The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

French wine maven Lulu Peyraud taught Americans ‘joie de vivre,’ and we owe her for that

Lulu Peyraud, who died Oct. 7, hosting a luncheon on the terrace at Domaine Tempier in Bandol, France, in March 2003. (John Fulchino)
Placeholder while article actions load

We lost Lulu this month. Americans who fell in love with wine and food in the 1980s and 1990s know who I mean. Lucie Peyraud, Lulu to those who knew and loved her and many more who loved her without ever meeting her, embodied the ideal of food and wine and hospitality and all our dreams to live in Provence someday, enjoying long lunches on a terrace surrounded by lavender and rosemary, munching on the bounty from the local market, washed down by copious quantities of the world’s best rosé. Lulu died Oct. 7, after a brief illness. She was 102.

Lulu was arguably better known and more influential in the United States than in her native France. She was the matriarch of Domaine Tempier, in Bandol, a region in Provence east of Marseille. The family winery was given to her by her father upon her marriage to Lucien Peyraud in the 1930s. Her influence and mystique on this side of the Atlantic derived from three Americans, including food writer and cookbook author Richard Olney, who became a friend and neighbor, and Kermit Lynch, an importer who introduced the wines of Domaine Tempier to the United States and wrote about Lulu in his seminal 1988 book, “Adventures on the Wine Route.” And Alice Waters drew inspiration from Lulu for her restaurant, Chez Panisse, and taught Americans to value simple, fresh and local food.

Lulu was by all accounts a pint-size woman with an outsize personality that captivated all who met her. She entertained thousands of visitors over the years, cooking on her wood-burning hearth in her tiny kitchen and serving up memorable meals on the domaine’s terrace in the Provencal air. They came to taste Lucien’s wines, but they left raving about Lulu’s food.

A tiny Frenchwoman has had a huge impact on food in America

Olney catalogued some of Lulu’s recipe’s in his 1994 cookbook, “Lulu’s Provencal Table.” He described Lulu and her family as “dedicated to the belief that the meaning of life lies in love and friendship and that these qualities are best described at table. Perhaps love and friendship can never be quite the same in the absence of the cicada’s chant, of fresh, sweet garlic and voluptuous olive oil, of summer-ripe tomatoes and the dense, spicy wild fruit of the wines of Domaine Tempier, which reflect the scents of the Provencal hillsides and joyously embrace Lulu’s high-spirited cuisine.” She obviously inspired joy as much as run-on sentences.

Kermit Lynch began importing Domaine Tempier’s wines in the late 1970s and selling them at his store in Berkeley, Calif., a few blocks from Chez Panisse, and through distribution nationwide. In a phone conversation from France, he recalled those heady afternoons and evenings when Lulu would cook a banquet for 30 or more people in her tiny kitchen with its wood-fired hearth.

“She had an open-door policy — if you were around at dinner time, she wanted you to eat,” Lynch said. “We knew how to drink better back then than we do today, when we have to be more careful. The wine flowed with Lulu’s cuisine, and the wines were swallowed with a lot of joy.”

John Fulchino, then co-owner with chef Ann Cashion of Cashion’s Eat Place and now of Johnny’s Half Shell in Adams Morgan, first put Domaine Tempier’s wines on his list in 1995. He and Cashion visited Tempier in March 2003.

“I was in awe of Lulu,” Fulchino recalls. “She was broiling a huge skillet of mussels in her kitchen fireplace when I sheepishly introduced myself. She was joyful, extremely happy, and that joyfulness was contagious. I was in the company of royalty that day. The air was crisp, the food was warm, and the garden was filled with joy. It was Lulu, she made everyone feel satisfied inside.”

Unlike most of the country, Maryland consumers can’t purchase alcohol at grocery stores. That may change soon.

Waters posted on social media that she was heartbroken over the loss of her “beloved mentor.”

“She had boundless love,” Waters said. “Everyone who met her felt that she was their best friend.”

Lulu’s secret for longevity wasn’t just good Provencal food and wine. Lynch remembers her love of bawdy jokes, many of which he assured me would not be printable in a reputable newspaper.

Lynch visited Domaine Tempier the Friday before Lulu passed away. “Her eyes were bright and she was entirely present,” he told me. “We had a glass or two of champagne and some little amuse-bouches. Of course, I had no idea I would not see her again. When I called to propose another rendezvous, I was told she was in the hospital.”

For those of us who never had a chance to dine with Lulu on the terrace at Domaine Tempier, her spirit can still be with us whenever we raise a glass or two or three over a meal on our deck or patio amid the chant of cicadas, the scent of rosemary and the joy of friendship.

More from Food:

Wine column archive

Programs aim to break up the wine world’s ‘stuffy, white boys’ club

The ROC certification could become the gold standard for wineries, and the earth

Snoop Dogg’s for-the-people label and an exclusive club mark extreme poles of the wine world