TERROIR (Fr "soil") - The ecology of a wine. Key factors include the cultivar type, soil, climate, vineyard location, planting density, training system, pruning philosophy and the cultural and social milieu wherein the whole enterprise takes place.
Isabella Swan has never seen the ocean. Not until she's suspended high above it, leaving behind everything and everyone she's spent the last twenty-three years calling home.
Rivers, dams, and lakes, ponds, fish tanks, swimming pools, these she knows. But looking down through the tiny double-paned window, her breath catches. From where she sits, there is nothing but the ocean. Blue stretches across every corner of the earth, and she could easily believe that the entire world has disappeared, swept away or submerged, swallowed by this mythical expanse.
Rubbing her eyes awake, she ducks her head, shifting side to side in her seat, looking for any cracks in the blue. There are a few wisps of cloud far to … her left. Isabella guesses that might be east, but she's not sure if the aeroplane's path takes it directly south.
"First time flying?"
Isabella jumps in surprise. The man seated beside her has spent most of the flight thus far with buds jammed into his ears, his eyelids closed but twitching, like he was watching all kinds of things play out across his imagination. He speaks with the too-loud abrasiveness characteristic of chronic headphone wearers who forget that they don't need to raise their voices to speak over music others can't hear.
He looks at where her hand is pressed against her breastbone, and he shakes his head.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you." He chuckles; it's a deep and raspy sound, and Isabella wonders how it's possible he even laughs with an Australian accent. He pulls the bud out of his left ear, the ear closest to Isabella. "Where ya headed?"
"It's fine," she says. Her voice is quiet with nerves. "Uh, Sydney–" she blushes at his smirk "–obviously. But, I, um, I'll be going up a bit north in a little while. To the Hunter Valley." Her voice lifts a little at the end.
The big guy beside her nods, the sun-drawn creases around his eyes deepening. "Wine country. You gonna work up there?"
Isabella nods, her fingers tied in knots in her lap. She doesn't add anything, wondering how wise it is to tell a complete stranger where she's going to be spending the next twelve months.
He doesn't seem to mind, continuing on as if he hadn't really expected her to volunteer anything about herself, his voice rumbling along like a tractor plowing a field. "Yeah, I got a cousin that works up that way, in Newey anyway. Just waitressing or whatever, but she's heaps into it. Every day she has off, she heads out there, hitting up the cellar doors, tasting everything she can. She's hoping to move back to Sydney soon—she wants to train as a sommelier, then get a job in a hatted restaurant, y'know?"
Isabella nods again, hoping she's getting the gist of his conversation right. The guy just keeps talking, his fingertips scrubbing across his close-cropped hair. "I d'know squat about the stuff, to be honest. I prefer beer. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'll have a glass or two here and there—my ex-girlfriend always drank goon, though, and I hate that shit."
The big guy laughs. "Right. Uh, cask – I mean, boxed wine."
"Oh." Isabella smiles. "Funny name."
He grins, his eyes crinkling so narrow Isabella can't tell what colour they are. "Yeah. You'd think after a year away from home I'd be better at remembering which words people are gonna trip over."
Isabella licks her lips, and squeezes her fingers tight. "Where have you been living? I mean, were you in L.A.?"
"Nah. I've been in Canada mostly. Workin' in Whistler, but I spent the last couple of months just hanging in Vancouver."
Isabella shoots another glance out the window. All she sees is endless blue. "That sounds fun."
"Yeah." The guy slaps his denim-covered thigh—the one not jiggling beside Isabella's knee—and she notices the cumbersome-looking brace for the first time. "Fu– screwed my knee up pretty bad about halfway through the season, so I got stuck doing equipment hire."
"I'm sorry." Isabella isn't sure what else to say.
He waves his big hand, like his injury is no big deal. "She'll be right. What about you? Is this–" he waves at the window she keeps glancing out of "–your first time flying?"
Isabella shakes her head, feeling her cheeks heat. "No. Well, kind of. I flew from Denver to L.A. last night. But I just – I mean, I've never seen the ocean before."
The big guy's eyes go really wide, and Isabella can now see that they're a strange mix of blue and green and brown—she supposes they'd be called hazel. "You've never seen the ocean? You're not taking the piss?"
"I've never seen the ocean." She can't help but smile as the guy shakes his head, like he can't believe what he's hearing.
"Whoa. I mean. Just …" he shakes his head again, and Isabella giggles as his mouth opens and closes. He shoots her a wry smile, and squares his shoulders, leaning back in his seat. "Sorry. I mean, I'm just – I grew up on the beach, you know? I can't imagine…"
Isabella chuckles. "It's probably as unimaginable to you, as growing up on the beach is to me."
"Ha. True." He offers her his hand. "I'm Emmett, by the way."
"Isabella. It's nice to meet you."
"You, too. So, where are you from?"
"Denver." Isabella hesitates, gathering her hair over one shoulder and combing her fingers through it. "Well, a smaller town just north-west of it."
Emmett nods. "I mean, I have a general idea about where that is, and how far it is from the coast. But you've never, I mean, you've never holidayed by the sea?"
"Oh. I haven't really – we didn't go on vacation very much. Until recently, it was just my Dad and me—well, my Mom …" Isabella sighs and shakes her head, forcing her mind away from the hospital that had become her second home for a while. "Dad couldn't really afford it, I guess."
He was too busy saving up to put me through college, she thinks, feeling that familiar stab of guilt.
"What about you? Are you from Sydney?" Isabella turns the conversation back to a more comfortable subject—not herself.
"Yeah. I grew up in Maroubra, which is like, ten ks from the city, I guess."
Talking about his hometown lights Emmett up like a Christmas tree, and he spins story after story, making Isabella smile at the thought of this big guy as the weedy little kid he describes, learning to surf, "wagging" school, creating a whole lot of trouble, while trying to stay out of the way of the "'Bra boys."
His gravelly voice, punctuated by his rumbling laughter, rolls along, until Isabella yawns and then jerks suddenly, realising she's on the verge of falling asleep again. "I'm so sorry."
Emmett chuckles, unfolding the airline-issued blanket. "It's all right. Sleep. I'm knackered, myself."
Pulling her own blanket up to her chin, Isabella shifts in her seat, and watches the unending blue beyond the window until her eyes become too heavy to keep open.
Isabella knows she's dreaming. There's a corner of her mind that knows she's actually asleep, curled up in a small seat on a 747, suspended somewhere in the skies between Los Angeles and Sydney.
In her dream, however, Isabella is back in Exempla St. Joseph, sitting beside a narrow bed criss-crossed with tubes and wires, with the beeping of infusion machines ringing in her ears. She is watching her mother fade away—again.
In her dream, Renée Dwyer isn't clinging to her daughter's hand, doesn't smile one last time, and her chest doesn't rattle with her last few breaths. Rather, Isabella stands beside her mother watching fade into the white of her sheets, her pale face disappearing into her pillow until all that remains is a pile of empty linen on the bed.
"You're okay. Hey. Isabella. You're okay."
Isabella is tugged back into consciousness by the large hand on her shoulder. Emmett's face is lined with worry as he shakes her carefully, pulling her from the grip of the dream that has silent tears streaking her face and a sob building in her chest.
"You okay?" He ducks his head to look at her closely. "Bad dream?"
Isabella nods, swallowing down the sorrow that's lumped in her throat. "I'm sorry." She wipes her tear-sticky cheeks with the back of her hand.
Emmett shrugs. "No need to be sorry." He rummages through the backpack under his feet until he finds a small packet of tissues.
Isabella accepts them with half a smile. "Thank you."
"You all right?"
"I – yeah. I lost my mother a little over six months ago."
"I'm so sorry."
She nods. "I've been having strange dreams ever since. I don't know …" she trails off, waving a hand in dismissal. She doesn't want to dwell on the images her unconscious mind conjured.
Emmett squeezes her forearm. "That sucks."
"I used to have this one dream," he tells her, folding his arms across his chest. "It's a total cliché, but you know the dream about getting to school and realising you're starkers? I had that one, like three times a week for years." He shakes his head. "You know, it got to the point I'd put my school uniform on before I went to bed at night, and I'd sleep in it. So when I woke up in a panic, I'd know straight away that it wasn't real."
Isabella is grateful for his obvious attempt to change the subject away from one she is uncomfortable with. She grins as she pictures him as a little boy, climbing into bed in a collared shirt and tie. "How old were you?"
He coughs out a laugh. "Fourteen."
Isabella bites her lip to stop a giggle from escaping, but he shakes his head.
"Go ahead and laugh, it's okay."
"I can't laugh now that you've told me to!"
Emmett chuckles. "Ah. Okay, I'll just have to embarrass myself a bit more—easy enough, I've done a lot of stupid things."
By the time the seatbelt light flashes on, and they're instructed to return their seats to an upright position and secure the tray tables, Isabella has to agree—Emmet has done a lot of stupid things. She's actually kind of horrified by some of the stories he tells her. At first she wondered if it was a guy thing, or an Australian thing, but as he tells her about picking up a blue-ringed octopus with his bare hands, or about trying to ride a plastic rubbish bin down a steep—and busy—road, she starts to suspect it might just be an Emmett thing.
"Hey, are you excited?" Emmett asks her jabbing her side with his elbow. "You're almost in Sydney." He points out the window. The outer suburbs of Sydney are growing larger.
Isabella's hands meet in her lap, her fingers tangling together. "Sure"
"Convince me, now." His eyebrows lift as he watches her closely.
She sighs. "Yes, of course I am. I'm just – I mean, I've never been more than about four hours from home before, and it's just kind of sinking in. It didn't seem real until now."
Emmett nods, the laughter in his eyes fading. "I reckon that's normal. I was pretty freaked out the first time I went overseas by myself."
"This wasn't your first time? In Canada?"
"Nah, I worked in a boarding school in the UK the year after I finished high school."
Isabella blinks. "You–"
"Yeah, I know. What crazy person would leave me in charge of a bunch of twelve year old boys?" He shrugs and scrubs at his jaw. "I behaved myself until my days and evenings off. But yeah, it was scary as all hell being by myself in a different country. I mean, I'd kind of imagined it would be just like home except colder, you know?"
Isabella nods. She doesn't know, but she can imagine.
"It was a huge shock." He shakes his head, chuckling a little. "I was working up in Yorkshire, right? So even just trying to have a conversation was a bloody nightmare. I couldn't understand a word some of the kids were saying, their accents were so thick!"
Isabella smiles, thinking of the number of words Emmett has used in the last few hours that she hasn't completely understood.
"I guess it might be a bit–" he shrugs, "–different here, than what you're used to. But you're staying with a family friend, right? They'll look after you."
"Yeah." Isabella examines her fingertips, pushing the cuticle down and picking at the turquoise polish she applied on her last night at home. "I've got two weeks in Sydney before Esme comes to pick me up, so I'm just going to stay in a hostel and do some exploring and stuff."
"What're you going to do with all your luggage?"
"I only have like a hiking pack with me. I had a lot my stuff sent straight to their place so I wouldn't have to lug it around."
She glances at Emmett, who nods his approval. "Good thinking."
The thread of their conversation unravels as the aeroplane touches down, and Isabella loses sight of Emmett in the hustle of the disembarking passengers. After clearing customs, panic starts to unfurl in her belly.
People bustle around her, backpack-laden and trailing suitcases. Chatter in a number of different languages fills her ears—even without knowing the language they're speaking, she can tell the fair-haired family to her right are getting increasingly frustrated with one another. A baby's tired wail rings out over the business men in crisp suits snapping into their just turned-on mobile phones, the gushing of lovers reunited, and the excited jabbering of tourists anxious to leave the airport and begin their adventures.
She's beginning to wonder if she's made a terrible mistake in leaving the familiarity of home when Emmett finds her.
"Hey! Isabella." He squeezes between the family of frustrated blonds and an elderly Japanese couple who are studying the overhead signs, his smile wide. "Welcome to Australia." He sweeps his arms wide—nearly decking an Indian woman in a bright purple Sari. "Sorry, so sorry." The woman waves him off with a smile.
"So, I was thinking–"
"You're kidding." Isabella giggles, surprised at herself.
"Ha. Brat." Emmett grins. "But seriously. I don't have a job lined up yet so I don't know … if you want someone to show you around, I'd be happy to play tour guide."
Isabella hesitates. She'd like that very much, but her instinctive caution makes her wary.
"I can make my sister come, if that helps. I mean, yeah. I know you don't know me from a bar of soap and stuff."
Isabella shifts her weight from foot to foot, her fingers curling around the straps of her pack. "I'd like that."
In the shadow of the Brokenback Ranges, Edward Masen is staring out over a small plot of land with a sleepy smile playing on his sunburned lips. The neat lines of grass and exposed soil make it look almost like a giant hand has run a comb across the surface of the earth.
As the sun rises slowly, lining the sky with orange and purple, Edward yawns and downs the last of his tea. Chucking the dinted enamel mug onto the front seat, he slams the car door closed and stretches his arms above his head, his spine cracking and popping.
Stamping through the dew-damp grass, Edward moves around to the back of his ute, unhinging the tray gate. He sighs as he looks at the buckets of soaking cuttings. And yet, even in the face of several more days of tedious labour, he still feels the sting of anticipation. This little plot is his to tend to, and he's excited and hopeful about the project he's undertaking.
After several months of research, and countless hours spent calling and emailing winemakers and researchers across the globe, Edward has decided to top-graft the experimental Tyrian varietal into the two-acre vineyard that Carlisle has graciously set aside for him to experiment on. The rootstocks are healthy and strong, having supported Shiraz vines for the past decade, and Edward is grateful for the confidence his boss has placed in him, knowing he's voluntarily losing the income from this section of his vineyard for at least two years.
Slapping a worn akubra over his sun-bleached hair, Edward rolls his shoulders and sets to work, his callused fingers working slowly and methodically. Edward makes his cuts carefully, inserting the chip buds into the rootstock, wrapping them up with grafting tape—and hoping like hell they take.
At smoko, Jasper shows up, his eyes bloodshot, his mouth set in a grimace. Edward considers sending him home to keep sleeping last night's excesses off, but he realizes that even hungover, the kid can probably work faster than he himself can on a full night's sleep.
With a curt nod, Jasper grabs his gear and heads to the other side of the field. The two men work in silence with, as predicted, Jasper moving at almost double the pace Edward can manage.
It takes them just over two days to finish. Carlisle comes to check their work, nodding thoughtfully as he squats amongst the newly grafted vines. With a quiet "Good job, fellas," he sends Jasper back into the field to continue desuckering vines, and he and Edward head back to the cellar.
"I hired someone to take Tanya's job," Carlisle removes his sunglasses, hanging them on the collar of his t-shirt as they step into the barrel room. It's cooler in here, thanks to the state-of-the-art temperature control he had installed when he took over the vineyard eight years ago.
Edward nods, his eyes on the oak barrels on their racks. They line three walls, stored on their sides, four, sometimes five, barrels high. He tries to push aside the slightly wistful feeling that flutters through him at the mention of Tanya's name. "When?"
"I organised it about a month ago, actually. I forgot to mention it."
"Okay." Edward shrugs. It is Carlisle's vineyard, and therefore his business as to whom he hires to work at the cellar door.
"An American girl, actually. She'll be here in about two weeks."
Edward's eyebrows lift as he glances at his boss. "Doing your bit for the local economy, hey?"
Carlisle shrugs, unapologetic. "You remember Esme went to the States for a funeral maybe six months ago?"
Edward nods, picking some grass off his faded blue Bonds.
"She and Renée met about twenty-five years ago, and they kept in touch—visiting each other every five years or so. At the funeral, though, Es met Renée's daughter, and–" Carlisle shrugs, lifting his hat from his head and pushing a hand through his sweat-damp hair "–offered for her to come stay for a while. And whilst she's here, she might as well earn an income."
Edward wonders briefly how Esme had never met her friend's daughter in all that time, but he doesn't ask. Instead, he nods. "She from the Napa Valley? She know wine?" He's hoping this girl will know a bit about Cabernet Sauvignon production. His Tyrian is a Cab. Sauv. and Sumoll cross-breed, so maybe he can pick her brain. While Edward has a vague idea of what he hopes to do, he is much more confident with the more typically Hunter-grown varietals, and especially with the Semillon and Shiraz he's been in charge of producing for the last three vintages.
Carlisle chuckles, slapping Edward's back. "Nah. She grew up in Colorado, I think. Pretty sure she was studying to be a teacher."
Edward watches Carlisle closely. "Was?"
The older man frowns, but shrugs the question off. "Anyway, I'm going to clean up the cottage for her to stay in. I wanted you to know."
Edward grins. "Yeah, that could've been awkward." The cottage overlooks his newly grafted plot, and, had he not been warned, finding a strange girl wandering through his vines would have pissed him right off.
"Yep." Carlisle chuckles. "Also, before she starts at the door, I want you to take her through some tastings."
"Sure. No worries, mate." This doesn't faze Edward. He enjoys introducing people to wine tasting—it is after all, a good part of the reason that he does what he does.
"Good. Now, what're you up to?"
Edward scratches the side of his face. "Gonna run some fining trials on the 2011 Shiraz." He points towards the far wall, where the barrels containing the wine in question rest.
"Yeah. To be honest, I don't reckon it needs it, but we'll see."
"Okay." Carlisle claps his shoulder. "Let me know how it goes."
Edward chuckles as his mother startles, her brow lined with consternation. Beth Masen shakes her head as she tucks her needle into the tapestry she's working on, pushes the frame aside and heaves herself to her slippered feet.
"Stop doing that," she tells him, shaking a crooked finger at his grinning face.
"Sorry." He leans down and presses a kiss to her cheek, hardened and creased by age and sun. "Didn't mean to scare ya."
She coughs out a laugh, her voice rasping. "Yes, you did." She points towards the kettle as she moves across the room to her kitchen table. Edward obliges, filling it up and switching it on.
"Are you staying for dinner?"
Edward shakes his head as he pulls mugs from the cupboard and swings teabags into them. "Nah. I finished up the trials I was running early. Thought I'd drop 'round and see how you're going."
"–but you will, anyway," Edward finishes for her.
"Oh, hush you." She pats his arm as he sets a mug of tea in front of her. "Has this got sugar in it?"
"Two," he assures her.
Edward slouches into the chair beside her. He blows across the steaming surface of his tea, which, unlike his mother's, is both unsweetened and milk-free. "What'd you get up to today, Ma?"
"I went into town," she tells him.
"Cessnock or Maitland?"
"Newcastle." The unsaid "duh, Edward" hangs in the air, punctuated by her raised eyebrow.
"Ah." Edward sips his tea, anxiety swirling in the bottom of his stomach. "You go see Auntie Kate?"
His mother nods, and her mouth turns down. The creases around her eyes no longer seem like laugh lines—she seems old, burdened. Edward can almost smell the sadness that wraps around them like a fog. Liquorice and ammonia, he decides, anaesthetic and bleach.
"She doing any better?"
His mother shakes her head, her eyes closing. "Worse."
Shit. Edward sighs and sets his mug down. "What can we–"
His mother shakes her head. "Nothing at all."
He drops his head into his hands, tugging at his hair, as though he can pull some shred of hope from his mind. "I'll go see her this weekend," he says, addressing the Jarrah tabletop. His eyes trace across the wood, reading history recorded across its surface in the strange hieroglyphic scratches of biros pushed too hard into paper. His mother's signature, fragments of his father's scrawl, a portion of a letter Edward wrote to his kindergarten teacher.
"That's probably a good idea." Edward looks up as his mother's words seem to catch in her throat, like they don't want to be voiced, don't want to spring from her lips into the air and become real. "The doctors say–" she sniffles "–she only has a few weeks left."
Edward feels the burn behind his eyes. His nostrils flare as he breathes deep, teeth clenched tight. He nods and reaches for his mother's hand. He wraps his rough fingers around hers, trying not to notice the mottled skin stretched across her bones.
"I had them checked," she whispers. "All of them. I went to the Skin Cancer Clinic today. After I left Kate."
Edward squeezes her hand a little tighter. "And?"
"All clear … for now."
Relief sends Edward's stomach into rollercoaster freefall. "Good. That's good."
She nods. "Yeah. Good."
"I should go." Edward stands, mug in hand. He drinks down the rapidly cooling liquid down in three gulps. Setting his empty cup in the sink, he sighs, scratching the back of his neck.
He leans down and kisses his mother's cheek again, and relief pulses hot through him. No melanoma. No cancer cells dividing and conquering beneath the skin his lips touch. "Tell Dad I said g'day. I'll see you Sunday arvo, 'kay?"
A/N: The closest I can manage without a phonetic alphabet is "Terr-wah."
I anticipate 14 chapters and weekly updates.
BelieveItOrNot betas, edits, loves on Emmett, and always has an encouraging word. All my girls keep me writing with a smile on my face.