"Jesus said, 'I am the vine, and you are the branches,' but I am in a position to tell you this statement was not entirely accurate. The Old Testament brings up vines a lot, the Chosen People being vines and wheat ears and, I don't know, whatever else the writer was eating for lunch that day. Ridiculousness. Even if you leave the Eucharist out of this, we still go back to the Greeks, all the way back to whichever tribes settled down and planted. I probably don't have to tell you about wine as the sacred blood of Dionysus--unless they lost or dropped that aspect of the Mysteries? I don't keep up with current events in archaeology, to be perfectly honest. Even with the internet, I've been so wound up with business for the last forty years that I only have the sketchiest of ideas about what you people think you know. Not even mentioning the amount of sheer physical effort that running this place still takes.
I mean, it's a big family, it's not like I have to do it alone, but someone has to be in charge, right? Well, I've always been assertive. It was one thing when we got here to build the vineyards and kick back, and another one entirely to start harnessing all our fruit and manpower to manufacture this business. Of course I'm proud of it. My whole life's tied up in these vines...
...Pressing the grapes for the first time was hard. It was like raising children specifically to take and sell, a slavery of sorts..."
--from the final interview with Moriah Landsdown, 1996
She is, or was, a thin brown woman with eyes the color of the underside of a leaf on a stormy day. She looked (or looks) about forty, and had for the last six hundred years. She said that she settled on forty because she was tired of being harassed by so-called gentlemen, and at that time, hitting on a forty-year-old woman was like molesting your grandmother. She was arrested and tried as a witch approximately sixteen times, due to occasional mistakes with the neighbors or knowing things she shouldn't, failing to take part in searches for missing persons, and the general run of "she cursed 'em" accusations. Of course, this was a long time ago, and records would show that it's not the same woman we spoke to, because that would be impossible. Regardless, these days, the only neighbors are all closely related.
The Landsdowns own most of the parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada that the government doesn't. The P&A vineyards are not the sort of wineries that give tours. You can call ahead and see if they'll show you around, and if one of the daughters (it's always one of the daughters) is not out in the fields, she'll talk to you for a while about irrigation and terroir, hybrids and tannins. She'll talk to you about inconsequentials long enough for you to get bored, drink some wine, and thank her profusely. Then she'll talk to you all the long walk back to your car about the details of winemaking, shake your hand in both her strong, blunt-fingered ones. She'll stand in your wake, wave good-bye, smiling widely all the time, and you'll go home vowing never to set foot on their property again, lest they talk you to death. You go home as fast as you can.
Unless you don't. A surprising number of visitors to the family vineyards immediately decide to move away, to take jobs overseas, go on spiritual retreats, take holy vows. Those visitors abandon their previous lives quickly and quietly, and most are never heard from again. Wine can have that effect on some people.
The vines in their vineyards are not the scraggly, stick-like things you see tethered to posts in other vineyards. They're green, more green than you would ever believe, and they are unbound. They run riot, winding in incestuous tangles all up and down the hills, all coiled snakelike in the field, their violet-black grapes modestly covered in brilliant leaves and guarded by the swirling of the vine. They make a wine as rich and dark as sin, red as blood. It's salt and slick in your mouth and ends thick, burning caramel on your tongue with lingering sugars. The family jokes about a superstition that if too many visitors come onto their lands, the wine will become thin and bitter, and they'll tell you, this is why they discourage tourists.
They're pretty good at staying under the radar. They've been producing wine as Peel and Ampelos for centuries, the family growing and extending tendrils across the globe. It's nothing new to them, the wine business, and the matriarch of the family usually heads up advertising and publicity. When Moriah gave her last interview, they were able to keep most of the controversial stuff out. Though, as it turns out, it didn't really matter. She'd been called crazy long enough that the interview was heavily edited, and all the incriminating bits were laughed off, or worse, pitied as the first signs of dementia.
It was easy. There's no reason to believe she's sane if you do hear the original. She talks about leading the missing people into the field under the dark of the moon, allowing them to lie down beside the vines. She talks about the sound the vines make as they draw the people into their embrace, the sighing sound. It's so clear, the way she imitates it. She can tell you about the ecstatic moans of the visitors as they are absorbed into the rich dark soil, or the occasional shriek of terror as they rouse from the afterglow of their orgasm only to realize they are being consumed. It's an odd thing to listen to, the longing in her voice. It's a compelling thing, that interview, her café au lait voice reaching through the tangle of websites that sprang up when she disappeared. You can still find clips of the oddest parts of her diatribe, the pain and pleasure parts, mostly dubbed over S&M videos by fetishists and disseminated through forums and porn sites.
Every now and then, she'll become a sample in an indie band's song, the near-whisper of her explanation being pushed further into the grasp of myth, the lascivious anticipation in her voice raising the hair on the back of your neck or the ghost of a nipple against your t-shirt, right before the drums crash in tribal ecstasy and the guitars begin to wail like cats in heat. She draws that kind of music. Some people just have that gift.
I still have the tape that she spoke so clearly into, her dark green eyes boring into mine as I took notes, simultaneously terrified and aroused by her clear interest in the pale skin showing above my too-low neckline. I went in thinking I shouldn't have taken the assignment, and I was right. I never took another. I never told anyone that I kept the original tape, that I mailed in a copy out of some obscure desire to hold on to that sultry whisper, to keep her in my hands.
Me, I don't know what happened to Moriah Landsdown after that interview. I don't want to find out. I stay in the Midwest on the shores of dirty lakes, far from viticulture, deep in city centers and industrial pollution. I erase myself from the internet religiously. I am learning to avoid notice by example, using tactics from the very competent family that became Peel and Ampelos International.
Last night, I read that 75,866 km² of the world is dedicated to the cultivation of grapes, that the area dedicated to vineyards is increasing by about 2% per year. I tossed and turned all night, thinking of white bones desiccating under a riot of grapes, feeling the sweat rise on my skin at the thought of her voice only to shiver when the chill of unsought knowledge turned my own hands, hovering at the juncture of my thighs, into the grasping of her many daughters' sweetly callused fingers.
I don't want to go back, I don't want to go to their home place. I don't want to go into the field at the dark of the moon, but I have these dreams, you see.