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...

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