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Grape Expectations

BOOK: Grape Expectations
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GRAPE EXPECTATIONS
Copyright © Caro Feely, 2012
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, nor transmitted, nor translated into a machine language, without the written permission of the publishers.
The right of Caro Feely to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Condition of Sale
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent publisher.
Summersdale Publishers Ltd
46 West Street
Chichester
West Sussex
PO19 1RP
UK
eISBN: 978-0-85765-715-2
Substantial discounts on bulk quantities of Summersdale books are available to corporations, professional associations and other organisations. For details telephone Summersdale Publishers on (+44-1243-771107), fax (+44-1243-786300) or email (
[email protected]
).
About the Author
Caro Feely worked as a project manager and IT strategy consultant in Ireland and South Africa before trading it all in to pursue her dreams. She now runs a successful organic wine estate with wine school and gîte rental business in the Dordogne Valley in France with her husband, Sean.
Note from the Author
This is a true life story; however, some characters, events and place names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people concerned.
  Dedicated to our new friends in Saussignac, our loyal customers and my family, Sean (SF), Sophia and Ellie, without whom this adventure would not have been possible.
Wine in itself is an excellent thing.
Pope Pius XII
Contents
Prologue
1. Beware the Dream
2. Goodbye Pay Cheques, Hello Château
3. Homesick
4. Six Tons of Chicken Poo and No
'Épandeur'
5. Tangling with Red Tape
6. Shark Attack
7. Poil de Vache
8. Summer4
9.
Vendanges!
10. Of Fingers and Foresters
11. Digging Grapes
12. Vineyard Rights
13. Goodbye Owl, Hello Château
14. Lessons in Lunacy
15. In the
Merde
with the Merlot
16.
Vendanges Tranquilles
17. French Wine Adventures
18.
La Source
19. Pre-school Gourmands
20. Goodbye Château?
Message from the Author
Acknowledgements
Prologue
I took a deep draught and swirled it around, feeling the warming sensation of alcohol on the back of my throat. The wine filled my mouth with plum and blackberry. The finish had a hint of spice and an attractive saline minerality.
  'Delicious.' I licked my lips. The wine filled me with joy. A picture of a vineyard drenched in sunlight formed in my mind. Sean drew me rudely back to the lounge of our semi-d.
  'Did you get the spice?'
  I nodded.
  'How can they be in liquidation if they make wine this good?' I asked.
  We should have stopped right there. We were driven by something that went beyond logic: a decade-long dream that took us to places we could not have imagined.
Chapter 1
Beware the Dream
'I think this wine is like an ageing dancer. Her moves are slow and supple. Then she performs a pirouette just like she did when she was younger.'
  Pierre-Jacques dipped the pipette into the wine-stained oak barrel, transferring tastes swiftly to our outstretched glasses. We stood in the entrance to his cellar, a cave hewn out of the chalky cliffs, captivated by the softening sun and his sensuous descriptions. The wine was smooth and serene across my tongue before fresh raspberries twirled at the finish.
  'The wines are grown. I am not a winemaker. I merely help the grapes' transformation.'
  Pierre-Jacques, a compact man with dark curly hair and a twinkle in his eye, chronicled the weather of the vintage, the monthly progress in the vineyard, the gentle shepherding of the harvest. Something stirred in our blood. No longer was wine just wine, but a living liquid bright with memory. We had caught a glimpse of the soul of winemaking and were smitten.
  After that revelation, we had sought out artisanal wines from French vignerons, people whose lives were expressed in what they bottled. Sean took night classes in wine. I took French. We both dreamed.
  Now I was leaning on the kitchen counter, staring at grey drizzle, grabbing a few moments of peace between baby feeds and thinking back to our first visit to that French vineyard. I reflected on how our lives had developed since that fateful day. Every spare cent went into our vineyard fund. We researched, studied and saved. I was an IT-strategy-consultant-turned-early-stage-venture-capitalist and Sean, an investment writer for the asset management business of a large bank. We were typical yuppies but with a long-term mission to change our lives.
  Then our first daughter Sophia was born. A malformation of her oesophagus led to five hours of life-critical surgery at less than a day old. It was a time of extreme feeling: powerful love as a first-time mother, fear that she would be taken from us and desperate hope that she would stay. For a year we thought of nothing but her health. She survived – more than that, she glowed with vitality. With Sophia healed, our thoughts returned to a vineyard of our own. We searched the Internet for our dream vineyard most evenings and weekends but had found nothing.
  The dream was in fact seeded long before Pierre-Jacques. Sean's grandfather, long dead, was a winegrower. In our mid-twenties we had nearly bought a vineyard but a career opportunity with the large technology multinational I worked for put the vineyard on hold. Now, ten years later, here we were, confirmed city dwellers living on M&S dinners.
  It was still raining. I dragged myself away from the window and opened my laptop. Even on maternity leave I logged in every day to see what was going on at work. Ellie, our second daughter, had arrived safely and was exactly six weeks old. I felt vaguely like a super-mum having given birth with no epidural thanks to a few white lies from the midwives: 'You're only minutes away.' Yeah, right.
  As I flicked through work emails a property newsletter popped up on the screen. It was filled with tantalising images of cottages in France... And a vineyard: it was the closest to perfect I had seen. The property matched our criteria: 25 acres of vines, a large house, a winery and equipment, and within our price range. In a frenzy of excitement I emailed Sean then read the description again. It seemed too good to be true. Patrick Joseph, the agent, answered my call. I explained the property we were interested in and asked for more details. He hesitated before extinguishing my excitement.
  'I'm really sorry, it's been sold.'
  Disappointment enveloped me like a wet blanket. He tried to sell me the other vineyard in the newsletter but it was way out of our price range. He could tell we were on a mission and wanted to help. I had to remind myself and him that if our dream ever was to succeed we had to keep to our financial reality. The phone rang again as I hung up and it was Sean.
  I announced the bad news; we both knew that properties like this one were like hen's teeth. Through years of searching, the vineyards that matched what we wanted were always out of our price bracket. This was the first that looked right and that we could afford, but it was sold. I was gutted.
  'It must have been a fake announcement to get people like us in contact. It probably didn't even exist,' I said bitterly.
  'Maybe. We'll have to keep looking,' said Sean sagely. 'I've got to go.'
  That last phrase meant someone had arrived at Sean's desk. Our search was in stealth mode. We couldn't let on to his work that he was on a mission to completely change his life.
  Trying to take my mind off the lost vineyard, I started unloading the dishwasher. Now was not the time anyway. Ellie was too young. It was a crazy idea. We had no experience working in a vineyard or winery. Sean's night wine classes were just theory. We had thought about taking a few weeks' leave to go and work on a vineyard but it hadn't worked out. A cry from the lounge stopped my internal debate. I grabbed a nappy, picked Ellie up, snuggled her tiny body close to mine, and climbed the stairs to the changing station.
BOOK: Grape Expectations
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