great resources to the Valley.”

The school system? “I love the school system and remain very supportive of it. The teachers are dedicated and are inspiring to the kids. It is regrettable that people are leaving and taking their kids to schools elsewhere. My kids are doing very well in the local system. I like public schools. We had a revolution in our country to get them!”

To end the interview, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.”

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Learning new things.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Complaining, whining people.”

Sound or noise you love? “Laughter.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Barking dogs at night.”

Favorite food or meal? “Rillettes — goose meat — served cold. It’s like a paté.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “My grandparents on my mother’s side. I wish I had had time to ask them more questions about their lives, their childhood, their history, the war.”

If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? “A sun hat; a Swiss army knife; pen and paper.”

If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? “Family photographs and our pets. Everything else could burn and be replaced.”

Favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? “I have many, but none that were life-changing or that influential.”

Favorite hobby? “That would be horse-riding, my passion. I also like cooking. I cook a lunch and dinner almost every day for the family. We generally go to Lauren’s on Friday evenings for dinner. It is a meal each time. We don’t do sandwiches. It is part of what I regard as my family job.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? “A psychologist maybe, or a ‘horse whisperer’.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “A toll booth worker.”

How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? “As I said earlier, we do not do the dating thing. We get straight to the point. It is straight to the point, no planning.”

Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? “I wish I could have found a passion earlier in life.”

Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. “The birth of my kids.”

What is something that you are really proud of and why? “My family here — that we are still here after ten years.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself? “That I am very committed and reliable, I do not flake out. People feel they can confide in me a lot. I guess I inspire trust.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “You did a good job, Floriane, come in.” ¥¥

(To read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Deanna Apfel.)

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