I've now completed three chapters of my book, and it seems to be holding together nicely. One of the important scenes comes in chapter nine, at a dinner. A speech is given to an assembly of distinguished wine drinkers which starts to reveal the motivation of some of the characters.
The theme of the speech is not original, and while I subscribe to its sentiment, it is expressed in stronger words than I would ever dare. One of the enjoyable conceits of writing this novel is being able to express myself vicariously through various characters.
The little extract below is the first piece of writing I've come back to, and I'm not appalled by it, which is encouraging. To set the scene: a private dining room in a superior London restaurant. Ten guests are seated around an oval table. At the head, Sir Godfrey rises to address the room.
As you know, this is a very special tasting and dinner. Wine is unique for its ability to convey not just a sense of place, but a sense of time. The act of fermenting grapes is a simple one, that has changed little for centuries. Every year it produces a time capsule, telling us the story of the vintage. Was it a hot summer that year? Did autumn rain bring rot? Did the vigneron pick too early? All these things and more are transmitted by this magical liquid. The most eloquent message in a bottle.
Mostly, the pursuit of wine comes to focus on a few celebrated names. The first growths of the Médoc. A handful of producers from the Côte d’Or. Grand marques from Champagne. Perhaps one or two famous Tuscans, even the odd interloper from California or Australia. These wines are rightly revered, and we will be tasting many of them this evening.
Yet the fervour they inspire comes at a cost. One is quite literal. The prices of these wines have now gone far beyond the reach of most wine drinkers. When I began in the wine trade, it was possible to afford great Burgundy on a trainee’s wage. Of course, this was back when everything was steam-powered and jazz music hadn’t been invented.
Now, my friends, I despair. Wine has changed from a venerable but humble drink into a status symbol. It represents not an almanac of our rural past but a trophy to boast our present success. Famous labels have become false idols, holy relics sold among the foolish rich. Feathers from the Holy Ghost.
What is to be done? None of us would wish these wines to become the preserve of the few. Yet we all play our part in this industry. Each of us profits from the bloated prices of fine wine, in one way or another. Besides, perhaps it is simply the reality of the market. Friends, I have worked in wine for nearly 50 years. There is much to celebrate. The quality and diversity of wine available to the world has never been better, and continues to improve.
But I cannot celebrate the greed that has belittled fine wine into nothing more than a currency, something to be traded and hoarded. Something that becomes reserved for the few and denied to the many.
Apologies, friends. Here endeth the lesson. Today, after all, we gather here to celebrate the wonder of wine, and with one in particular that is immune from the market forces I rail against so indignantly. So, allow me to had over to its happy owner, Mr Freddie Farnham.