Chapter Sixty-Two

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When David pulled into the courtyard at Sonnenhang, there was a large lorry standing next to the door of the winery. "That could be the bottles and corks. I can't think of anything else," Bethia said.

Rachel walked over to greet them and confirmed their thoughts. "They arrived about half an hour ago, and the unloading is nearly complete. We'll be able to begin bottling shortly."

"No, best to wait until tomorrow. There's insufficient time left to finish it all today, and it makes no sense to have to interrupt the process part way through," Bethia said as Rachel assisted her down from the cab. "We'd need to clean and disinfect four times."

"Four times?" David asked as he and Maria stepped around to greet Rachel.

"Yes, both before and after each use. Stray microbes and bacteria are the best way to spoil wine. If equipment isn't cleaned after each use, it becomes increasingly difficult to properly disinfect later," Bethia said. "Besides, now we need to celebrate the expansion of our estate."

After the unloading was complete and the lorry had left, they sat around the table under the oak tree sipping wine and chatting for the remainder of the afternoon. "So if the roots extend four to six metres into the soil," David said, "then we can likely plant much wider than just the surface streak of chalky soil. We can dig holes to see how far the stratum extends before it dips too deeply for the roots to reach."

Bethia nodded as he spoke. "I like your way of seeing things, of looking beyond only the surface." She laughed. "Literally, here."

As the evening began to cool, they moved inside and sat around the kitchen table while David and Maria prepared dinner. "It's not normal to see a man at the stove," Greta said.

"Mamère told me that most of the best restaurants in France have men as their chefs. She taught us all how to cook — my sister, my brother and me," David laughed. "But after the first time, she did it only when Dad was away. He said men didn't belong in the kitchen, except to light the stove and to eat. I enjoy cooking... Sure did a lot of it up in the mountains."

"You're fortunate that your mother taught you, but you'd have figured it out, anyway." Maria chuckled. "Though you would have spoiled a lot of things while learning... Interesting what you say about the men in restaurants. The chef at the gasthaus was a man."

"That's common, Sweetheart," Bethia said. "Men are as capable of cooking as women, but it seems to be part of the attitude that it's not their place in the home. I'm pleased Aaron had no such ideas."

"Franz told me it was against nature for a husband to work in his own kitchen," Greta shook her head. "He said it deprives women of fulfilling their nurturing role. Funny, the last many years he wasn't around much for me to nurture. Always travelling."

"What was his work?" Maria asked.

"With the vineyards and the winery here, and travelling to sell the wine. He worked hard at it. Away for many weeks at a time, longer in the winter, away for months sometimes."

David nodded as she spoke. So that's where all the money went. Squandered on travel. Probably a long way south in the winter... Resorts and casinos... Women and...

David's thoughts were interrupted by Maria's announcement that dinner was nearly ready, and the table could be laid.

Forty minutes later, as they shared washing dishes and tidying the kitchen, Bethia said, "We should all go to bed early, to be fresh in the morning. Bottling took Aaron and me two full days, but with the five of us working steadily — I did some cyphering — we should be able to finish it in twelve hours. Let's have breakfast at six thirty."

As David and Maria lay in bed gently churning, David asked, "Did you think the same thing as I did when Greta talked of Franz being away for long periods?"

"Sad, isn't it? How he used her... You had mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he had taken loans against the property. I guess to cover his travel and his lack of effort here."

"Far beyond that. He had to be gambling or whoring or both to squander so much. Herr Schmidt found a total of a hundred and twenty-four thousand Francs that Franz had taken from the estate — a mortgage with the bank and liens with workers."

Maria stopped her hips. "Sorry, I was focused lower down. I surely misheard you. How much?"

"A hundred and twenty-four thousand Francs."

"That's what I thought I heard. It would take lifetimes to spend that. What an evil man. He led a secret life, and she paid for it."

"Let's focus on here, on us. It's so good to be inside again." He gave a gentle thrust and nibbled on her ear.

"You're not going to lead a secret life are you?"

"I've finished that. The two days of it were unbearable. We should finish here and get some sleep."

Bethia's knock on their door woke them at six, and after their morning exercises and a shower, they descended to the kitchen to find Bethia nearly finished preparing platters for breakfast. Rachel and Greta soon joined them, and while they ate, Bethia explained the process, ending by saying, "It will make more sense when we set it up."

"This is ingenious," Maria said as they completed washing the hopper and rinsing it in a solution of sodium metabisulphite. "It's another of Aaron's designs, isn't it?"

"Yes, Sweetheart. He was inventive, like David. He was always devising finer ways to do things. We never did use both spigots, since one of us corked the bottles, but now two can fill bottles, and two can cork. The fifth can put bottles through the disinfectant tub and onto the draining racks, and stack the corked ones, plus give a few pumps every minute or so to keep the hopper filled from the barrels."

David checked his watch as they completed the first barrel. "An hour and twenty-seven minutes. We became smoother with it as we went. Probably take us not much more than an hour twenty for the next one."

They paused for a break after the second barrel, then at ten to one, they completed the fourth barrel and stopped for lunch. "Half done, half to go," Bethia said.

David looked at his watch. "A little under six hours. What mind-numbing work this is. I've not experienced this before, but I guess it's standard for manufacturing jobs, for assembly lines. I find it more tiring than anything I've ever done."

"I find it very relaxing and soothing," Greta's face wore a broad smile. "It's all the same, so I don't have to think."

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