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Authors: Joanne Harris

Blackberry Wine

BOOK: Blackberry Wine
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Joanne Harris is the author of three previous novels,
Sleep, Pale Sister, The Evil Seed
and
Chocolat. Chocolat
was shortlisted for the 1999 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and is also published by Doubleday Canada. Joanne Harris lives in Barnsley, Yorkshire, with her husband and small daughter.

Acclaim for
Blackberry Wine
:

‘A lively and original talent’
Sunday Times

‘Harris is at her best when detailing the sensual pleasures of taste and smell. As chocoholics stand advised to stock up on some of their favourite bars before biting into
Chocolat
, so boozers everywhere should get a couple of bottles in before opening
Blackberry Wine’
Helen Falconer,
Guardian

‘Joanne Harris has the gift of conveying her delight in the sensuous pleasures of food, wine, scent and plants … [
Blackberry Wine
] has all the appeal of a velvety scented glass of vintage wine’
Lizzie Buchan,
Daily Mail

‘If Joanne Harris didn’t exist, someone would have to invent her, she’s such a welcome antidote to the modern preoccupation with the spare, pared down and non-fattening. Not for her the doubtful merits of an elegant and expensive sparkling water or an undressed rocket salad. In her previous novel,
Chocolat
, she invoked the scent and the flavour of rich, dark, sweet self-indulgence. In
Blackberry Wine
she celebrates the sensuous energy that can leap from a bottle after years of fermentation … Harris bombards the senses with the smells and tastes of times past … Harris’s talent lies in her own grasp of the quality she ascribes to wine, “layman’s alchemy, the magic of everyday things.” She is fanciful and grounded at the same time – one moment shrouded in mystery, the next firmly planted in earth. Above all, she has wit’
Jenni Murray,
Sunday Express

Copyright © Joanne Harris 2000
Originally published in Great Britain by Doubleday,
a division of Transworld Publishers

PRINTING HISTORY
Doubleday edition published 2000
Black Swan edition published 2001

‘God’s Garden’ by Dorothy Frances Gurney
reprinted courtesy of Burns and Oates Publishers.

The right of Joanne Harris to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publications, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.

All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Doubleday Canada and colophon are trademarks.

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Harris, Joanne
Blackberry wine

eISBN: 978-0-385-67474-4

I. Title

PR6058.A6884B523 2001      823′.914      C00-932132-2

Published in Canada by
Doubleday Canada, a division of
Random House of Canada Limited

Visit Random House of Canada Limited’s website:
www.randomhouse.ca

v3.1

To my grandfather, Edwin Short
:
gardener, winemaker and poet at heart
.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks go to the following: Kevin and Anouchka for bearing with me, to G. J. Paul, and the Priory Old Boys’ Club, to Francesca Liversidge for her inspired editing, to Jennifer Luithlen, to my splendid agent, Serafina Clarke, for showing me the ropes, but not giving me enough to hang myself with, and to Our Man in London, Christopher Fowler. To all my colleagues and pupils at Leeds Grammar School, goodbye, and good luck. I’ll miss you.

Contents
1

WINE TALKS. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT. LOOK AROUND YOU. ASK
the oracle at the street corner; the uninvited guest at the wedding feast; the holy fool. It talks. It ventriloquizes. It has a million voices. It unleashes the tongue, teasing out secrets you never meant to tell, secrets you never even knew. It shouts, rants, whispers. It speaks of great things, splendid plans, tragic loves and terrible betrayals. It screams with laughter. It chuckles softly to itself. It weeps in front of its own reflection. It opens up summers long past and memories best forgotten. Every bottle a whiff of other times, other places; every one, from the commonest Liebfraumilch to the imperious 1945 Veuve Clicquot, a humble miracle. Everyday magic, Joe called it. The transformation of base matter into the stuff of dreams. Layman’s alchemy.

Take me, for instance. Fleurie, 1962. Last survivor of a crate of twelve, bottled and laid down the year Jay was born. ‘A pert, garrulous wine, cheery and a little brash, with a pungent taste of blackcurrant,’ said the label. Not really a wine for keeping, but he did. For nostalgia’s sake. For a special occasion. A birthday, perhaps a wedding. But his birthdays passed without celebration; drinking Argentinian red and watching old Westerns. Five years ago he laid me out on a table set with silver candlesticks, but nothing came of it. In spite of that he and the girl stayed together. An army of bottles came with her – Dom Pérignon, Stolichnaya
vodka, Parfait Amour and Mouton-Cadet, Belgian beers in long-necked bottles, Noilly Prat vermouth and Fraise des Bois. They talk, too, nonsense mostly, metallic chatter, like guests mingling at a party. We refused to have anything to do with them. We were pushed to the back of the cellar, we three survivors, behind the gleaming ranks of these newcomers, and there we stayed for five years, forgotten. Château-Chalon ’58, Sancerre ’71 and myself. Château-Chalon, vexed at his relegation, pretends deafness and often refuses to speak at all. ‘A mellow wine of great dignity and stature,’ he quotes in his rare moments of expansiveness. He likes to remind us of his seniority, of the longevity of yellow Jura wines. He makes much of this, as he does of his honeyed bouquet and unique pedigree. The Sancerre has long since turned vinegary and speaks even less, occasionally sighing thinly over her vanished youth.

And then, six weeks before this story begins, the others came. The strangers. The Specials. The interlopers who began it all, though they too seemed forgotten behind the bright new bottles. Six of them, each with its own small handwritten label and sealed in candle wax. Each bottle had a cord of a different colour knotted around its neck: raspberry red, elderflower green, blackberry blue, rosehip yellow, damson black. The last bottle, tied with a brown cord, was no wine even I had ever heard of. ‘Specials, 1975,’ said the label, the writing faded to the colour of old tea. But inside was a hive of secrets. There was no escaping them; their whisperings, their catcalls, their laughter. We pretended indifference to their antics. These amateurs. Not a whiff of grape in any of them. They were inferiors, and we begrudged them their place among us. And yet there was an appealing impudence to these six freebooters, a hectic clash of flavours and images to send more sober vintages reeling. It was, of course, beneath our dignity to speak to them. But oh I longed to. Perhaps it was that plebeian undertaste of blackcurrant which linked us.

From the cellar you could hear everything that went on in the house. We marked events with the comings and goings of our more favoured colleagues: twelve beers Friday night and laughter in the hallway; the night before a single bottle of Californian red, so young you could almost smell the tannin; the previous week – his birthday, as it happened – a half-bottle of Moët, a demoiselle, that loneliest, most revealing of sizes, and the distant, nostalgic sound of gunfire and horses’ hooves from upstairs. Jay Mackintosh was thirty-seven. Unremarkable but for his eyes, which were pinot noir indigo, he had the awkward, slightly dazed look of a man who has lost his way. Five years ago Kerry had found this appealing. By now she had lost her taste for it. There was something deeply annoying about his passivity and the core of stubbornness beneath. Precisely fourteen years ago Jay wrote a novel called
Three Summers with Jackapple Joe
. You’ll know it, of course. It won the Prix Goncourt in France, translated into twenty languages. Three crates of vintage Veuve Clicquot celebrated its publication – the ’76, drunk too young to do it justice, but then Jay was always like that, rushing at life as if it might never run dry, as if what was bottled inside him would last for ever, success following success in a celebration without end.

In those days there was no wine cellar. We stood on the mantelpiece above his typewriter, for luck, he said. When he’d completed the book he opened the last of my companions of ’62 and drank it very slowly, turning the glass round and round in his hands when he’d finished. Then he came over to the mantelpiece. For a moment he stood there. Then he grinned and walked, rather unsteadily, back to his chair.

BOOK: Blackberry Wine
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