Albine poured the white wine in two glasses and put the bottle down on the stone table. She looked out from the shady terrace to the vineyard and to the trucks and tractors in the distance with workers swarming like ants around them.
Mark observed his host, the tan, the wrinkles on her face and the short gray hair bleached by the sun telling the story of a life lived mostly outdoors. He took his glass and swirled the wine inside. He glanced to the vineyard and said, “La liberté est ce que vous faites avec ce…”
Albine closed her eyes and sighed. “Please don’t quote Sartre to me. It’s beside the point, your pronunciation is horrible and it doesn’t help at all.”
Mark blushed and looked away.
She looked at him. “I know you are trying to help me with philosophy, but this really is neither the place nor the time.” She looked back at the vineyard. “What I need now is a friend with whom to drink this last bottle, nothing else.”
Mark drank a bit. He never had really appreciated that specific wine, but then he never had had a sophisticated taste. He looked to the workers who seemed ready to begin. Chainsaws sputtered to life. He put his glass back on the table, and glanced to Albine who was again staring at the vineyard, her own glass untouched.
Mark saw the first grapevine getting cut down. “You had to do it. I know it is hard, but it will save the rest of your work, and you have done so many other great things.”
“Do you know how long I have worked to bring the Gouais blanc back here?” Albine drummed with her fingers on the table.
Mark shook his head. “I only know you were already doing it when we met the first time.”
“It has been sixteen years.” She turned to Mark, then took her glass and delicately sipped from it. “I put sixteen years of my life into this. I think I deserve a bit of misery without all that silly American Optimism.”
Mark rose an eyebrow. “Now, that seems a bit…”
She waved her hand. “Ah, let an old lady be bitter and let her use some sweeping generalizations.”
They sat in silence as the workers began to cut down the plants. While some proceeded with the chainsaws others pulled the cut down plants to the trucks parked on the road at the side of the hill.
Mark drank another bit of the wine. He tried to taste all the subtle variations others told him about, but he was somehow missing them. He looked dejected at the glass, then to Albine who was observing him with what could be a thin smile. He looked at the bottle, then said, “You know, I love you dearly, and I appreciate you wanted me at your side, but maybe I’m not the best person with which to celebrate this last bottle.”
Albine’s smile grew slightly. “I don’t need someone incensing my wine, I need a friend. And, besides that, this wine isn’t very good.” She drank a bit. “I worked long and hard trying to improve it while strictly adhering to our traditions, but I still never seem to get it right. I sold all the other bottles, but that is because of their intrinsic rarity, not their quality.” She scoffed. “Had to give it to a bunch of self-important windbags who couldn’t taste the difference between a Pinot gris and varnish. But I had to recoup the losses somehow.”
Mark chuckled, then let out a loud laugh.
Albine turned again to the vineyard. “Maybe it was a vanity project, maybe it was a lost cause, but I really wanted to bring those grapes back. And now history repeats itself and the Wine Blight destroys it all again.” She sighed.
Mark reached over the table, putting his hand on Albine’s. “Was there really nothing else to do?”
Albine shook her head, then put her other hand on Mark’s. “No, I tried to use the original variety, with its weaknesses and all.” The sound of the chainsaws buzzed in the background. “You restore old cars, you, among my friends, are the one that understands. That’s why I asked for you to be here with me.”
Mark pulled his hand, and leaned against the back of the chair. He looked at the vineyard, he looked at his glass. He took another sip, and he smiled. Now he could taste it. “Yes, I think I get it.”