The Wine Master smiled softly. “I’m already quite pleasantly surprised. A new Romanee-Conti for a new era! It will certainly be an amazing vintage once it’s finished aging. Aubert de Villaine is absolutely deserving of his status as a god of wine. Although it doesn’t surpass a Cros Parantoux, it’s certainly a lot more accessible. Henri Jayer was a harsh and rigorous vintner, and only produced a limited number of his masterpieces a year. Meanwhile, five thousand bottles of Romanee-Conti were produced in the same time period. That’s several times more than his competitor.”
Gates, who had been listening to their exchanged, frowned. “If the gentlemen would follow me, we’ll return to master de Villaine.”
The three nodded. It wasn’t long before the group stood once more before the talking vine. However, Aubert did not immediately question them on their tasting. When the elderly voice did reappear, it was weaker than the last time.
“You know, I should have died centuries ago. Two hundred years, in fact. I couldn’t accept it then, I wasn’t ready to leave.”
“Now, I’m conflicted. When I was young, my only dream was to become the greatest vintner the world had ever seen. All of my instructors said I was a great talent. However, as I grew to make better wines, I found a strange contradiction. The better the wine, the worse my winery fared. The reason for this was my methodology – everything did and still does take a great deal of time and effort. Even just picking the grapes takes two months. If there is no full moon, then you must wait for the grapes to ripen and fall of their own accord. But you don’t use those to make wine. These stringent practices ensure the best possible quality. However, the other chateaus with their bargain wines were doing much better financially. They made up for lower quality with higher selling volume. The largest Burgundy chateau at the time could produce eight hundred thousand bottles in a year.
“It was then my world view came under scrutiny. Why should the greatest wines continually be so expensive? So, I began my research. It took me thirty years to strike a balance between price and quality. The result was the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. However, at some point I lost it. Money clouded my mind, and my keen perception of the process was lost.”
“I never saw Henri Jayer as competition. He was a simple farmer, and I the successor of the storied de Villaine family. Fifty percent of the DRC belonged to me. It wasn’t until I was named the greatest vintner in Burgundy that I discovered, I could not follow in his foot steps.”
“Gradually I came to my senses. I had never been a match for Jayer, but my true love had never changed. Making wine. I redoubled my efforts, me and Lalou. We studied biodynamics and learned to apply it to wine making. We put our sweat, blood and tears in to it, and made the DRC something special. We were pioneers, blazing trails and revolutionizing the wine industry along the way. We gave our lives to wine, forsaking everything else, but those were the greatest days of my very long life. Once I felt the wines were good enough, we sent for the farmer Henri Jayer.”
“When he arrived, I took him on a personal tour of the Chateau. I wanted him to see the grandeur of the DRC. I wanted him to know how great our biodynamics system worked.”
“But, then he said to me, that the vines were like his own life. He and the crop were partners. When they were sick, they were carefully tended to with the proper fertilizer. Whatever they needed, he gave them. He didn’t need to follow some scientific theory.”
“I must admit, I was an awful host. I ask him quite arrogantly if he felt his wines could match up with my precious Romanee-Conti. At the time, the vintage he would later dub Cros Parantoux wasn’t ready. The vines were still too young. After tasting my creation, he said he could help me make it better if I gifted him some of my grapes.”
“In my pride I agreed. Lalou and I continued our valiant toils, carefully following our prescribed plan to make the greatest Romanee-Conti ever tasted. Jayer, meanwhile, would come every day to look over the vines we’d separated out for him. He’d wander around doing god knows what.”
“Two years passed quickly. Eventually our product was ready for bottling. Lalou and I had created twenty barrels, which would eventually become six thousand bottles of Romanee-Conti. Henri, meanwhile, managed not even a full cask – enough for a hundred and fifty bottles. We had expected something closer to five hundred, considering the acreage he’d been working with. Originally I’d thought he was doing something shady with the grapes. However, he said this was simply the result of his work. That cask was the only one up to his standard.”
“Once all was said and done, we placed two bottles of Romanee-Conti on the tasting table. From the outside they looked identical, but for the name of the vintner printed on the bottle. Bize and I were confident our wine would reveal itself as the superior vintage. 1
Aubert paused, continuing after a moment of reflection. “”It wasn’t until those two glasses of wine were placed before me, did I realize how wrong I was. Henri picked up the glass with Bize and I’s wine, and took a sip. He then stood up and said to me, “Thank you for the opportunity to work in your lovely vineyard.” He insisted we keep the wine he’d made, then left.”
At first, I took that as a sign of his surrender, but then I tasted his wine. I experienced the incredible tannins through the rich, fragrant liquid. The flavor was incredible. I knew then that Bize and I had lost – not not just lost, but we had never even been in his league. Henri Jayer had committed two years of his time and effort, using his own methods to instruct us on how wine should really taste.
It was a deadly blow to my pride. For a while, I didn’t eat. Worst, though, was when Bize left. She went to work with Jayer on his vineyard. I knew she sought him out for no other reason than his masterful skill… but the jealousy, and the resentment were still there. I sacrificed my health for the pursuit of perfection. I tried to kill myself, just to be better than Henri Jayer. I slaved in the vineyards, and picked only the very choicest of grapes from my countless hours of toil. But by then, Jayer’s vintages were ready. Jayer was not a man concerned with riches, and his output was small, so the DRC had nothing to fret over financially. However, from that day forward, I was no ‘god of wine.’ There was only ever one man on that altar.”
“Eventually he died… heh, yes, he died. I went to find Bize in the hopes she’d return to my vineyard, but she refused. She told me that she loved Jayer, and even though he was dead she would remain his forever. She gave up her portion of the DRC, and returned to her family establishment to produce Leroy wines.”
“Rumors circulated that I had her removed from the business. None of them knew my hurt. She was the only woman I had ever loved in my entire life. But she loved a man I had no way to defeat.”
“I fought on, and recovered my health. My one motivation was to be better than Jayer! The man was dead, but his wines were still in circulation. I purchased as many as I could get my hands on. Every year I struggled, and every year the result was the same. As the world’s environment failed I moved to more and more remote places. I refused to admit defeat. I had to keep trying. I couldn’t let myself die. Eventually I found a way to merge myself with the oldest grape vine I possessed. To live longer, I became a vine. I figured this may help me better understand my goal, so that I could ultimately create the perfect bottle of wine. There will be a day my Romanee-Conti would be superior to the Cros Parantoux! And what a fine day that will be!”
Aubert’s voice became shrill, reaching a crescendo as his story came to a close. Clearly, he was having difficulty keeping his emotions in check.
As he listened to the master’s resentment of a contemporary, Lan Jue’s brows furrowed. He sniffed.
“What are you sniffing about?” Aubert asked. His tone was cold and daring.
“Because,” Lan Jue began, “If you keep up this attitude, you’ll never be better than Jayer.”
Aubert was furious, and the vines ripped rattan fencing away to brandish dangerously before the Jewelry Master. “Why?! What makes you qualified to make such a statement?”
Lan Jue shrugged. “Of course I can’t pretend to compare to you or Henri. However, I do feel that a vintner’s most important quality is the love of wine. It isn’t about being better. You said it before, you have an excellent talent. Jayer likely didn’t have the same talent you do, but in your heart there’s only victory and defeat. That is what’s preventing you from truly understanding grapes or wine. At least compared to Master Jayer, that’s your problem.”
Potentially Important: The name for Lalou Bize-Leroy in Chinese is (as TJSS writes it anyway, he seems to like to change around characters for real names) 拉罗贝丝 which is kinda weird because that’s just ‘Lalou Bize’ which I not her full name. Anyway, 贝丝 is important… because I translated that as Bess! Now, I don’t know if that means anything, necessarily, but the Chinese characters are the same. Let the conspiracy theories begin.