Cheap Wine: A Carding Chronicle


Every year, the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts throws a big bash to celebrate the pending arrival of spring. There’s a craft and food market, a big dance, and a cheap wine contest.

A cheap wine contest? You betcha.

But this year, of course, is so different. There will be no in-person tasting so folks in town are sharing their favorite wine stories.

This is one of the town’s favorites from last year when Carding’s postmaster, Ted Owen, had what he thought was a winning entry.



“You are invited…” it said in vivid red letters on the front of the cream-colored envelopes. Carding’s postmaster, Ted Owen, smiled as Edie Wolfe set a large cardboard box full of them down on the post office’s counter.

“Is that it? Just one box this year?”

“Oh there’s lots more. The others are right behind me,” Edie panted as she pulled off her gloves. “Our mailing list for the cheap wine contest is over a thousand people now. Can you believe it?”

“I sure can,” Ruth Goodwin said as she hipped the post office’s front door open, and staggered inside with a second box.

“Here, let me get the door,” Andy Cooper said as he hurried up behind her to hold the handle. “Unless you’d rather I take the box.”

“No, no, I think I’m okay,” Ruth said.

“Coming through,” another voice yelled. Agnes Findley was recognizable only by the wildly striped hat clamped over her silver hair. Ted darted around the counter to steady her burden before it spilled on the floor.

“Did I hear you say you’re mailing out a thousand of these?” Andy asked as they lined the boxes up on the counter for Ted to process.

“One thousand and sixty-seven envelopes, to be exact,” Agnes said. “Who knew so many people would be into cheap wine?”

“Good, cheap wine.” The shoulders of Edie’s coat glistened with stray snowflakes, and her eyes glinted and sparked. The Carding Academy’s Imminent Spring Celebration was her favorite event of the year, and the cheap wine contest had been her idea.

“Are you using the same rules as last year?” Ted asked as he calculated the postage bill for mailing the invitations to participants. “The wine still has to cost less than $10 a bottle, right?”

“Right. Folks write their own description of their favorite cheap wine, and send it to us along with a donation to the Academy’s education fund. Then we post the descriptions online for a week so folks can vote on their favorites,” Agnes added as she wrote out a check to the post office.

“Then the five wine descriptions that get the most votes are served at the Imminent Spring dance,” Edie said.

“And the folks who taste them get to choose the winner of the best cheap wine of the year award,” Ruth added with a tilt to her head. “Does anyone remember who’s supposed to make the trophy ribbon this year?”

“Umm, that would be me,” Agnes said, “unless I can persuade someone else to do it.” Edie and Ruth suddenly found something very interesting to inspect on the post office’s ceiling.

“And it’s an award that’s highly prized among wine connoisseurs everywhere, I’m sure,” Ted said.

Edie laughed. “I don’t know about that.”

Ted caressed the boxes of invitations before moving them to the back of the building. “Well, I know a lot of local folks have been watching their mailboxes for these. Some people have had their cheap wine picked out since the start of foliage season. Can you imagine doing it that early?”

It suddenly got quiet in the post office, making Ted twist his head around to see what had happened. Then he laughed because Edie, Ruth, Andy, and Agnes were all studying their shoes, and the expressions on their faces were a bit sheepish.

“You folks look like canary-stuffed cats,” Ted said as he shooed them out the door.

As soon as the post office lobby was empty, Ted locked the front door, and flipped the sign in the window from open to closed. It was lunch time, his time to do as he pleased. Once he was hidden away in the back room, he lifted a bottle of a dark red pinot noir from his bottom desk drawer.

The bottle’s label was of the deepest black, its outer border sparkling with three thin lines of silver. Lightning bolts cut through the black, two in a muted shade of pewter, a third of deep red.

And across the bottom glowed the pinot noir’s name—Revelation.

Ted had found his vintage on sale for $9.99, just under the cheap wine limit, at a shop in western Vermont. Convinced it was a winner after only one taste, he bought two cases.

Ted hummed as he munched his noontime sandwich and stared at his sure-to-be-a-winner wine. He’d been working on his description for a while, and admitted to himself that he was a bit surprised to discover how long it took to find just the right two-hundred words to describe his treasured pinot.

He’d studied the winning entries from previous years, and decided that his description had to be humorous yet elegant, witty yet understated, entertaining and yet keenly intelligent.

Even though wine snobs seemed to cop an attitude about vintages blended from a variety of grapes, Ted had decided that that was a standard worth ignoring. So he intended to call his pinot noir “well-traveled,” a phrase that implied the vintage’s origins without giving away the game. 

He pushed the last bite of his lunchtime repast into his mouth, raised his hands over his computer keyboard like a pianist about to tackle a piece of complex Beethoven, and leaned forward to type.

So far, he’d decided that his prized pinot had to have notes and layers of tastes, and they had to be described with luscious adjectives such as smoky (smoldering? seething?) or vibrant (quivering? pulsating? reverberant?) with a taste that caressed (exhilarated? embraced? inspired? gladdened?) the tongue with a finish of piquant or complex spice notes.

Ted pulled a small pile of paper scraps from the bag that had held the wine. They were notes he’d made to himself while slowly savoring his winning vintage. When he slowed down, he could taste fruits other than grapes in his pinot. But were they raspberry? Or cherry? Blackberry perhaps? Dark apricots? (Whatever they were.)

His wife Paula swore she even detected a hint of tart apple in her glass.

Uncertain how to begin, Carding’s postmaster hunched over his screen to examine what he’d written so far.

“Yon fair vintage is good,” he read aloud. “Hmph.”

He leaned back in his chair with a sigh. This word business is tough, he thought.

But then he raised his hands over his keyboard. He just had to try harder.

After all, wine isn’t aged in a day.

Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Education of Miss Ruby Royce.

The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Light in Water, Dancing

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