Cabernet Zin

By: J Gordon Smith
Chapter 0

BURNISHED GOLD GLINTED from the tip of the somber mountain that stood along the vastness of the southern horizon, but the color disappeared as the winter sun faded into shimmering starlight. The evening brought a crisp breeze darting up the dormant vineyard in snappy bursts to remind its trembling vines that spring remained elusive yet.

Zack pushed through the heavy oak crush-pad doors of Amber Mountain Winery toward the parking lot. “Another failed year, Rutger! How do we increase customer traffic and earnings?” He flipped his sports jacket lapel, the charcoal fabric fading into the evening, while his other arm gripped a stack of grim binders. His polished shoes sparkled in the slit of light cutting from between the barrel racks inside the winery. “You have enough cash for the capital call?”

Rutger searched his pocket for his rental keys, his feet crunching in the gravel, “In the middle of the deepest recession in eighty years? No. But we are still early in this project as investments go. We won’t be able to evaluate it for at least five years.”

“Let’s toss these in our cars and get back to the tasting room. I want to see how busy the floor traffic is.” Zack peered over his shoulder, the rough stone of the winery chunky and solid against the hill and glowing with energy from within. Guests and winery investors floated through the warmly lit tasting room and the tiled patio. They cupped goblets of wine like delicate crystals scattering light that winked at the twinkling stars far overhead.

“Traffic looks good.” Rutger opened his car door and tumbled the binders and notes across the passenger seat. “I have pictures of the other wineries from today. They were all busy, but it looked like we are the busiest.”

“That’s good to hear –”

“– and I think we have the youngest crowd. If we can convert them into repeat customers while we grow, then I have hope for this place.”

“How do we track demographics?” Zack caught the edge of the bounding trunk lid as it sprang open, “The men will tell us directly, but how many women are going to say how old they are? My wife avoids sharing that statistic.”

“Scan data and the rating cards along with photographs. We don’t need to be exact with ages, just know if we see a lot of younger, middle aged, or retired groups and what they spend. Then we target advertising and hope for the best.”

A diesel tour bus growled up the drive. The splash of a banner plastered along its side proclaimed San Diego Party Platoon. Both Zack and Rutger banged shut their cars before swirling dust coated the interiors.

Rutger coughed, “When are we upgrading the drive?”

Zack said, “Not used to this dry air being away from that foggy London dampness?” He slapped Rutger on the shoulder, “Martin Ginter has the task punch list. And so far he’s keeping on schedule; the drive gets upgraded this next summer.” They walked to the sharp light of the barrel cave and then up the gritty cement steps to the main tasting room.

“Think that bus is full of casino retirees?”

“Can’t say since I couldn’t see through the window tinting. However, Rutger, I’ll pour your first glass of wine if they are all twenty-something. Good odds since some of these bus lines specialize in younger groups.”

“I can only hope. You are married and what, barely over twenty yourself?”

“Twenty-six,” Zack admitted. “See how free we are with ages?”

“But married. That’s in my favor. I’ll have the whole fancy market to myself.”

“I’ll bet you are extra attractive with that British accent you barely hide.”

“The prettier the girl – the bigger my accent!” Rutger shuffled his feet in a little dance step. “The best me Mum could give me – with chutney and tea!” He pushed his black-rimmed glasses tighter on his face and laughed.

People mingled three and four deep around the long curving bars. Everyone chatted, laughed, and clearly enjoyed the evening. Rutger said, “Good sign, both tasting bars are packed and still a younger crowd. The only older people I see are really the investors, but few of them are on the floor.”

“Most of the investors are outside at the reflection pools or the sides of the patio.” Zack nodded toward the floor to ceiling plate windows that arched up two stories, split only by brickwork and dark wood trim. In the daytime, the windows blazed with the panoramic view of the vineyards streaking away to the mountain range along the distant southern horizon. “I didn’t see the bus unload yet.”

“I see the bus lights shutting down, should be soon.”

“Oh! Looks like you are pouring mate,” Rutger said as the main tasting room doors swung wide to pass the bus load of cheering women trailing a petite blond-haired woman in a tiara. “Looks like a bachelorette party. I’ll see you at the bar table over there where Samantha is standing. I’d like a red wine.”

“Hello, Samantha. Here you go, Rutger.” Zack set down the two drinks he cradled in his hand, “One of these is for you, Samantha.”

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