I started a story I’ve been mulling over for a long time for 2016 NaNoWriMo, and I haven’t finished yet, but I wanted to let you, our loyal, lovely fans, see parts of it first. It’s rough, but we all need some hearty winter reading, so enjoy.
Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hills, in Sonoma, California, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the annual Michelin ratings. He liked nothing more than seeing the newest reviews of The Baronetage, a farm-to-table restaurant with a menu closely tied to the vineyards best bottles. Today his hands fell upon the much-abused 2015 edition, the volume falling open to the only page worth perusing, indeed, the only one ever read outside the table of contents upon first receiving the text. Walter could read the passage over and over and still, his chest would puff out, his back get straighter and his smirk grow deeper.
“The Baronetage, Healdsburg”
A melange of greens from the local bounty of California’s wine country, mixed with the freshest sustainably sourced meats in the state, comes together on each place in a flurry of flavorful genius. The wizards at The Baronetage are concocting menus worthy of a religious following, matched only by their wine pairings, sourced from local vintages from Uppercross Vintners, Somerset and Kellynch Hills vineyards.
The paragraph had been read so often that none of the Elliots need open the book to recite it from memory, but Walter always felt it a necessity to bring the prop out in front of guests. As the years went by, he’d add his own unique embellishments that had unjustly been overlooked by the reviewers. Indeed, should you attend a dinner at Kellynch Hills after a particularly successful season you would probably hear a heroic tale of the vineyard’s establishment and multiple accolades from the finest sommeliers in the world.
As glamorous as the vineyard was now, the family had much humbler beginnings than Walter would care to admit to anyone short of his own children. His own grandfather had bought the farm after moving out West, successfully selling off his own father’s land in Georgia at a decent profit in 1915. He snapped up a small farm with a fledgling orchard and its own flock of sheep after his wife fell in love with the rolling hills. The ever-adaptable Elliot put his excess income to work and planted rows of scrawny grapevines. His philosophy had been to put his immediate efforts into producing good products from his farm, but his goal was to eventually turn a better profit with wine, for whether rich or poor, people would also be thirsty.
Steady expansion and successes came to the Elliots over the years, allowing them to snatch up neighbor’s land during the bad times, and stow away their better bottles for aging during the good. By the time Walter inherited the land the vineyard had become a well-oiled (and well-known) operation, allowing for the patriarch to be more lax with his attentions to the fine details that his father had relentlessly checked and challenged everyday to ensure the high quality that had helped build their small empire. The resulting decline in care had, without surprise, caused the wine to slowly resemble the terrible blends the Elliot’s wouldn’t even use in a wine reduction sauce.
Adding insult to injury, Walter’s daughters didn’t seem to be taking any more interest in the vineyard’s operations than their father had. Elizabeth, the eldest, had gone to a private university in southern California to acquire her “MRS degree,” as she preferred to call it while laughing with friends at brunch. She had come away with an engagement ring the size of a small island and was on track to fulfilling her wildest dreams when she turned up at the vineyard with two duffels of dirty clothes and no engagement ring. Two months had passed and she still refused to discuss the events that had led to her disheveled return home. Anne, the middle child, was away on a post-graduate internship in a fancy London publishing house. Though her heart had been more attached to her home, she had not visited since abandoning her family for college. She had begged to Skype in for major holidays, preferring to spend her Christmas Eve at a friend’s houses in the English countryside. Mary had stayed close to home, attending the Academy of Art for two years before being swept off her feet by a lawyer she met at a party in Silicon Valley. She always intended to go back to her interior design roots, but the youngest Elliot contented herself with wedding plans.
Their mother, Lady Elliot, née Russell, had passed away 13 years before. Lady, a debutante queen from Alabama, had met Walter when he had offered her his scarf on a blustery San Francisco day. She had commented on his polite demeanor, having encountered a number of scoundrels since arriving in town to visit friends. While her girlfriends were in class she had intended to spend the day catching the sights and sounds of a big city, but instead had found herself woefully underdressed for the sudden fog that could plunge the city into a noir setting in one second. He offered to take her to a coffeehouse around the corner, telling himself it would take a second, that he would not be late for his lecture, but a cup of coffee turned into a stroll along the Embarcadero, which turned into dinner and then all thought of his missed classes were gone as he escorted her back to her side of the Bay.
So charming was Lady’s smile that Walter offered to take her and her friends on a tour of his family’s vineyard. The trip had been a perfect California day, with sun, swimming and flirtation. While Walter had become enamored with this belle, she fell head-over-heels for the wine, the grapes and the undulating hills that had once called to another fair woman in search of an adventure. On their parting he swore that if she called him when she returned home he’d never want for anything else.
After many visits, he to Alabama and she returning to his family’s estate, they decided on a spring wedding. The Elliots quickly converted one of the older storage buildings into a picture-perfect wedding backdrop, a space that became so popular in later years that it was eventually used solely for events, and the Russells descended upon the West Coast like bees to a plump rose. Elizabeth was born eight months later.
Lady’s mother was a true southern matriarch. With her husband long-dead, split her time between the family members already married off and the ones who still needed a nudge. Having married off her only daughter it was only logically that she’d need to stay with her after the first child was born. Granny Russell deftly took care of her daughter and the preceding grandchildren.
It was a shock to the Sonoma society when Lady collapsed one evening. Within days everyone who was anyone (and even some nobodies) knew that Walter’s darling wife was not long for this earth. A quick-moving cancer had taken hold in her breast tissue and the doctors worked tirelessly to save her, but it became clear from her withering complexion that there would be no more sunny days in the Kellynch Hills for a long time.