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May 31, 2013

Evenings Out

A pleasant life making wine in the south of France

It’s a story as old as time: Girl meets girl, they spend 16 years together and decide to open a winery in the south of France. Every time you turn around, someone is rehashing that tired old plot.

All flippancy aside, Fiona Cunningham-Reid’s award-winning documentary Wine, Women and Friends (known in Europe as Les Cabotines, Le Vin au Féminin) follows Carole LeBlanc and Jo Béfort through a year in their lives, from grape harvesting through bottling their Domaine les Cabotines syrah between 2011 and 2012.

Carole is a nurse from Québec, while Jo is from an Alsatian family with a history of winemaking, although in a more modest way. After being together for 16 years, they moved to Collias, in the south of France, where they purchased a farm with some heirloom syrah grapes, many of the root vines a century old.

They took classes on wine appreciation and then on winemaking, learning what they needed to know to go forward.

They rented a cellar (the winemaking kind, not the basement kind), since Carole was unhappy with the one that came with their house. They bought second-hand equipment and learned quickly how to fix problems that arose.

Now, every season, their friends join them as they prune, pick, ferment and bottle their wines, sold out of their Domaine les Cabotines cellars.

In a fit of practicality, both women kept their day jobs; they have no interest in becoming vineyard managers, they just want to make wine while not having to worry about paying for the roof over their heads. Along the way, they are also creating a gay community in Collias, with an inner circle of friends and a mailman who quickly tells them if a local estate is purchased by a same-sex couple.

Being in France, and especially outside of a large city, one might think they would run into significant problems being openly gay. However, in true Gallic fashion, their cellars’ landlord is more concerned that they are finally making good wine on his property, as opposed to the swill his former tenant made.

Even Jo’s mother, who is interviewed in the film, seems more concerned with the quality of her daughter’s wine than the lack of a son-in-law, which is why, regardless of whatever protests anti-gay forces in France may organize, LGBT equality marches forward there. The French care about liberté, égalité et fraternité, for the most part, far more than they care about what the pope says.

It is really interesting watching the two women at their “day jobs,” Carole as a nurse in a convalescent home and Jo as what seems to be the head of a veterinary lab.

During the harvest, a 60-pound turtle is dropped off at the lab, and her team have to find out how it died. Did it swallow a plastic bag, or was it something bacterial? We never find out, but we can see the same intensity she gives to her work repurposed for their side business of winemaking.

Carole, who is quite agreeable outside of work, becomes Demeter at work--caring, nurturing, gentle and kind. It is as if her natural self gets turned up to ten when she goes to work, dealing with her elderly charges, who seem to adore her.

Wine, Women and Friends is a pleasant film, out now on DVD from First Run Features. If there is a problem with the film, it may be that it is too pleasant. The closest thing there is to a conflict in the entire documentary is a cranky neighbor of their cellars who ignored the No Parking signs on the day the bottling truck came to do up the year’s vintage, but Carole’s trip to her house got that sorted out, even if the neighbor was a cranky something-or-other.




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