Earlier today, I saw Marcel Guigal sitting in a Toyota Avalon. The luminary of the northern Rhone, right here in River City driving...a Toyota? I rolled down my window and said, "Excuse me, but aren't you--"
"Marcel Guigal?" he finished for me, without a trace of a French accent.
"I get that a lot." Really? I'd expect that if he looked like Clooney or something, but Marcel Guigal? I couldn't wait to see where this was going.
"So, when's the '09 Condrieu going to hit the shelf?" I asked.
"Soon. The Viognier came in more beautifully than I can remember in '09, you know."
"Yeah, but I bet you were saying that in '07 as well."
"True, but I still haven't had a hit such as this one since the one I had in '95--that was another amazing wine."
This guy could play along with the great masters. Was he a spy? Probably. He was sent, of course, to spy on me. Not that I can think of any knowledge I possess that would be of interest to a spy, other than the nuclear launch codes for the Ohio River Valley missile range. The codes change every time I think of a new number. Sometimes I have a hard time keeping up--I have to concentrate hard on NOT thinking of a new number every time we do a missile test, otherwise, unauthorized access alarms go off and you know what a pain that can be, with MPs crawling all over the place, looking at you with raised eyebrows, questioning your immigration status, asking to see your ID badge over and over.
"I hate to take exception with Your Eminence," I said, "but you've had several great vintages of Condrieu in the past 15 years."
"Yes, but none that felt like getting a letter from a lover you are desperate to see, but who has gone away...that '95 was a letter from Celeste, whom I haven't seen in thirty years."
"Unresolved love, huh? So who's the '09 a letter from?"
"Marie-Ange...I can see her now, as she was when we were 16. We were very much in love."
"What happened to her?"
"She moved to Paris."
"And never wrote you?"
"Oh she wrote to me--every other day! But I'm terrible at writing back, and she thought I was losing interest since I only wrote every three or four weeks."
"But did you write good letters?"
"Of course!!! Do you think that I could do anything other than commit my wounded heart to paper for such a one as Marie-Ange?"
This guy is good. "Sorry...I don't know Marie-Ange."
"Surely you have your own Marie-Ange?"
"What's her name?"
"She's all around me."
"Even between my fingers."
"Her name?!? Is it Everywhere?"
"No. I cannot name her, but she is there, but only when I'm not looking for her."
"Ah," he said. "I see that you also have visions of angels."
Visions of angels.... I drifted. He continued:
"Mine keep drinking my wine before bottling."
"The angel's share...of course.... Mine give me a wellspring of happiness so consuming and profound...the overall feeling is, oddly enough, sadness."
"Which is how I feel as I see them crowded around my barrels. It's nice to see the angels enjoying my wine, but I could have sold that wine," he said with a laugh that quickly faded. "But that's not what you mean."
"Do you feel it now?"
"I feel the memory of it."
"That's all I have left of my wines and love letters."
"You're not Marcel Guigal."
"Then what do you want?"
"It was you who rolled down the window to speak to me."
"I think you're a spy."
"Can I have the launch codes?"
"Can I have some Condrieu?"
"All I've got is Cote-Rotie. They told me that's the first association you'd make."
"I've always been different. I like it now, but I didn't so much in grade school. It's one of those things that helps me keep secrets."
"Are there really launch codes? I was just trying to be clever."
"Is there really any Condrieu? I'm just getting thirsty."
"Fine." He produced, with slight hesitation, a green bottle with a gold label. Guigal La Doriane from 2007. "It's my last bottle. I'm taking one in the groin for you."
I pulled a glass out of my pocket, popped the cork, poured and took a long sniff. Honeysuckle, peaches, almonds, wheat germ?, white flowers...orange blossoms. And tangerine.
"You're also going to have to take one for me on the launch codes," I said, not without kindness.
He smiled a bland smile. "You--okay...why can't I have the launch codes?"
"Because the reason that I am the only one who knows them is that when I get flustered or pressured my brain starts racing uncontrollably. I change the codes so rapidly that even I can't keep up with them, so they're safe. I'm the ultimate defense. I'd've been terrible in the Army--who wants a guy freezing up on them in a foxhole?--but this...this is a job I can do. Who is 'they'?"
"I was just making 'them' up in the grand tradition of this whole conversation. Are you a pathological liar?"
"No. Just an engaging storyteller." I looked at him, a forlorn look growing on his face. "Got a glass?"
"Oh...um...," he reached over into his backseat, "yeah."
I poured him some and we drank in silence, there behind our steering wheels. The Fake Frenchman said, "Well this is quite a sight, drinking and parking. You know, I still have to drive home...mind if I take the bottle?"
"I do actually. I'll pour you an extra glass though."
"I'd have to drink it now, and then I can't drive home."
"That's the idea," I said. "It's time you saw your angels somewhere else."
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