The girls’ mother told them stories: how their grandfather Leo had grafted French vines onto North American roots with his German-Russian hands, finding the western New York winters easy to manage after Ukraine. At the head of the lake the Couperins, who ran a rival winery, had laughed at Leo’s cultivation practices, but in 1957, when Bianca was born, Leo had his revenge. That winter’s violent cold spell left the Marburgs’ earth-shrouded vines untouched when everyone else’s were killed, and Walter Couperin lost all his hybrid vines and switched back to Concords in a fury.
Leo smiled and kept his secrets and established acres of gewurztraminer, which Couperin couldn’t grow, and rkaziteli, a Russian grape temperamental for everyone but him. The girls grew up hearing words like these: foxy, oaky, tannic, thin. Like all children, they knew more than they knew that they knew.
In the fall the cold air slipping down from the hills hung white and even below the trellises. Leo’s winery thrived, and his oldest son—Theo, the girls’ father—threw himself into the business with a great and happy passion. Peter Couperin, Walter’s heir, field-grafted Seyvals onto half his Concord stock, and still Theo outdid him.
Andrea Barrett‘s story, “the Marburg Sisters,” appeared in NER 16.4 (1994).