During a three hour mid-day meal at the Bewildered Pig last month Floriane and Arnaud Weyrich told me the tale of how they migrated to our Valley, raised a family, and upon retrospect found very gratifying what had begun a quarter of a century ago as an encounter with a daunting new frontier for them both.
Arnaud was born and raised in Strasbourg, the major city in France’s Alsace province nearby the river Rhine. Floriane grew up in an equally old and settled small city in Normandy, Caen, inland twenty miles from the June, 1944, Allied D Day landings near the end of World War II. In the early 1990s they met at Montpellier University. Arnaud initially studied agricultural science and engineering, but vineyard management and wine-making at France’s most prestigious school in these fields soon seduced him with the vision of a career working anywhere in the winegrowing world. Floriane studied food safety science and was employed by a national grocery store chain.
Arnaud had begun academic fieldwork in 1993, as an intern at Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley. Roederer’s founding winemaker Michel Salgues had asked Arnaud’s enology professor to recommend a student for the job. Arnaud, whose roots were generations deep in urban Strasbourg wanted to find out about the rest of the world and headed for California. It was during these internships that Arnaud discovered the existence of the phylloxera grape root predator in Roederer’s vineyards. In previous years the company had bought from professional nurseries. In 1995, after two years in California, Arnaud made the decision to go back to the home country and reunite with Floriane. They were married in 1997 and both employed by that same retail grocery chain near Paris.
I will digress from Floriane and Arnaud’s story for a paragraph to describe what this destructive grapevine pest is and does. Phylloxera is a native American subterranean aphid that feeds on the grape’s root system until the plant can no longer sustain itself nutritionally and gradually, sometimes over years, declines and dies. The bugs then move on to other parts of the vineyard and over time from vineyard to vineyard until a whole region is infested. Roederer’s initial vineyard plantings were apparently aphid-free, Arnaud reports, nor was there evidence of phylloxera elsewhere around The Valley. It was replacement vines imported from commercial nurseries elsewhere in California that brought the pest into The Valley. With Arnaud’s discovery the company moved quickly to tear out and destroy the dying vines and to alert their grower neighbors of the bug’s presence in its vineyards. To my knowledge no other Valley vineyard was invaded by the burrowing bug.
In 2000, Michel Salgues retired to begin the next chapter of his life and Roederer appointed Arnaud as his successor. Floriane and their two children, Maxence, three, and Mathis, one year, arrived in Anderson Valley in April and moved into the Norris Pinoli home on Clark Road, by then owned by Roederer.
At this point the conversation led to my favorite interview question: what were your first impressions of the Anderson Valley community. Arnaud: “A feeling of remoteness…no habla espanol.” Floriane: “Never…,” a plausible rection to moving from Paris to remote, isolated, tiny rural community. Floriane, employed in the Paris suburbs and with nanny child support at home, had no previous experience being a daily fulltime homemaker. But as a homemaker shopping for groceries she began to meet people. Among the first was Jeanie Eliades, a first class socializer indeed; Rina and Jim Klein, he a fellow winemaker at Navarro Vineyards; also friends from day one were Ronny Keresh and Ellen Saxe, he the Greenwood Ridge winemaker.
Floriane observed that her biggest culture shock once she survived her migration from Paris to Clark Road was how open and friendly everyone she met was, fellow parents, local business owners, local retail store customers, at her first Philo Post Office visit Burton Segall wearing a red plastic nose. Everyone was typically American and “on the move.” “Anderson Valley is one big village and all of a sudden you are part of it.”
I went on to ask about the children’ first impressions of their new home. Floriane reports that, having grown up in the totally paved Paris suburbs, they were intimidated by a world outside their home that was nothing but dirt and grass. Then they also didn’t understand why they had to learn another language. Why didn’t the Americans learn French?
But right away in 2002, Floriane and Arnaud entered them in the pre-school, then the Anderson Valley School system. Both kids adapted well to the complex culture, diverse ethnic and class backgrounds of the student body, the style of teaching - once they had migrated from French to English as their first language. Floriane’s only negative comment about The Valley’s education system was that of a trained pure food scientist: “I wondered about the food…” Floriane also participated extensively in volunteer work within the school system, PTA affairs, but also classroom teaching support in maths and English, and also coaching elementary school soccer for eight years.
Both Maxence and Mathis graduated from AV High School, and then Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with degrees and computer science engineering and mechanical engineering respectively. Currently both are employed in the Bay Area, Maxence with a tech company in Silicon Valley, Mathis doing hydrogen capture research with a San Francisco firm. They both return regularly to The Valley to spend time with their parents and friends.
And there were other extra-homemaker activities Floriane engaged herself in. With Joelle Signorelli from Elk she produced and was disc jockey for a monthly radio show called “French Touch” featuring the romantic night club music of the nineteen thirties, forties and fifties up to today, from Edith Piaf to Charles Aznavour, and so on. It was a great show I loved to listen to and dream about the Hollywood-Paris definition of romance, in the smoke-filled cocktail lounges and night clubs of those earlier glamorous years.
A whole new adventure for Floriane unfolded when Rod Baseshore persuaded her to participate in an Anderson Valley Theatre Guild production. At the instant she was sure she had no skill as an actor, but Rod teamed her with local electrician Ray Langevin in a skit from James Thurber’s THURBER CARNIVAL making fun of the New York’s “high society’ life, “Mr. Preble gets rid of his Wife,” written in 1933. The skit and role in the Baseshore Company she reports being most fond of was playing “Honey Ray,” a homegirl in the rural south of post World War II, making fun of city people. “Back then The South was still a frontier.” William Faulkner would agree with her wholeheartedly.
During the Valley social life part of our dialogue, adapting to Anderson Valley’s culture, Arnaud had said nothing. So I took a shot at him about the essence of his first days here: “Surviving in Anderson Valley” was his instant reply. More specifically what he was referring to was sorting out among the local services contractors, vineyard posts and grape stake makers, electricians, etc., who would do what they said they would do and by when, and who not. I noted to Arnaud and Floriane it takes a newcomer a generation or so to learn that lesson.
After three hours of dining and story-telling at The Pig, we paid our bill and headed out into one of the few warm afternoons of this spring. I went back up to the vineyard and continued mowing the rows, spending the next couple of hours in a meditation on Arnaud and Florian’s migration and adaptation to the complex and heterogeneous community called Anderson Valley. I believe they know it was an ambitious and successful transition from traditional French culture to our more open “frontier” one here. And it is the ability and enthusiasm of immigrants like them that have made my life here so richly rewarding.
Next Week: The Floyd Johnson Family, Sheep and Cows south of Boonville.