Yeah, it would be great to have an additional tasting room on Main Street, where other wineries from the area had already ventured, but Encantada already had a contract to get the wine into the grocery stores in South Texas, and increasing the production for that was already a headache. Another tasting room meant more stock, more staff. He had to hire new people and buy new grapes, because while their winery was the oldest in the area, the weather in Texas was a bit more volatile, and his production was down this season because of the cold, dry weather this winter. So he was buying some grapes from Lubbock and more from Washington already. They'd still use Encantada recipes but he always preferred to use his own grapes, especially for the viognier and the syrah. The tempranillo was no problem--those were the grapes he grew the most of.
So, yeah, he had his hands full before Lucien had this brainchild on his own.
He looked down at his German Shepherd, Ronan. "I need to have a talk with him and see where he thinks I'm going to get all these grapes, and all the people for the bottling."
Ronan cocked his head, his no-longer-puppy ears not quite flopping together the way they used to. Thierry had always wanted a dog growing up, but his mother hadn't allowed it, even though they lived on a ranch. Well, she would have allowed it, but the dog would have had to stay outside, and he hadn't wanted that. He wanted a dog that would sleep in his bed, sit at his feet at the table. He'd been home from college now for almost ten years but had been so busy with the winery, he hadn't wanted to get a dog if he didn't have time to devote to it. Last Christmas, he'd decided he didn't want to wait any longer. One of their neighbors had had a litter of German shepherds, which had always been his favorite breed. So he'd bought one and spent months house training him, and leash training him, and now never even put him on the leash. He would probably never get a puppy again, because they were a lot of work, but Ronan was a good dog. Thierry was lucky he was able to bring him to work every day so the dog didn't languish at home while Thierry worked his long hours.
Thierry rose from the desk at his home office to walk down the hill to the barrel room. Thierry's home office had its own entrance, both for privacy during rare meetings held there, and to keep Thierry from working around the clock. Ronan jumped to his feet, attentive as ever. Yeah, the dog got just as restless as Thierry did when he wasn't doing something. The majority of the paperwork wasn't his responsibility, thank God, but sometimes he just had to see what Lucien was up to.
Lucien didn't work on the property, and actually only came up on weekends lately. He had an office and apartment in San Antonio, and occasionally traveled to other parts of Texas on business. They had agreed, as a family, that they would conquer Texas first, before they moved on to other parts of the country. Thierry was just as glad to have the distance between them. He and Lucien had different outlooks on life, and clashed more often than they got along.
Thierry opened the door of the office and Ronan dashed out into the cool, damp spring morning. This kind of weather was wonderful for grapes, and just what the bluebonnets would need. He'd seen a small patch of them in someone's yard the other day. Pretty soon the roadsides would be covered, and the roads themselves filled with tourists wanting to take pictures in them. The winery made sure to have plenty of help in the tasting room this time of year, so those sightseers that were so inclined could come to the winery, maybe take home a couple of bottles, join the wine club. Yeah, March and April were a good time at the winery. But he was sure his brother Sebastian had a handle on the additional staff. He could count on Sebastian to run the tasting room, make sure everything was stocked and on-hand, just like Lucien could count on him.
Ronan ran toward him with one of the many tennis balls that littered the grounds. Thierry scooped it from him and threw it in one fluid motion. His dad had always wanted him to be a baseball player, but as disciplined as Thierry was, he'd never been drawn to the life of a professional athlete. Playing in high school was one thing, but playing in the majors was another. He didn't even care to watch the games anymore.
Ronan barreled back toward him and Thierry played fetch with him another ten minutes before the dog dropped in front of him, panting and smiling at the exertion.
Which reminded Thierry he hadn't gone for a run in a couple of days. That was something else a dog was good for--making you got out of the house, away from work. Maybe he should sign up for another marathon and make himself accountable. He needed to do it for himself.
He walked into the barrel building and the hum of the refrigeration soothed him like no other sound. This was his favorite place in the world, the sounds, the smells. This was where he'd learned wine production at his grandfather's knee, and though he'd had to go away to college to get a degree in oenology, nothing had taught him more than spending time here with his grandfather.
He wondered what the old man would think about the improvements they'd made, the plans they'd made to advance the company. Thierry was pretty sure he'd be glad they'd decided to limit their expansion to Texas for now. He'd never wanted a big company, just wanted to share his love of wine with the people of Cascade.
Thierry noted that his cellar lead was here already, and Charlie Everett lifted a hand in a wave. Thierry nodded his response, and started rolling up his sleeves as he headed to join him.
* * *
With one eye on the gas gauge, Piper Tobin turned her little car the road toward Cascade, Texas. She'd heard they had the best wineries in the area, and she'd timed her trip so she would hit at peak bluebonnet season. Only, so far, not so much. She had seen one tiny cluster of the state flower near town, but not the blankets of flowers she'd expected. She would get a hotel room for tonight, drive around tomorrow and visit some of the wineries. She had a list of the most picturesque, which suited her needs better than the tastiest. She was a photographer, after all, not an advertising agency. People might be inspired to visit the wineries based on the photo journal she was producing, but they didn't have to like the taste of wine.
She drove down the main street, lined with storefronts adjacent to each other, some limestone, some brick, some wood. Antique shops, a drug store, a few clothing places, some wine tasting rooms occupied the buildings. Pretty cement planters graced the sidewalks, overflowing with geraniums and ivy.
Since her funds were limited, she selected a motor hotel that may have been built in the 1960s, on the main road between Cascade and the majority of the wineries. Maybe she could pick up a short-term job at a bar or something and earn some tips to tide her over. No more than a week, because then she was heading to Lubbock next. Hopefully spring weather would greet her. She'd seen just last night on the news that they'd gotten more snow.
She parked, then registered with the curious woman behind the counter. Piper didn't give into her natural urge to engage in conversation. She was too tired, and her mind was spinning with thoughts that she didn't want to spill to a stranger in a small town.
"You here to visit the wineries?" the woman asked.
Piper was sure not many wine tasters stayed at this dated place, when there were newer hotels in the area. She shook her head. "I came out to take pictures of the bluebonnets."
"Oh, you're a little early. They're starting to come out now, but the peak will be in another two or three weeks."
Again, Piper bit back on her questions. How did this woman know? Had she lived here long? She was fairly certain the woman was eager for conversation herself, but Piper was road-weary and just wanted a bed.
When she walked through the door of the room, though, she had second thoughts. The place smelled damp, and while it was damp outside with cool humidity, this smell was older, probably from the dripping window unit. Ugh. The carpet was wet beneath the window. At least it was the carpet and not the bed, though Piper made a mental note not to walk barefoot by the window.
She tucked her camera equipment on the bedside table away from the door, set her suitcase on the dresser and looked at the tube television with the rabbit ear antennas. Okay, she'd stayed in worse places, and she could deal with this. At least the art on the walls--Texas wildflowers--was pretty.
Keeping her shoes on, she investigated the bathroom. Rust stains from yet more dripping pipes striped the tub, but the corners were clean, something she'd learned to look for. She didn't feel so bad now as she showered off the day's travel, toweled off with a tiny rough towel--she'd pick up some towels of her own at Walmart tomorrow--and headed for bed. The remote didn't work, of course, so she set the television on an Austin channel, just for the noise, and crawled into bed. The sheets smelled better than the carpet, and she drifted right off.
* * *
The following morning her stomach woke her, and she checked her insulated shopping bag of food. Since eating out was cost prohibitive, she brought her own food when she could. One more protein bar. She'd have to pick up more of those at Walmart, too. She chowed down on it and washed it down with a bottle of water though her brain screamed for caffeine. Maybe Walmart had a McDonald's or something inside where she could get a cheap cup, because she didn't really trust the ancient coffee pot sitting on the dresser next to her luggage.
She'd hit Walmart early, unload here, then head out to the wineries. Maybe by then the fog that had been creeping up would burn off, and she would be able to get some good pictures, though the fog might create some interesting effects.
She walked out to her car and tried to remember which direction to turn to get to the store. The fog had dampened all sound except that of her keys as she pulled them out of her bag. She heard a car drive by, but nothing else. This might get her some cool pictures, though, and she thought about going back in for her camera before dismissing the idea. She didn't know how interesting photos of the Walmart parking lot might be.
She turned left onto the highway, hoping her sense of direction served her well. Man, the visibility was terrible. Maybe she should just wait, but she really wanted some coffee. And she was already out. So she pulled out onto the highway, where it seemed she was alone in the world. Everyone else had better sense than her.
The deer came out of nowhere, and even as her heart leapt in her chest, she swerved.
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