My family has been producing one of the finest wines from Carmargue region for several generations. Although we are a very small vineyard many have said our grapes are the sweetest and our wine has an indefinable “something”. Of course the distinctive color known as “grey of grey” contributes to the uniqueness of our wine.
What very few people have had the opportunity to sample is a special wine grown from select grapes. Behind the old and crumbling home where my ancestors first lived is a very small vineyard. Cultivated by family members only, these grapes give off a strange and delectable scent as they grow. The land is rich and moist and the grapes grow large and beautiful.
Only twenty bottles are prepared each season and these are stored away apart from our other wines. In the cellar of the crumbling edifice is the original wine storeroom and it is here, in the cool darkness of centuries old stone, that the barrels are stacked.
When a child in our family reaches the age of thirteen they are permitted their first sampling of this wine. It is an event marked by both a birthday celebration of family and friends and a more private gathering. All living family members enter the cellar with the birthday celebrant. No matter where they are in the world, they are expected to return for this event.
There is an old superstition claiming that any family member who misses the introduction of the birthday child into the adult world of the family business will die violently before the year’s end. Oddly this has happened a few times, though not in recent history. Of course that’s how these silly superstitions begin.
I remember my introduction to our special wine, Sangre de Camargue. We had partied all day and almost all the villagers were entertained at our estate. There was music, and amusements for the children, tables of food, and of course wine. The celebration began early in the day and by sundown everyone was filled with food and exhausted. After the last few stragglers wandered back to their homes, my family members gathered in the great hall of our home.
Suddenly the evening grew somber. The younger children were sent off to bed and the spouses of the blood family members were left to care for them. The remainder of the family prepared for the walk to the old estate.
There was no electricity in the old house and we were each provided a lantern to light our way along the path. As we grew closer to the vineyard the odor of the rich soil and the plump grapes filled my head. If I close my eyes I can small it still.
Entering the house we descended to the cellar, the lantern light flickering on the damp stone walls. Younger adults assisted the elders down the somewhat slippery stone steps.
My grandfather was already in the cellar. A long wooden table was set out with more lanterns. A line of wine goblets stretched the length of the table. No two were the same. Some were silver, some glass. My grandfather held one goblet in his hand. I recognized it as what was known as my baptism cup. It had been given to me when I was an infant and baptized in the town church.
The room was silent except for the rustling of clothing as each family member took a goblet and moved in a line to stand around my grandfather. My father filled a large carafe with wine from one of the barrels and began to fill the cups of my family members. When every glass had been filled my grandfather went to the barrel and filled my goblet.
Then he turned to face me.
“This wine was produced in the year you were born Gerard. It wine born of the vineyard our family has owned for three hundred and fifty years. It is a wine that will not be tasted by any tongue that does not have our family blood running through his veins. It is the lifeblood of family, the heritage of people. Today you are a man and today you will learn the art of making this wine. This is a secret you will keep as long as you live. This is a secret you will pass on to your children and your children’s children. No one outside of our bloodline must ever know this. No spouse is to be included in this knowledge.”
Grandfather took a sip from the goblet. “This is the blood of our blood, the heart of our family. Drink and take you place among your ancestors.”
My heart was beating rapidly as he extended the cup to me. I cannot describe that first taste of our family wine. It was sweet, yet somehow salty. I had grown up drinking wine as any vintner’s child does. But this was unlike anything I had ever tasted. I could smell the richness of the soil in every drop. The color was a strange pale red, not a rose but something new and different.
I drained the cup and found I craved more. I watched as everyone raised their cups to toast me and then they also drank.
“Gerard, here is the story of our family and our wine.” He set a large book on the table, its pages curling and yellowed. “It too is a secret. This is what makes us successful. As long as these secrets remain within our bloodline we will prosper. This secret is now yours as well. Treat it with respect.”
That was seventy years ago. For seventy years I have held the family secret. Today I will fulfill its promise. Tonight I will be led to the cellar. My youngest grandchild turned thirteen years old this year. He has been introduced to the magic of our family. However, his mother, my daughter expects her second child this month. And wine must be made. The harvest will come and the rich grapes will be gathered. Until then the soil must be cared for, loved and nurtured. I must be part of that nurturing. And what better way than to feed the grapes that will provide wine for the baby when she turns thirteen.
The long table has been covered with a clean white sheet and my son stands beside it, the knife still sheathed. I stretch out on the table and smile up at him. I hope the wine will be particularly sweet when my granddaughter turns thirteen. She will be named Geraldine, after me. And my blood will flow in her veins.