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Cheap Wine: A Carding Chronicle

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

A cheap wine contest? You betcha, and the invitations to participate are going out in the mail this week.

It’s one of the town’s favorite events and this year the postmaster, Ted Owen, has what he thinks is 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. The maker of last year’s winner seemed to be insulted. You’d think with so many wines for people to choose from, a winemaker would be happy about anything that creates publicity.”

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, after all, 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.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

I Read the News Today…Oh no…: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Teacup with petalsThere’s a new habit trending among the denizens of Carding, Vermont—taking breaks from the news.

Edie Wolfe is having one of those moments today.

Remember—some of the best refuges from troubling news are books. And according to research, some of the most comforting books in troubled times are ones you have loved in the past.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont.

Edie Wolfe loved the small, quiet hours of early morning. They were especially appreciated as the calendar strolled from January into February because the sun came up just that much earlier, and the light from Earth’s favorite star was just that much stronger.

She sipped her first cup of tea for the day. It was warmed by honey and tinted to the perfect shade of light brown by a smallish dollop of her daily cream indulgence.

Now a long established habit, the comfort of Edie’s tea ritual brought the promise of a good day, a promise that she was more conscious of making with every passing day.

The light in her kitchen changed from gray miasma to a lighter shade of pale underscored by a breath of magenta. The pinkish hue made the windows of her nearest neighbor’s house, the old Tennyson place as it was called in town, take on a glow that reminded Edie of a movie she’d seen as a girl that featured a space ship landing on Mars.

A UFO. How appropriate, she smiled to herself, given the eccentricities of the twin sisters who lived there now. The old Tennyson property had a peculiar history of ownership, held in common by a variety of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Edie remembered stories told by her grandmother about a feud in the original Tennyson family between two sisters in love with the same man. When the argumen could no longer be contained in a single dwelling, the family built a second, smaller house on the same plot of land in a vain attempt to keep the peace.

Edie remembered that house being moved when she was a girl to a lot closer to the Carding town beach. Old-timers nicknamed it “the second house” and someone in that strain of the Tennyson tribe had lived there ever since.

The light rose a little more, and the UFO glow of the Tennyson windows faded.

She got up to add more wood to the stove then retrieved her latest book, a schlocky mystery recommended by Ginger Tennyson. It had a garish cover that sported a flying dragon with a menacing red mouth. Edie loved a good fantasy as well as the next aficionado but that did make her a fan of everything in the genre.

For one thing, the writing had to be excellent, and there had to be more of a point to it than heroic men rescuing bosomy damsels in some sort of distress or another.

“And this doesn’t fit my bill at all,” she said aloud as she turned the book in her hand. Nearly’s head popped up when it clanged in the wastepaper basket. Ginger Tennyson had said she didn’t want it back, and Edie felt that A Cold Remembering should not be inflicted on any future readers. “So, are you ready for your first turn in the yard?” she asked the dog.

Nearly yawned, shook his head, and then slowly stretched to his feet while Edie waited by the back door to let him out. She wanted something to read, something to cast a magic spell to take her away for a while. Something good.

A sudden streak of feathers caught the corner of her eye, and she turned in time to see a merlin settle on a branch of the tallest cottonwood on the hill behind her house. She stretched out her hand to find her binoculars, not taking her eyes from the falcon’s resting place. They blended in so well, she knew she’d never be able to spot him again.

But the binoculars were not in their accustomed spot. Edie began to search while keeping an eye on Nearly’s progress around the yard, if you could call his meanderings progress. “It’s as if he has to renew his acquaintanceship with every bush in the yard every morning,” Edie muttered as she checked the most likely spots to hold her binoculars.

Finding none in the kitchen, she cocked an eye at her dog—it was way too cold to leave him out there any longer than necessary—then moved onto her study and its floor-to-ceiling bookcases. The binoculars were there, sitting on top of the books on the third shelf, Edie’s “favorites” shelf.

It was the place where she kept her favorite reads of all time, books such as Watership Down, The Alchemist and Stardust, Tolkien’s trilogy, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. And Jane, of course, as in Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

She draped the binoculars around her neck so she wouldn’t forget them then let her fingers drift over her most beloved tales, recalling favorite characters, a line or two of prose, and the feeling of being lifted away to another world. Then she turned her head to peruse the other shelves, the ones full of books waiting for her attention—mysteries, books on nature, some travel journals, novels described as “shattering,” and so on.

With so many new books to read, why did she keep returning to her favorites shelf?

A scratch at the door interrupted her thoughts, and she hurried to let Nearly back into the warm kitchen. It was then she realized her hands were full of books from the favorites shelf—The Ladies of Missalonghi, West with the NightA Room with a View, and Anne of Green Gables, a book she had not read since she sixth grade.

She held it up for Nearly to see. “I’ve loved Anne of Green Gables since I was a girl,” she told him. The cocker spaniel tried to look attentive because his human was obviously pleased about something. Those moments were more rare nowadays than they had been in the past. He wasn’t sure why but his best friend, R.G., had noticed the same tension in his human.

The ping of Edie’s phone was loud in the quiet kitchen. The light was stronger now, making the red tea kettle on her stove pulsate with color. Edie picked up the phone but immediately put it back down when she realized that the ping was an incoming news story.

“I need a good long break from this,” she muttered as she turned off her cell. Then she dropped a new teabag into her cup, turned on the stove, grabbed her reading quilt, and put the books in a neat pile on the table next to her favorite rocker. “It’s far more important to see what Anne is up to these days.”

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.