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The heavy mist held a thick veil of white over the surrounding vineyards. Giggles and popping champagne corks gently pierced the early cool still air. Wedding Day at La Vue France was easing itself into gear.
As only the second wedding ever hosted by La Vue France, and the second largest for them that year, our big day ahead was always going to have a few rough edges…
The Morning Of
The bistro slowly filled with guests from the on-site gîtes for the leisurely self-service breakfast buffet. We chose a 4pm ceremony, allowing plenty of time for a relaxing day exploring the local region or just taking a leisurely dip in the pool.
The plan for the groomsmen was to head into Chataeuneuf-sur-Charente for a lunch at the riverside gem of La Tonnellerie. As it was, time escaped us and we instead popped to the behemoth Super-U supermarket to empty their shelves of baguettes, cheeses and meats for a picnic of champions in one of the gîtes. With the mist long since burned away and the temperature outside now a sweat inducing 40°C, we dined inside with the fans on full blast.
Meanwhile, the bride-to-be and her ladies were enjoying La Vue France’s delightful pre-ceremony hospitality in the Manor house.
The bridesmaids had been preparing since dawn, each taking their turn for intricate hair and make-up from Jane Emerson of French Perfection. Leaving Laura ’til last looked good on paper but, ultimately, delayed the start of the ceremony beyond that which custom dictates.
My suggestion, based on experience of admittedly only one wedding: make the bride the penultimate person to be made-up. If anyone is to be rushed, it should not be the bride.
The groomsmen and I walked the venue of the ceremony, putting out fans, orders of service, confetti canons and checking the florist’s handiwork, etc. Taking a little less time to get ready, our photographer scurried across to join us for the obligatory photos of us putting on cuff-links, ties and jackets.
A private word to the groom: do your cardio. You will never be photographed in more punishing detail than your wedding day. A slack jaw line and wobbling midrift will be cruelly exposed. Either own them forever or get exercising. If you have also, per chance, held an à la mode beard for five years, do not shave it off for the very first time a few days before the wedding. Lest you have Kevlar for skin, this too may not react all that well, especially under a fearsome Bordeaux Summer sun.
Adding further kinethesis to my already rouged and malleable jaw line, our photographer suggested that we seriously re-think the location of the wedding ceremony. Given the heat, his advice was to seat everyone under a low and heavy pergola roof, to afford some shade. It being an hour or so before the well practiced and meticulously planned wedding ceremony was due to start, I chose to not to heed this particular advice.
By the time 4pm chimed, the guests were in their seats, wafting the gratefully received fans and ruing their lack of a hat to shield themselves from the fierce sun.
I would recount every moment of the ceremony but it feels like it was over in flash. Laura’s father officiated masterfully. Beautiful readings and prayers recited. Hilarious missed ques for the start of the hymns. Heat swollen fingers meant the wedding bands would not fit without a fight. Suddenly, we were walking through a hail of confetti as the newly married Mr & Mrs Jarvis.*
*NB: You cannot actually get married in France unless you are a resident. We were married in the village church in Oxfordshire the week before.
After a line-up to greet all our guests in the court yard, everyone wandered the four corners of La Vue France in search of some shade and any breeze. Under the trees it was that we mingled, quaffed the free following cremant and scoffed the bite size canapés.
The family and friends photo shoot was rattled through apace in front of the iconic gates to the vineyard. The speed was preferable, given the blinding sunlight and scorching heat. In hindsight, however, this may not have been the opportune place for photos, as the staff were busy laying the table for the wedding breakfast in the vineyard behind us. Stray boxes and a loud speaker occasionally and incongruously ‘photo bombed’ the once in a lifetime photos in the background.
The humid micro-climate between the vines was such that we delayed entering the vineyard, where the alfresco wedding breakfast was to take place, until the ambient temperature had dropped. This meant that we could escape to our room to freshen up. For me, that meant an icy cold shower and a fresh, dry shirt. I was a man reborn.
We took our place in the centre of the inordinately long table, ready for the carefully crafted wedding breakfast. One of the great ‘set piece’ events of any couple’s big day, we were clear on what was meant to follow.
In our minds it was to be a formal, candlelit supper for 100 close friends. No tall order. Seeing our friends and family chatting and laughing away was a privilege to see. The flanks of verdant grapevines and blue sky above made for a unique and extraordinary setting.
The starters were served swiftly by the staff who made the long walk over from the kitchen multiple times. Clean plates all round were testament enough as to how well that course went down. Those with allergies and dietary requirements were all provided with their own specially made dishes.
For artistic or washing-up reasons, the firm view of La Vue France was to put only one wine glass per person on the table and not to put white or rosé wine bottles on the table, in case they became unpalatably warm.
Consequently, the serving staff presented themselves with the task of changing wine glasses as guests switched from white to red or vice-versa. They were also facing the impossible challenge of constantly topping-up 100 wine glasses at lively wedding breakfast. Predictably, this was all too much. We started to see quite a few empty wine glasses during the main course; our own included.
As the mains were served, my heart sank. Clearly the caterer, The Forks Traiteur, had left each dish under heat lamps for a rather long time. Each chunky and stodgy dish paid little resemblance to the tasting session we had had in the Spring. It was also now that we realised for the first time that there were next to no vegetables with any one of the three dishes we had chosen.
Our mistake not to realise the lack of vegetables was compounded by The Forks Traiteur who served a large crows nest of tawdry kebab house chips as an accompaniment. We had asked, discussed at length and confirmed in writing, for chips not to be served. But there they were, a Gallic shrug of complete indifference from the Fork Traiteur to the bride and groom’s well laid plans.
Those seated around Laura and I could tell how deflated we were with the quality of the catering and lack of wine on the tables. Up next were the speeches. At that moment in time, that was the last thing I wanted to do.
After Dinner Speeches
As the sun set behind the hills and vines, Laura’s father rose to give a heartfelt and memorable speech. A beautiful and humorous tribute to the young lady with whom I had fallen in love. Spurred on by his moving candor, I buried the disappointment of the wedding breakfast as deep as I could. I reminded myself of the reason why everyone was sitting before us and how thankful I was that so many people had made the trek out to France to be with us.
Rejuvenated, and with all the vim, verve and vigour I could muster, I delivered my heart-felt thanks to absent friends, to family old and to family new, to the bridesmaids and to my motley group of groomsmen. Their smiles, their laughter and the poignant silences was all that I needed in return.
Having survived the ribald character assassination of my best man, it was time for dessert. They were served apace and were as rich and tasty as expected. Part of our much discussed plan was for a specific dessert wine to be served in specific glasses at the same; a nice little touch, we thought. It did not emerge. I presume that the staff were busy on other tasks, setting up the bar for the after party. No one knew of the omission, so we kept it quiet.
The sun had now set and been replaced the star studded deep black canopy that only a rural night sky can deliver. We were faintly illuminated by a string of festoon lights, adding a rather Bohemian vibe to our formal affair.
As we walked the long table, we were treated to toasts and cheers and even a serenade in French from a musical friend. These are the true memories that will stay forever.
As we returned to the courtyard, the fire pits were lit and the elusive dessert wine, cheese, biscuits and port were set out to graze upon.
When it was time for our first dance, to the strains of, “A Higher Love,” the sea of revellers cleared the dancefloor in the Bistro long enough for us to prove that we really had not had any lessons. Fortuitously, our DJ had been primed to mix in a dance version of the same track after a couple of minutes, to bring everyone up onto the dancefloor.
Damian the DJ was my favourite ‘provider’ of the day. He quietly and professionally went about his business, ensuring that the music for the hymns in the ceremony were played at the right time, all the microphones worked for the speeches and had the dancefloor packed throughout. He knew his craft well and created one of my abiding memories: mother Jarvis boogying away on the dancefloor with my old schoolmates.
These memories of our family and friends are truly the stuff of which our wedding day was made.
The La Vue Staff must have been exhausted by this point but all credit to them, as they manned the bar, smiling and bantering on. They served the predictably popular midnight munchies on cue with style and smiles, to re-fuel our grateful guests.
By 1am, the coach was departing to drop all the off-site guests home. Exhausted, we were not going to be ‘that couple’ who stayed up ’til dawn on our wedding night. We retired to our room, full of stories of the day to share.
A Closing Thought
One great piece of advice I was given about your wedding is never to tell your guests what is going wrong or what did go wrong. Hopefully, only minor details will be omitted or go awry. Your guests have no idea what they are missing out on, though, and are undoubtedly having a grand old time in any event. They certainly do not want to think you are not having the time of your life, so keep any errors and omissions to yourself. (I have rather let the cat out of the bag now for our guests with this article!)
A recent bride said to me that your wedding day is like an exam where you never get to hear of the mark you achieved. Never in our lives have we put so much time and unwavering effort into researching, discussing, negotiating and paying significant sums of our and our parents’ money for one weekend. To say that we were ‘invested’ in its success does not get close. As well as organising it all, we were ensconced as the stars of the show.
You will never really get to know, if everyone had a good time. You so hope they did but there is no report card; there is no affirmatory final mark to tell you how it all went.
I do now think that a wedding planner has a part to play. They can chase up all the small details that are falling through the cracks. Whilst you are getting ready earlier in the day, they can check that the chef is not about to jettison your well planned menu and serve a stodgier version with a plateful of french fries. They can spot the empty glasses on the table and rectify.
Given all the hard work, organisation and expectation on the shoulders of every bride and groom, I think you can be forgiven if your wedding day turns out to be the most memorable, rather than the absolute happiest day, of your lives.
The author held his wedding at La Vue France on 29th June 2019
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