Late Summer in the VineyardBy: Jo Thomas
Bonjour! Bienvenue! Hello and welcome to my latest world in Late Summer in the Vineyard.
I love France. As a child, I holidayed in France every year with my family, mostly in the Ardèche region, the Rhône Valley and, later, further south in the Côte D’Azur. Funnily enough, I later discovered that they are all big wine regions! My parents adored the French way of life, as I do; the food, the wine, the markets, the language . . . and the manners. I love the way the French greet each other. As a teenager, I went back to the French Riviera and found myself a job there, waitressing in a restaurant on a campsite. I spent long, hot, sunny days and balmy nights serving steak-frites and plats du jour to holidaymakers. It was a fantastic time in my life.
These days, I visit France because a couple of my friends did the very thing I dream of doing. They found a house, fell in love with it and moved out to Castillon-la-Bataille, about an hour’s drive from both Bordeaux and Bergerac, and they started a new life and business. They run writers’ retreats and courses so, lucky for me, I get to go and write in this wonderful place, which is just down the road from the beautiful Saint-Émilion. It was here that, like the grapes on the vines, the idea for Late Summer in the Vineyard began to grow. Who would move here, to the historic wine country, and why? They’d have to know all about wine, wouldn’t they? Or else they’d have a heck of lot to learn . . . just like Emmy Bridges – the heroine in this novel. I hope, like a good vintage, you’ll enjoy it, remember it and tell your friends. À votre santé!
A big, big thank you to my friends Janie and Mike Wilson who made a life-changing move and bought a house in France, in between Bordeaux and Bergerac, where they now run writing and painting courses and writing retreats (www.chez-castillon.com). It’s because I started to visit them that I began to get to know the area, and I’ve loved watching their business go from strength to strength. If you’re looking for a course or want some time away to write, look no further. It is a beautiful place on the banks of the Dordogne and set in amongst the vineyards of south-west France.
Thank you, Janie, for organising our trip to the wine school at Saint-Émilion and our wine-blending evening with a professional wine maker, the early morning swims, tea, cheeky glasses of rosé and of course for all the many early morning emails.
Big thanks to Basil and Julie at La Maison de la Rivière for talking me through the wine-making process and helping me understand it. They have a fabulous gîte and B&B there (www.lamaison-riviere.com).
And thank you, Basil, for putting me in touch with Nick at Château de Claribès, who showed me round his fabulous organic vineyard and chai and helped me out with my wine-making queries. Do have a look at their website: www.claribes.com. Any discrepancies in the wine-making process in this book are entirely of my own making!
And a huge thank you to David Headley from Goldsboro Books who was a fabulous companion and help to me on my last research trip. You were brilliant!
And big hugs and thanks to wonderful friend and travelling companion Katie Fforde and my Chez Castillon writing buddies for all the support, fun and friendship.
I can feel the big, brown envelope, full of odd coins – copper, silver and gold – weighing down the bag on my shoulder. It feels like the weight of the world as I tentatively step through my open front door, heart banging, mouth as dry as sand.
I hear a strange voice from the front room: ‘Just look for anything that might sell for a few quid.’
My heart lurches and I instinctively draw my shoulder bag closer to me, gripping it tightly with both hands as my worst fears are confirmed and I see the big, broad shoulders in a worn leather jacket filling the space in the middle of the living room. The wearer picks up a framed photo of my mum from the mantelpiece and studies it.
‘There’s not much here worth anything,’ he tells my dad.
‘It’s the memories that count,’ I hear Dad say in a thin shaking voice.
‘If you could just put your hands on some cash . . . I could drive you to the cash point, if you like,’ the man says, putting the picture back.
My cheeks burn with rage. My heart beats so loudly in my chest and a noise like a train in a tunnel whooshes in my ears blocking out any other sounds. How dare he? The cheek of it. A burglar in broad daylight, offering a chauffeur service! I look from him to my dad, terrified and pale, sitting in his chair, just like he had all those years ago. A filthy dark night sixteen years ago, to be precise. Only back then, it was a man and a woman in black police uniforms standing in front of him, delivering in gentle, even tones the devastating news that would change our lives for ever. I remember their kindness and the concern in their eyes. Not like now: some low-life chancer in our home, helping himself to whatever takes his fancy, by the looks of it. But Dad looks just as terrified now as he did then, and my thundering heart squeezes and twists.
‘What about jewellery or medals . . . Premium Bonds, stamps, even?’
Dad shakes his head.
I slide the heavy bag off my shoulder, careful not to let it fall to the ground with a thud. With effort I raise it above my head, aiming it at the mountain of man with long wavy hair picking over the ornaments along the mantelpiece.