Today would have been Monsieur Cassin's birthday. He'd be getting close to a hundred, now.
I'm thinking of him this balmy 'rest day' between finishing harvesting the Merlot and starting on the Cabernets tomorrow. He's the reason you are reading this. Any of this. Had I been billeted with anyone but M and Mme. Cassin when I arrived in France as a student there would be no Laithwaites. Of that I am quite sure.
I was not, on arrival here, one of those natural born entrepreneurs you read about. I did not have a paper-round or indulge in anything even vaguely money-making as a child. I did not come here to learn a trade or make my fortune. I came on account of the Maigret series on TV. And that hilarious Jacques Tati film; 'Jour de Fête'. And Brigitte Bardot. I just fancied France. No more than that.
But Monsieur Cassin decided to mould me. He'd had a lifetime of British culture running a French trading company in British Africa. Some of our culture he liked; (he knew Shakespeare by heart), some he certainly didn't; (Governor Sherwood-Smith who called him the 'Uppity Frog' and had him arrested).
I was his chance to give a raw Brit some French culture.
He forced me to speak French. Speak or starve, basically. But when I asked correctly they fed me such delights. And introduced me to their culture, (Girls, Bals, French Girls, Fêtes), Not Bardot but ... so different, and, hey, I'd just escaped from a British Boarding School!
Then I got the meal time talks about doing business. I was infected by the enthusiasm. France now; dirigiste, socialiste France is not held to be particularly entrepreneurial. Completely anti-entrepreneurial really. But this was then.
I worked in a winery that Monsieur became manager of when it was bankrupt. I saw how with no resources he turned it right round into a big success. I learned how he broke rules, innovated (being the first producer ever to sell direct to a supermarket made him very unpopular in Bordeaux) and generally baffled the competition.
Then, that fateful day he said "You could do this too, Tony". My mind exploded, and ... Presto! The aimless youth had his life's mission.
And Monsieur's support, when I set off ... I'd post him little dictafone tapes of moans, he'd return them, a master-class in business-studies.
He constantly repeated the word ''Comptabilité" (Accounts!). And I would say "Oui, Monsieur" whilst not doing any at all, until two years in when Barbara came to do them for me.
As we grew he would repeat the new mantra " Faites attention à vos Marechaux"! (He saw me as a bit of a Napleon). We didn't watch them, and, alas, he was right. But we survived.
Ah! Monsieur. What would you think now? 40 years and still going? He wouldn't seem impressed. I'd get a finger-wagging lecture. But I guess inside he'd be happy.