Since childhood I've been an avid Francophile. Clearly, that is due, in no small part, to parental influence but I think it goes further than that. We spent almost all of our family holidays self-catering in France and then when I was 15 years-old I participated in our school's French exchange. Cigarettes, mobylettes, bangers, flick-knives, girls, cider, steak haché, Simon and Garfunkel – there was nothing not to love. Then, of course, came wine and a love and career that would define me. There can be very few people that are more irritated by Brexit than me, but at least I can still spend time there and enjoy its wonderful cuisine, culture, people and places.
An offshoot of my interest in all things Gallic is a strong appreciation of French signage, its wording and layouts and the patina it gains with age. Here are some of my favourites that I've acquired or admired over the years.
1. Rue Nicolas BERTHOT.
This classic, enameled French street sign may, or may not, have been purloined by a young Englishman with his friend Alban Martin over 30 years ago. If that is the case then he has atoned by importing and promoting French wine over the following decades.
2. Caves de France du Minervois – en Vente Ici.
A great piece of advertising ephemera that is both wine-themed and geographically evocative. I picked this up in a brocante in Brantôme (the Venice of Périgord) many years ago and have appreciated it ever since.
3. Réserve de Chasse.
I love this sign, that was a gift from the late, great John Burningham, who illustrated our 2009 wine list. It couldn't be more Gallic and the rifle and shotgun pellet holes add a je ne sais quoi. He featured it in his wonderful 1998 book 'France' a homage to a country he loved as much as I do.
4. Cueillette Champignons Interdite.
I liberated this from a tree in woodland in the Dordogne, about 10 years ago, to the chagrin of my beloved. Today, none of its' contemporaries have survived, so I feel less guilty about the acquisition.
5. Dégustez un "Porçianus".
This was a gift from Mr. Yapp senior and it shows you that 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree'. The green and purple colours are complimentary, and the name of the concoction (which I don't think ever caught on) is just genius. Merci cher père.
6. IV Licence – Loi du 24 septembre 1941.
I found this in a gift shop, opposite the cathedral in Chantres, and it may fall into the dodgy category of faux ephemera. If that is the case, then it is an early example and very well-executed. I like it nonetheless, it is so iconic and reflects life throughout the land and appreciation of apéritifs and digestifs and an enviable love of life.
7. Marché aux Fruits.
You will be glad to know that this is a sign I left en place, as it is firmly embedded in a plane tree. Whilst that might not meet with contemporary advice on arboreal welfare, it seems to be doing alright. If you want to witness it in person it is in the marketplace in Mauves, just south of Tournon-sur-Rhône.
8. Côte-Rôtie – Emile Champet.
This is another gem, just outside Ampuis, whose gradual degradation I have been monitoring over the last 25 years. I'm old enough to have known Emile. I have suggested to his grandsons (also wine-makers in Côte-Rôtie) that they repatriate it but at the time of writing it remains en plein air.
9. ST. PEREY.
This ceramic cellar bin marker is another great find of my father's. By the anachronistic spelling alone I guess this dates from the late 19th or early 20th Century. Oh, to live at a time when you had a whole bin full of Saint-Péray.
Mounted on aluminum this 1982 portrayal of Bibendum is bien classique. One may tire of tyres but as advertising imagery goes this is hard to beat.
Of all French signage this is probably closest to my heart. It was designed by my partner Pippa who we commissioned to create a new label, in 1996, for our top-selling Chenin Blanc. Happily, the label and the relationship, survive to this day. It was inspired by graffiti depicting Charles de Gaulle and has gained a loyal following.
12. Carte Agricole # 2.
I had been looking for one of these for over 2 decades and have finally found an original. Created by Les Fils d'Émile Deyrolle, from a design by Albert Bernard in 1873, it was designed as a teaching aid in schools and, miraculously, is still in print. I love everything about it – it is like an illustration of my career – it's marvellous.