The village, marooned in a green sea of vines, shimmered under strong light. On the outskirts stood an ancient distillery, oak and metal hoops stacked in front, ready to become barrels. This thriving commune, in the heart of the Cognac area that produces the fortified wine, Pineau des Charentes, also had two antiques dealers. Such good fortune!
An archway, offering a moment of cool, led us into a bright courtyard with antiques to one side and Pineau des Charentes on the other. Olivier greeted us at the door of his shop. “It is my wife who makes the Pineau, and I sell the antiques,” he smiled, ushering us inside. As my eyes adjusted to the shady space I loved what I saw: beautiful gilt wood mirrors, rarely found, and an altogether splendid collection of pieces. This was not going to be a call where I’d have to trawl around trying to find something to buy.
One of the mirrors had just been sold, but there was one for me, with a stunning carved fronton of violin and musical motifs. I picked up an intriguing gilt wood framed water colour of a scene between a young woman and man – too wonderful not to buy it! And after I had grazed through other lovely pieces, came the question that puts a little pop of joy into my day – “Vous voulez voir mon depot?” Olivier led me up a rickety wooden staircase and pushed open a pair of tall, pannelled doors painted in a perfect, timeless grey. I lingered to admire. “I bought twenty two pairs of doors like these from a grande maison,” he commented, “and this the last pair I kept for me.”
We stepped into the large attic space beyond. The air was thick with a warm, heady perfume. The attic was above the vats where grape juice and Cognac eau-de-vie were fermenting! Here was a depot with no small amount of dust and dead spiders. I picked out platters, jars, pots, gilded coffee cups. A farmhouse table was tempting, but it was too far beyond reasonable repair to warrant transporting it home.
We clambered downstairs and out into the courtyard. The set of garden furniture just outside was added to the list. Graham looked hopefully over at the Pineau shop, but Olivier had another barn to show me. This was a significant complex of old buildings, in his wife’s family for generations. We crossed another courtyard and Olivier tugged open large doors into a wall of furniture facing us. “Attention where you put your feet,” he urged. “I don’t come here so much, I must really arrange it better.” We squeezed past large pieces of dark wood furniture, draped in cobwebs, into the depths of the barn. Two enfilades in a dusty corner looked interesting but impossible to reach them! Olivier promised he would send me photos. (Three months later my shipper brought them back to Oxfordshire. In the chill of an autumn day I opened one of the drawers and breathed in the aroma of fermenting Pineau. The shipper looked on quizzically as I put my nose in the drawer and sighed.)
“Do you have any need for shoes?” asked Olivier, indicating a stack of 1970’s shoes, brand new in their boxes. Patent leather sling backs with big daisies on the front, kitten heels and platform soles galore – a vignette of a very different era. We made our way out into the sunshine. It was time to sample the Pineau.