WHEEL OF FORTUNE
WHEN A FRENCH POTTER MET A VINEYARD- OWNING INVESTMENT BANKER FROM THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE WORLD, THEY DISCOVERED THEIR TALENTS AND TASTES WERE SUBLIMELY MATCHED
When a Kiwi banker met a French potter, the results were life- changing
IT’S FAIR BAKING in the Lowburn Valley. The long view from Domaine Rewa, a vineyard in the foothills of the Pisa Range, is an undulation of beige with a slash of Lake Dunstan’s azure, preceded by ribbons of green vines flourishing into fruit. The extreme heat has banished all thoughts of barbecues, but is accentuating the area’s beauty – so long as you’re not a vineyard worker busy netting grapes against avian invasion.
“An old man told me it hasn’t been this dry for 70 years,” says Philippa Fourbet, the vineyard’s owner and mother of the two little boys at her knee, a little damp from sleep and rosy with summer. Motherhood is Philippa’s latest preoccupation although, as the owner of Domaine Rewa, bought sight unseen in early 2010, she argues she’s been ‘mother’ to a very demanding and costly child for eight years already.
The two-storey schist home on the property is surrounded by swaying plane trees, crunching gravel and blazing lavender, a scene redolent of Southern France. Nothing sings that story more than the plentiful Anduze pots providing pops of pigment against the Central Otago dry.
A native of Waitahuna – a tiny Otago town near Lawrence – Philippa is stylish in the heat, beautifully dressed, quick of speech and wit. Which is perhaps what you’d expect of someone who has lived overseas for 15 years, working as an investment banker mostly in London, and traveling the globe. It was during a year off to see Europe she became acquainted with decorative French Anduze pots – and the man who made the best. “She fell in love with my pots before she fell in love with me,” says Yannick Fourbet.
Philippa’s husband is the very image of a French man; he’s hale, hearty, charming, and likes his wine. And he’s actually from Cameroon. “Born and bred, but schooled in France from 15.” At 19, he decided to see the world; he decamped to California’s surf beaches where he learned English and worked in bars to stay afloat.
Then, interested in the sea, he took a degree in marine biology but soon realised lab life wasn’t for him, so he moved into marketing, completing an MBA. When cigarette company Phillip Morris offered him a job sourcing tobacco in Rwanda, he took a U-turn. “This was 1994 and on the radio I was hearing the news about the Tutsis and Hutus. So, no, I decided to go back to France to start a business restoring and selling antiques.”
Among those antiques were Anduze pots. These clay planters have been used since the 17th century, originally for citrus trees so the precious plants could be moved to over-winter in one’s orangery. They were built to last. “In France there’s a notion of transmission from one generation to the other; the house stays in the family, and so do the pots. Some families add their own coat of arms and emblems to the pots.”
Having learned to restore them, Yannick wanted to make them. He bought shares in Le Chêne Vert, a horticultural pottery in the town of Anduze, in the Cevennes region. Most Anduze pots are made in a mould; as they turn on a wheel the clay is pressed up inside the mould. But one day in a pottery market, Yannick saw something fascinating. “I met an old farmer whose passion was horticultural pottery. He had beautiful clay on his land and was making pots using an ancestral rope-coil technique.”
Yannick helped him out, carried his clay and brought him water when he was thirsty. “And then I asked if he would mind showing me how to do it. He said, ‘Because you have been kind to me, I will show you.’” While there are half a dozen Anduze-producing potteries in the region, Le Chêne Vert’s rope-coiled pots stand out. Over the years, Yannick has developed unique glazes that dazzle with colour or replicate the muted hues of a long-lived and loved antique. With the rope’s imprint still visible inside the finished pot, they’re verifiably handmade. “My pots are not a barcode product.”
Philippa first visited the pottery while traveling around Europe with friends in 2009. She looked at the pots and thought, ‘Oh god, they’re so beautiful. I have to come back.’ It took three years for her to return but she did, looking for pots for her vineyard. “When I arrived on a blistering hot day they were bloody well closed for lunch – so French – so I had to return later. I started quizzing a staff member, but they spoke only rudimentary English. I spoke only rudimentary French, so they went to get the owner.”
“I come out with clay in my hair, in a dirty apron and terrible T-shirt,” says Yannick. “And I see this girl, like sunshine, with a beautiful smile.” Philippa was keen to import Le Chêne Vert’s pots, so they exchanged emails and communicated for a good six months about how to get the pots to New Zealand – nothing more.
When Yannick traveled to the Chelsea Flower Show to exhibit in 2013, which he has done for six years in a row, he sent Philippa a text inviting her along. “We met for dinner and…”
Over the course of the next three years, the couple married but continued to live separately in France and London. “Philippa already had the vineyard, and when I first came here in 2014, I saw this place and thought, ‘Wow, this is like a French house,’” says Yannick. When Philippa became pregnant with the twins, Mortimer and Augustin (fraternal, but so perfectly matched they’re near identical), she moved to the French countryside. “I’d never lived with a man in my life. And now I’m seven months’ pregnant, living with a man in a foreign country, in the absolute boonies.”
She continued to administer Domaine Rewa, visiting New Zealand for holidays. “I’ve always said I was never going to be an old lady overseas. We planned to come back when the boys were about 10, but in 2017 decided we might as well get cracking. I wanted to be closer to the vineyard and to go back into banking, which wasn’t going to work in rural France.”
Yannick, too, was looking for a change. His family now owned Le Chêne Vert and his bespoke pots were in demand by the likes of Christian Dior, the Palace of Versailles, the cities of Montpellier and Nice, and Petersham Nursery in Richmond, London. Yannick would create pots of a specific size and shape, add each client’s motifs or emblems, and sculpt a unique garland.
But running a workshop, with the politics of employees, was wearying. He wanted to set up his own studio at Domaine Rewa where he could devote himself to his customized pots while also importing classic pots from Le Chêne Vert, now managed by his sister. The couple arrived in Otago on New Year’s Day this year.
Creating a bespoke pot, Yannick says, is about getting the right size, shape and colour for the space and landscape. And in our vast landscapes he’s expecting to fire some giants. “The only limit will be the size of the kiln I can source. Ultimately, I want to make a New Zealand pot, one that you could see anywhere in the world and recognize it. The ideas are still boiling away but I’ve already sculpted a garland, with a koru for New Zealand and grapes for Domaine Rewa.”
And it is at the vineyard that The French Potter will set up. Pots will be made from a sustainable source – which ties in with Domaine Rewa’s philosophy. With the support of her viticulturists, Philippa has achieved biodynamic certification. She always wanted to run the vineyard in a holistic, sustainable manner, but that was about all she knew when she invested in the vines from Aurum Wines. “I didn’t even see the place before I bought it, but my parents did and told me to do it.” This banker put in an offer from London on a Monday, forgetting about a pre-approved mortgage. The agent replied saying it had been accepted but must go unconditional by the Thursday. “So I did no due diligence. But, voilà – it turned out okay.”
While Yannick is proud of his wife’s ability to grow her vineyard, increasing the yield from 3000 bottles in 2011 to 14000 in the 2016 vintage, Philippa credits viticulturists, Grant Rolston and Gary Ford, and winemaker Peter Bartle. “Aside from asking Peter to make the chardonnay in an oldworld style, I just said to make the wine he loves.” It’s an approach that has worked; the chardonnay keeps winning awards.
Now the couple are putting time into the vines, learning a new trade. Mortimer and Augustin will eventually be able to join in. “It’s so much better to be here, to help out, and join everyone for a drink at the end of the day,” says Philippa. “Coming home was absolutely the right decision.”
ABOVE: The house is built as a French- style ‘cadole’ which is a stone shelter for vineyard workers. It was already in- situ when Philippa bought it in 2010, well before she met Yannick. “It’s so interesting that we met, coming from opposite sides of...
Yannick Fourbet, aka The French Potter, with a variety of rope- coiled pots shipped in from his Anduze workshop, Le Chêne Vert. Yannick first came to love Anduze pots when he restored them in his antique business. “Antiques gave me the chance to...
Anduze pots come in many shapes and sizes and can be quite plain or highly decorated. The decorations can be hand- sculpted or made in a mould and applied wet to the pot before firing. However, even if they are moulded, such as with the garlands on the...