As soon as my feet touched the ground in Napa, I was overcome with a glorious feeling, so I decided to head to the vineyard right away instead of stopping by the inn to rest. It was early evening when we landed, and Luis and I got into one car and headed out toward the vineyard while his assistants took the other and headed to check us in at the hotel. The drive was quiet as I laid back in the back seat and closed my eyes. I took the short time it would take us to get there to center myself and concentrate. More times than not, that dampens the voices in my head. And as entertaining as they can be, a business transaction is not the ideal setting for them to come out in full force.
When we arrived, the gates were open, and Steve was outside on the round driveway waiting for us. The house looked big, but modest, with a wrap-around balcony and double doors instead of windows. It had an old-style red ceramic roof, with ivy crawling on one side of the house which pleased me even more. This house was definitely meant to be a little slice of the old country. It took all my strength not to do a little dance when I got out of the car. Steve welcomed us with a nice firm handshake, led us inside straight to the dining room where the table was set, and everyone was already seated.
I took a short bow and waved at everyone as Luis did the same, before I introduced us. I used the name Dion for simplicity’s sake. Using my full name always brought up questions, and I was not one to lie. Antonio was seated at the end of one side of the table, and the one on the opposite side was offered to me. I took it with a nod, accepting the honor given me with open appreciation.
Steve sat in the empty chair to my right, and Luis took the remaining spot to my left. With that, Steve raised his glass and said, “I am sure you are tired from your long trip, and we are all honored that you chose to visit our humble home and business. I hope you don’t mind that we eat and drink first. We have it as bad luck to do business on an empty stomach.”
To that, I raised my glass in return and said, “Thank you for accepting us into your home. For that, and for your meal, we are honored and pleased. There is nothing better for getting to know someone than breaking bread with them.” That pleased everyone, and Antonio broke into a small smile.
The main course was veal osso buco. Judging by the smell of the pancetta, the fresh thyme, and the silky texture of the polenta that came with the plate, this was an authentic dish passed down within the family from generation to generation. The way the kids dove into the food also hinted that it was not a dish served often. I could sense the family stealing glances toward me, and when gazes were met, they were followed by warm smiles. When I picked up one of the shanks, put my lips over the opening, and started sucking out the marrow loudly, the little ones giggled. Antonio raised his shank as if toasting me and followed suit.
I must say that I enjoyed the food, and while no one was looking, I added a few drops of water from my flask into the wine so I could get a better taste. The flavor was light, the scent aromatic, and the aftertaste not too sour. I could tell by the smell alone that the grapes were young and that what I was drinking was from last year’s stock. Probably from the personal family barrels. The temperature was cool but not cold. Cooler than red wine was usually served, but I did not mind. It reminded me of the days when people kept their barrels in the cellar, and if I were a betting man, I would put money on this family doing just that for their private stock. I knew I did the same with mine.
After we ate, the kids cleared the table and left the dining room. After a moment of silence, I took it upon myself to start. I looked first to Antonio, then Fran, and finally, her husband, Steve. I held their gazes for a few seconds before moving from one to the other. Without even having to use my gift, I could sense both excitement and trepidation coming from all three. I placed my hands flat on the table and began.
“I want to thank you again for the warm company and the great meal. It is not how most business is done anymore these days, even though it ought to be. Now I will not waste any more of your time and get to the marrow of why I am here. I am sure my associate Luis has explained some of this, but I would like to go into it myself. After I am done, you can ask me anything you want. The one thing I need you to keep in mind is that there is no downside for you in this. All you have to say is no thank you, and we both shall move on with our lives.”
I paused, gauging their reactions to what I had said so far.
“First, I will go over what I want to do for you. There are a lot of factors that have brought me here, but the biggest one is that I no longer have a need for money. I have forged my empire over the years through the vine, and I have all I need and more from that. I do not see what I have as a company but as a family. Once in a while, I will come across people like you, people who love vine and family, and choose to help them. Be it with funds, knowledge, technology, marketing, or whatever resources my trusted team thinks will help best.” I glanced at Luis and nodded with a smile.
“Your reciprocation to this help is strictly voluntary. You can completely reject it, and we go our separate ways. You can accept it and say thank you, and we also go our separate ways. You can also accept it, keep lines of communication open, and if and when you see fit, you can decide to join the family. Before you ask me what I have to gain from this, I will tell you that I have no need to gain anything from this. Family helps family. Teacher helps student. The only thing that I do need is an answer from you before I walk away tonight. I am willing to help you, but if you choose to reject my offer, I want to give someone else the opportunity to get the help they could use.”
As I paused, I tried to keep everyone in my gaze, Steve looked at Fran, Fran looked at Antonio, and Antonio looked at me. This would make for a fine Mexican stand-off except the fact that we were one too many, and neither of us was Mexican. Fran cleared her throat slightly and broke the silence.
“I also would like to thank you for reaching out to us and giving us this opportunity. Chances like these do not come very often. Regardless of the saying it is too good to be true, Luis and I have talked over the phone multiple times already, and we have covered all the bases of this agreement. I hope you understand the hesitation since offers like this one do not come by in the world we live in. The decision has more or less been made, but before we get to that, my father would like to say a few things.”
I arched an eyebrow, or maybe I winked, I am not too sure, and nodded. This was either really good news or really bad news. Usually, mortals do not make such weighty decisions so quickly. I was expecting a barrage of questions and the silence threw me off for a minute. Getting thrown off is not a fun experience. I remember that time in the rodeo in San Jose. I tried to ride this maverick called Rambo on a dare, and he threw me clear across…
I closed my eyes for a second and tried to disguise shaking my head back on track by stretching my neck muscles. I opened my eyes and nodded again. All eyes rested upon Antonio. The old man, weighed down by the passing of time, took a breath and straightened up more than he probably had done in decades. He looked directly at me with an air of pride and strength, licked his lips, and started speaking.
“When my Francesca came to me with this news, I was adamant that we have this dinner so I could meet you. You see, I passed this place and this business to her a long time ago, but I insisted in this, and to her credit,” he turned to her and went silent for a second as a tear formed in his left eye, “she did not deny this old man’s wishes.” Biting his lip lightly in an effort to keep his composure, he turned back to me and continued.
“Considering all I know and all I have heard you say, this offer sounds like a sort of a miracle. Un dono di Dio, as we say back home. We have other things we say back home, too. About a generous god that walked the earth, teaching people about pleasure and the love of wine. Un Dio che ama il vino.” With that, he leaned forward, stood up, and placed his hands on the table, leaning over it as if to get a better look at me. “So, who are you really, Mr. Dion? You come to us with this dono di Dio, but you don’t look like Bacchus. Chi sei veramente?”
I leaned back in my chair and laughed heartily at that. It was not a nervous laugh or a condescending laugh. It was loud and deep, and authentic, and it took everyone by surprise. Even Luis looked toward me in shock and blinked. By the time I was done, I had tears in my eyes, and that was a good thing. It allowed for a few tears of sadness to escape, as well. I was starting to really like Antonio, and I was saddened that at his age, he would not be around for much longer. I wiped my tears away and looked at him, a faint smile playing on my lips.
“Bravo, Antonio! Sei vicino alla verità. So very close. Bacchus è la faccia opposta della stessa moneta. Two faces, same coin. Say my name and finish it.”
“Bacchus in the same coin? Ma questo è impossibile. Dion as in Dionysos?” His arms and legs wavered, and he sank back down in his chair and looked at me. “So you are really him? The Greek God of Wine?”
“Il Greco e l’Italiano sono una razza, una faccia. One race, one face? I am sure you have heard that before. The same story, when told by different people, changes. Add to that the passing of time, the lines in the story get even more muddled.”
“So what do you want from us? To worship you?”
“Per favore, Antonio. You have worshiped me almost all your life through your love of wine and vine. I am still here because of people like you. What I want is to repay the kindness. Let me bless your vines. Let me help your family. They will not have to worry about profits and bills anymore.
La tua famiglia prospererà.”
The old man clapped his hands once and laughed, and his laugh warmed my heart. I already knew the answer, even though I heard it a few seconds later. “How life changes from one moment to the next! Dionysos sitting across from me at my dining room table, eating osso buco. Un dio dell ‘Olimpo! Yes! Of course, yes to your blessings and your help!”
“Hold on one minute,” interrupted Fran by raising a hand. “God of Wine or not, miracle or not, this being a dream or not, I want to read the paperwork before I sign anything.”
“There is no paperwork, so you have nothing to sign. The company is and always will be yours. Stay in contact with Luis, and he and his associates will explain everything to you. I will bless the vines next you see me.”
Fran’s mouth moved up and down, but no words were coming out. It was always nice to see that mortals copied me without even realizing it sometimes. Finally, she broke into a giggle as she wiped off a tear that had rolled down her cheek. I could sense her mind trying to absorb everything, and even though it would have been easy for me to help her get there, I just pushed my chair back and stood. There were no malicious thoughts in this family, no anger about abandoned gods, and no thoughts of riches rooted in greed. I knew I had made the right choice.
Without any warning and without giving them time to do anything more but stand in return, Luis and I got up and took our leave from the table. We walked into the night air, got in our car, and drove off. We had not even gotten on the main road when I heard sniffling from the driver’s seat. When I looked over, I saw Luis trying to drive through tears streaming from his eyes.
“It truly is a wondrous thing that you are doing for them, master. No matter how many times I have witnessed you impart your gift, it never fails to amaze me.”
“Oh, shut up, you old goat, and pay attention to the road!” I snapped at Luis in my God Voice and huffed at his display. “I still need you for the next week or so, so try to get us to our resting place without driving us into a pole.” I huffed again and turned to look out the window and to wipe away a solitary tear of my own.