Once upon a time, there was this man, Mr. Willy Wineka, who was fed up with the evil politics of commercial competition and wine scores, so he escaped society and had been secretly making exceptional wine for years behind the locked gates of his castle-cellar. Rumor had it that no one had ever seen him, or anyone else, come or go and people speculated about how he was still producing such amazing wine after all this time. One year, Mr. Wineka sent out an invitation to a few select people around the world and I was one of the lucky few who received that rare purple ticket to attend a tour and tasting of the most famed wine producers of all time. Here’s a glimpse at some of his best-kept secrets and what went on behind the castle gate.
The man, the myth, the legend himself opened his gates and greeted me and the other anxious and excited guests and then proceeded to escort us into what could have been one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After Violet Beaujelais, Augustus Gulp, Charlie Dumpbucket, Veruca Sekt, Mike Winelibrary Teevee and I had our ID's checked, we each signed contracts stating we wouldn’t divulge any of Mr. Wineka's secret formulas to Mr. Whatsitworth or anyone else, the cellar doors were thrown open to reveal a most magnificent site. There, before our eyes, was a river the color of wine running right through the middle of the castle. Recognizing our surprise, Mr. Wineka told us that not only is this the only winery in the world to do punchdowns by waterfall, it’s also the only winery to blend their wine by river. “It’s the only way… if you want it just right”, he said. I started to question him, “But what about the exposure to oxygen?” and like he himself had trained Cesar Milan The Dog Whisperer, he shushed me with a firm shht sound and quick snapping of his fingers as if imitating a duck’s beak quacking.
Looking around, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Located on bars all around the room where little Riedel crystal wine glasses filled with liquids of all colors, ranging from the color of sunshine to the darkest night. Mr. Wineka recommended the snozberry port, said it was a very good vintage for snozberries. While I was sampling the array of dessert wines, Augustus Gulp got it in his head to taste the wine in the river and of course, proceeded to topple right in. Unfortunately, he couldn’t swim and wasn’t handling the waterfall well when we last saw him. Mr. Wineka assured us not to attempt a rescue and said everything would be taken care of before fermentation.
Slightly alarmed, we walked with some trepidation until he took us on a tour of his barrel room where we forgot all about big, old Augustus. Mr. Wineka showed us how each barrel was in fact a giant keg, and ideal for on-the-spot pours or custom blending, and then we all played winemaker for a bit while he told us about his Everlasting Corkstopper. Mr. Wineka has designed a new closure that permanently removes any possibility of cork taint, virtually guaranteeing the integrity of the wine like the world has never before known. Apparently, this is one of the products Mr. Whatsitworth has been trying to steal, so Mr. Wineka was quite emphatic about making sure we had given him back all his Corkstoppers. When he came up one short, he didn’t waste any time and immediately sent out the corksniffers who discovered Mike Winelibrary Teevee was packing more than just his hands in pockets. Mr. Wineka blew a little whistle, and out of nowhere came these little purple men who gave Mike the boot. Who were those little purple men,” Violet asked. “Haven’t you ever seen an Oenoloompa before? They come from Oenoloompaland, surely you’ve been there. They do a lot more around here than just provide security”, replied Mr. Wineka. And then I heard her say it, the words that would eventually do her in. “I want an Oenoloompa!” Mr. Wineka pretended not to notice and continued on with the tour.
We took a wild boat ride that delivered us downriver to an entirely new section of the castle where we learned we’d be touring the bubble room. Um, did he say bubble room? He opened the door slowly and as he did, I could see the whole space was teaming with bubbles. Oh, I thought he was talking about Champagne. As if he heard my thoughts, Mr. Wineka said “Bubbles, bubbles everywhere and not a drop to drink…” and then spinning on his heels, he turned, pointed his finger at me and said “yet”. “This is called Champagne Fizzy Lifter—it’s a sparkling wine I’m working on that actually lightens the mood and elevates more than just your spirit. But, it’s still in R&D, we’re still trying to work out some of the bugs.” Veruca said she wanted one, but it was Charlie who was hanging around the bubble room a bit too long—and when I saw him sneak a sip of the Champagne Fizzy Lifter, I knew there was going to be trouble. Charlie immediately started to float upwards towards the ceiling and the fans above and though Mr. Wineka was aware of Charlie’s dilemna, he just turned to us and said “Three greedy little boys gone, three sweet girls remain.” We wondered if Charlie was with his Angels now.
Veruca, Violet and I looked at each other scanning the other’s faces for a sign, any sign we should leave before we got into trouble too. The suspense was terrible, but we hoped it would last. No matter how afraid we were, in the end, we were dying to know what other surprises lay around the next corner and what other brilliant covert projects he might be working on, so we stayed.
For his next act, Mr. Wineka decided to show us the golden eggs. “Have you ever heard of a fish that lays golden eggs,” he asked? When we entered the room with three fish tanks, we had no idea what we were in store for. Mr. Wineka was keeping three rare albino sturgeon that produced the most magnificent and exceptional golden caviar, the perfect complement to his sparkling white wine (Surf and Turf Bubbles). When Veruca and Violet heard the words golden eggs, Veruca said she wanted one now and Violet said she was so tired of hearing that. The two got into a hissing match and cat fight until Veruca really showed her fangs and bit Violet’s ear off. Violet’s face was turning violet and when the two rolled over and hit one of the fish tanks, a security measure that was in place released a lever in the floor, dropping both girls into the unknown depths below. Mr Wineka quietly smiled an eerie smirk at me and said, “They were both bad eggs.”
Just the two of us remained. Mr. Wineka and I took the Winekavator, and as if drunk on our experience, I could have sworn we were going sideways and slantways and longways and backways and frontways and squareways and any other ways that you can think of. Mr. Wineka confessed to me that he was getting old and realized he couldn’t go on making wine forever. He knew he needed someone he could trust when he left the business, someone passionate about wine, someone who would take care of the Oenoloompas, so he sent out the invitations and used the tour as a test of character. He put his arm warmly around my shoulder and said, “Tamara, the winery is yours. You can move in anytime.” And as the tears filled my eyes, he looked at me and declared, “But don’t forget about the girl who suddenly got everything she ever wanted… she lived happily ever after.”
Unitl we sip again…