Chapter 359: A Generation of Masters
Gates brought them across an expansive field of plump grapes. Their destination appeared to be the stone structure Lan Jue had spotted earlier. However, their ultimate terminus was not the structure itself, but what lay behind it, as they discovered when Gates brought them around the side.
Their trek had garnered no small number of stares from farmers. Their expressions were restrained, but the faint hint of hostility in their eyes was still visible.
As they wrapped around the stone building, they were met by a hidden hillside. Like all the others, it was blanketed with thick grape vines. However, in contrast to the others, these plants rose a good two meters high. The vines themselves were so thick a man could hardly wrap his arms around one, and were draped in heavy clusters of grapes. Each one bunch was a beautiful amethyst hue, and crystal clear. Certainly these were not your average grapes.
The Wine Master visibly recoiled in surprise. “This is…”
That craggy voice interrupted. “Welcome. Welcome to our village – Beaune 1.”
Lan Jue and the Pauper looked on, eyes wide. The voice had come from the grape vine. Gates lead them closer, and each step brought the heady scent of wine to their nostrils. The scent was as full-bodied as it was aromatic.
Lan Jue looked toward the Wine Master, who was clearly just as stunned as he.
“When our domains conflicted, I saw that you hadn’t the heart to destroy the vines or grapes. I could see in your eyes that you cherished them. You have earned the right to be here, you and your friends.”
The voice was louder now, and directly before them. There was no mistaking it – the vine was talking to them. As they looked on, a face appeared in the the branches; eyes, a nose, and a mouth all became apparent. Although the features were made up of twigs and grapes and branches, there was still a spirit there, a sort of humanity.
Was this really a talking grape vine?
This voice was the same he’d heard before, the voice of the Paragon. It must be, but could a vine be a Paragon? This was inconceivable!
The Wine Master took a step forward and, pressing a hand respectfully to his chest, bowed before the vine. “I am very honored to meet you, predecessor. We, your juniors, have come from Skyfire Avenue. There, I am called the Wine Master. Would you grace us with your name?”
“Wine Master? Very well, it does appear you have a great love for wine. I’ll admit, however, that it is very surprising indeed that you should find us. As for this old fellows name… That, I remember… though I’ve forgotten many things indeed. How could I forget? When I made wine, my name was stamped on every bottle. This one’s name, is Aubert de Villaine. 2”
Aubert de Villaine! The name struck like thunder in the three Adepts’ ears. Even more than when the existence of a second hidden Paragon, this revelation left them dumb-struck. This was a legend in the world of a wine, in the… flesh.
Their goal in this journey had been to locate the descendants of the great Gods of Wine. The hope had been to recover some of the great masters’ lost secrets. Never in a million years would they have guessed they would come face to face with one of them.
Henri Jayer was likely the most famous of the three, and the wine they partook confirmed his mastery of the craft. However, his wines could not compete with Romanee-Conti in the realm of reputation. The great red wine was too widely known, and Jayer’s offering were so few yearly. No wine would be more widely beloved than a good Romanee-Conti.
Because of this a lot had to be considered in the purchase of – for instance – a Jayer bottle Average price and reputation were among them. Among the Burgundy wines, none could top the DRC 3. The DRC was both a company, and a family business. They had seven top-shelf wines, of which Romanee-Conti was but one.
Other than the Conti, there was also Poligny-Montrachet, La Tache, Grands Échezeaux, Échezeaux, Richebourg, and Romanée-St-Vivant. None of these were piddly boutique wines. The Montrachet was considered the pinnacle of Chardonnay, and no competitor even really came close.
The DRC had a number of excellent wines, that were consistently among the best in the world. They did it through advertising, skill and proper business management. Now the mastermind behind it, a man who was a contemporary of the mighty Jayer, was here now.
And indeed it was he, Aubert de Villaine. That was the name of this grape vine. Master Vintner of the DRC, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and legendary figure – Auburt de Villaine!
The man had been born at the beginning of the twentieth century. That would make him well over three hundred years old. Even Paragons, with their extended lives, were only able to achieve this once humanity had taken to the stars and discovered power gems. Of course, those early Paragons were also long-lived, but few lived much passed one hundred.
But Aubert de Villaine was a man! How was it this vine came to speak, and to call itself by such a name?
“I know, unbelievable isn’t it?” Aubert said.
The Wine Master took a moment to find his voice. “Absolutely astonishing. I’d never dreamed of one day actually meeting one of the great gods of wine. Much less under circumstances like these.”
“I am not the legendary god of wine,” Aubert assured. His tone had grown hard and irritated. “There is only one, and his name was Henri Jayer. Neither I nor Bize-Leroy were ever worthy of the name. Back in my younger years I was full of pride. But now, three hundred years later, I still can’t compete with the man. No one will ever match his talent.”
Were these words borne from the mouth of any normal modern vintner, the Wine Master wouldn’t not have paid them much mind. No one in their right mind would compare themselves to one of the three gods of wine. However each had their fans, and Aubert’s storie wines were the most followed. In those ancient days, it was unrivaled in many ways.
For the maker of such a fine wine – such a beloved wine – to say that… the Wine Master felt that deeply. He’d scoured any record of these great men, and never once did he hear of Aubert conceding to Jayer. The only hing he had said was that what he did, Henri couldn’t do.
Lan Jue was just as shocked, maybe even more so. Hell, a grape vine was talking to them about being a three hundred year old master vintner. Things were strange.
The Wine Master responded. “Those great wines, those products of your efforts are quickly dwindling. Drinking one is to deny the universe a rare treasure. It was my hope to meet with your descendants, to find a suitable place, and to restore the glory of those old days. But I see now that would be akin to teaching a fish how to swim. With you here, things change dramatically.”
Aubert’s voice returned. “You can make wine?”
“I can’t,” he replied with a shake of his head. “I am just a humble fan, a sommelier. This is why they call me the Wine Master. I have, however, managed to amass a passable collection of old wines. Several from the DRC, in fact. Bize-Leroy and Henri Jayer bottles as well. If one were to create a superior wine, they would need to experience the product of the masters. I was hoping to donate these bottles to the descendants to help, but that seems unnecessary now.”
After a moment, Aubert’s rumbling voice replied. “Do you truly have bottles from all three of us? Which bottles, precisely?”
The Wine Master’s response was quick and decisive. “All seven of the DRC labels are among my collection, each their best years. A 1990 Romanee-Conti, for instance. I have the entire set of Bize-Lreoy masterpieces, like her Richebourg. I have a Romanee-Conti of her creation as well – after all, she was part of the DRC for a long time.4”
‘Leroy’ was also the name of their business, run by the Bize-Leroy family. It was also the name of the third great master of wine – mistress, in fact. Lalou Bize-Leroy.
She was a remarkable woman, known to many as a dragon lady with iron-fisted control over the DRC brand. Some of the worlds best wines, she had a hand in creating.
Both DRC and Leroy bottles were comparatively greater in number than Jayer creations. However, for true wine lovers that wasn’t overly heartening, for the greatest treasure were those few remaining masterpieces.
If this vine really was somehow the master Aubert de Villaine, then there would be no one who could repudiate his claims that Henri Jayer was the greatest vintner who ever lived.
“And Henri’s? You have Jayer wines as well?” Aubert asked.
“I did… I had managed to discover a single bottle. Sadly the master’s creations were few in number, even in your day. I had spent a great deal of energy in finding it, and kept it enshrined in my collection. Sadly, a few less than considerate friends had it opened. We had no recourse but to drink it.” The Wine Master could still feel the dull pang of regret when he thought about the loss of that magnificent wine.
- Here’s a link to the wikipedia description of the real-world town in Burgundy. ↩
- Here is his first mention in the story, and a wiki refresher. ↩
- Domaine de la Romanee-Conti ↩
- Remember that de Vallaine and Bize-Leroy were co-owners of the DRC back in the day, until differences in business aims got her kicked out. She later ran her own vineyard. ↩