(This is an exerpt from the novel. © 2009 Mary Pat Hyland. This may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any media, print or digital, without permission of the author.)
They entered Hammondsport, the quaint village at the southern end of Keuka Lake and drove around the square past an assortment of shops and restaurants. Fergal saw two open parking spaces and signaled to Shane to pull in.
“Just saw a visitors center back there,” he said to his wife. “Hold on while I fetch some maps and readin’ material.” Brídgeen got out of the car to stretch her legs. What a pretty place, she thought looking at the charming green gazebo in the square’s park. Even in the early dusk of an October afternoon the place exuded charm, from the Victorian house whose every bit of trim was painted in a sophisticated palette to the artful display of carved pumpkins in front of an upscale gallery. She walked in and took a look around at the walls covered with vibrant paintings of Finger Lakes views.
“Hi there,” the owner said cheerfully. “Those paintings are by an artist who lives in Geneva.”
“Do I detect an accent?”she said, leaning over the counter, her silver bracelets jingling.
“Yes, I’m from Dublin.” Brídgeen smiled.
“What brings you to the area?”
“My husband and I are here to start a winery, on the east side of the lake.”
“That’s so cool. Did you make wine in Ireland?”
Brídgeen laughed. “Uh, no. We got the winery as a wedding gift.”
“Get out! That’s not exactly a fondue pot. Hah-hah.”
Fergal tapped on the window. “Oops, there’s my husband. Nice meeting you.”
“Good luck. Come back if you need some art for the winery.”
Fergal handed her a bag stuffed full of brochures when she got in the car.
“Did you get a map of every street?”
He looked uncharacteristically serious. “Jaysus, luv. That’s our competition.”
Brídgeen poked through the bag as they drove out of the village and up Route 54 on the east side of the lake. There were brochures from wineries on Keuka, Seneca, Canandaigua and Cayuga lakes. There were wine trail maps, a winemakers newspaper and rack cards for every attraction in the area.
“Looks like we have a lot of homework,” she sighed as she tossed the bag in the back seat of the car. “Did you read that book Colm gave you yet?”
“Nah, I’ll trust me instincts first and use it for reference. Ye can’t take the culchie out of this Clare man. Farming is in our genetics.”
Brídgeen, however, had been reading the book. She knew this venture would require a lot of hard work with plenty of variables beyond their control. Fergal’s optimism was infectious though, and she preferred to go forward with hope (and pray that God would take care of the rest).
“Will the owner be there when we arrive?”
“No, he’s out of town. The winemaker’s gonna meet us at the farmhouse with the keys. Rang him up yesterday. Couldn’t understand a word he was sayin’. A brilliant match in the makin’. ”
Gray clouds sagged like insulation stuffed in attic rafters over the lake. Lights were already on in the year-round cottages across the dark water.
“That must be the college,” Brídgeen said as she pointed at a small campus on the west side.
“Wonder if they teach Winemaking 101?”
“God help us,” she laughed.
After they passed Willow Grove in the dimming light they were able to make out the sign for Fullarton Road up ahead and turned right onto the steep, gravel path toward the top of the hill. As they climbed, the car swayed a bit on the loose stone.
“Jaysus!” Fergal said as he gripped the steering wheel tightly. “Wonder how Shane is doin’ back there?”
Two dark buildings loomed up ahead next to a magnificent oak tree: a stone farmhouse and matching large barn. They turned into the driveway and saw the red glow of a cigarette being smoked by a man standing next to a vintage Citroën Cabriolet.
“Monsieur Griffin?” he said extending his hand to Fergal. “I am Luc Reynard.”
“Sorry we’re late,’ Fergal said, “but our stop in Binghamton took longer than we’d planned.” Luc handed him a set of keys to the property, then retrieved a bottle of wine and a corkscrew from the front seat of his car.
“Let’s talk,” he said, gesturing toward the house.
When they turned on the lights, they saw some worn furniture had been left in the kitchen. The winemaker brought Fergal directly to the kitchen table, opened a cupboard filled with wineglasses of all shapes and grabbed two.
“This is what I can do for you,” Luc said as he uncorked the bottle and poured red wine into the glasses. Brídgeen walked into the kitchen just then carrying a box of brioche that Maeve had given her from the bakery.
“Here’s a little something to go with your wine,” she said, smiling at Luc. He pointed at the front door.
“Madame, I’m here to speak with your husband. Out!” Fergal raised his eyebrows.
“Hold on there. Ye’ll not be talkin’ to me wife that way….”
“We have no time to waste on female interferences. Now is when the most important work has to be done at your winery.”
Brídgeen sputtered out the door and walked down the driveway gesturing angrily toward the house. Shane shook his head at the sight, and folded his arms on the steering wheel to nap off last night’s Guinnesses.
“Do you know how to taste wine properly, monsieur?”
Fergal didn’t like Luc’s tone. “I managed the busiest bar in Sunnyside, Queens. I think I know my way around a wineglass.”
Luc snorted as he poured wine halfway into each glass. “First, you pick up the glass by the stem, NOT the bowl. See? Otherwise, the heat from your hand will warm the wine and change its taste. You do not want to add any unpleasantness to the wine. Understand? Maintaining the correct temperature is very important. Now swirl the wine around vigorously and now stick your nose deep inside the glass.”
Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, Fergal thought. He was so flippin’ tired he could barely think straight. The last thing he wanted right now was this crash course in oenology.
“Take some deep breaths and note what you smell,” Luc said. “Is it musty? Is it fruity? Is it smoky?”
“Smells like bloomin’ wine to me,” Fergal muttered.
“Now swirl the glass again and hold it up to the light. Are there streams, what we call legs, clinging to the inside of the glass? How about the color of the wine? Is it cloudy or clear like a ruby jewel?”
“When do we get to taste it?”
Luc rolled his eyes. “Vous êtes un imbecile! Sip some of the wine into your mouth and purse your lips to get some air into it. As it rolls over your tongue, does it taste bitter? Sweet? Acidic? Can you taste hints of berries, or chocolate or smokiness? What does the finish taste like? Does it burn? Does it melt away gently? Does it leave a strong tannin aftertaste?”
Fergal did as he was ordered and raised his eyebrows. “Ye made this, Luc?”
“This is feckin’ brilliant wine. I’d say we’re sittin’ on a feckin’ goldmine!”
“Impudent! You’re sitting on merde! I made this pinot noir with my own grapes. All you have here in these old vineyards are foxy native varieties — Delaware, Catawba and Niagara — grapes to make fruity, sugary ladies’ wines, not wines that will bring you respect!” He ripped open the box of brioche, grabbed one and bit it like a haunch of beef to punctuate his remarks. Luc raised an eyebrow as he chewed it, then grabbed another brioche and stuffed it in his coat pocket.
“Right, then. So I take it foxy’s not what we’re aimin’ for,” Fergal smirked.
“If you want to produce wine like this,” he said holding his glass in Fergal’s face, “then I must have a 20 percent raise!” Luc drained the wineglass and shoved it at Fergal.
No reaction. Fergal stood up, put his hands in his pockets and walked around the old farmhouse. He came back into the kitchen, and pressed his hand against a warped beam supporting the ceiling. The floorboard underneath it squeaked. He rocked back and forth on it not saying a word. He could see that it was annoying Luc, so he continued. Then he sat back down and looked the surly winemaker right in the eyes.
“I’ve never seen ye work. I know nuthin’ about ye,” he said in a quiet yet firm tone. “And yet ye think ye deserve a 20 percent raise right out of the gate? Sorry, lad. In all fairness, my employees have to earn my respect and trust. If they do, they are compensated fairly and repaid with me own loyalty and desire to see them happy. Ye’ve said ye made this wine. Yer askin’ me to trust ye, sight unseen. How do I know ye didn’t peel the label off some store-bought bottle of French wine?”
“Hmph! Irish! What do you know of winemaking? Your people have no history of viticulture.” Luc grabbed another brioche for his other pocket and stormed out of the house.
“So I’ll talk with yez tomorrow, then,” Fergal said to Luc’s empty chair.
Outside, Luc marched past Brídgeen and spun his car out of the driveway so fast that a cloud of dust followed him down Fullarton Road. Brídgeen walked inside and shrugged her shoulders.
“What an awful feckin’ hure.” Fergal said. “And he took three brioche, too.”
“Better get out that winemaking book, luv. Looks like we’re going to need a crash course….”