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The winery in Schengen

I hoped to keep my visitors busy and entertained. This was, after all, the only time I would be able to show them off to Josef and Marlies. It was also the only time Eddy and Udo would be together. I wanted them to get along and I wanted them to have a good time.

We’d spent the day with Josef and Marlies, eating and having great conversation. We had afternoon naps and after-nap coffee. We took off for Luxemburg, planning to be back before dinner.

That’s not the way it worked out. Udo drove his work van, Eddy and I strapped into the bench seat next to him. Underway, we followed the directions from Udo’s GPS, which led us through the German countryside toward Perl and then across the border to Schengen. But it couldn’t locate 41 Route du Vin, the address of Paul Legill’s winery.

Paul kept me afloat at one of the lowest points of my life. We were students at the wine school in Geisenheim. He was a tall, curly-headed man with a gentle demeanor and a soft way of speaking German peculiar to Luxemburgers. His family owned a small vineyard in Schengen on the border with Germany. He knew the wine business already, having grown up with it. He now just needed the theoretical learning with which he could build his business.

But while he flourished at the school, I failed. I had come to school with no planning, savings, or idea how I’d support myself. I spent my evenings drunk in my little hotel room-cum-apartment in the village of Aulhausen. I’d borrowed a bike from the hotel owner to make the daily 10-mile round trip to school. It really was up-hill both ways, first to the top of the plain and down through the vineyards to Rüdesheim and then along the Rhein to Geisenheim. That ride home at the end of the day was one of the greatest physical feats I ever accomplished in my life.

Then, I spent my evenings working for several winemakers in the village. I sped up and down the steep street on my bike from one to the next. I’d clear musts at one winemaker, start fermentations at another, drive to get the kids who worked in the harvest after school. I was running centrifuges, pumps, and pressing machines well into the night. I was lived on cheap wine, Nutella, and Milky Way candy bars.

I wound up going back to Kansas City to fall deeper into alcoholism and, after a period of abject degradation, to the end of my drinking days. Paul, however, successfully completed his study at Geisenheim and had become a successful winemaker. We stayed in contact over the last 32 years. I had been to visit him in Schengen many times.

Now, I had my chance to show off my friends to one another. I was proud of Paul. I was also proud of Udo, who had built his own art and architectural glass workshop in Reutlingen. Proud too I was of Eddy, a man who had written books that change my life. I hoped they would all get along.

Paul owns the kind of winery I once wanted for myself. Hardly bigger than a couple of double-car garages, it had everything from lagering tanks to wood barrels, bottling machines, filters, pumps, and a grape press. The place was clean, spotless. Most everything was orderly. It looked worked in, but by a craftsman.

Out front, just beyond an ornate door on the street, Paul had built a contemporary tasting room. Quiet, with comfortable lightning, it had a counter where we stood. Toward the back of the room, a long table with 12 chairs spread back to the door of the winery itself. He pulled a few wines from a wine refrigerator.

We stood at the counter, speaking in French, English, and German.

“So, how do you know our friend Patrick?” Paul asked Eddy and Udo.

“We met in Trier through our good friend, Ivo,” Udo said. “We had just moved into an apartment when I was doing my apprenticeship at the glass workshop. He was, well, around a lot. We all became good friends that year. It was 1986.”

“Patrick wanted a quote for his first book,” said Eddy. “Somehow, he tracked me down in Pranzac (France), sent me the manuscript, and, well, it’s just been a relationship ever since.”

“We met in Geisneheim at the wine school,” Paul said, passing glasses with tastes of wine in them to Eddy and Udo, and a wine glass with mineral water for me. “He was the most interesting person at the school, I think.” He turned to me. “It’s too bad you couldn’t finish the studies. I remember hanging out after school, going for drives on the weekends, and having our little meetings at the bar near the rail tracks.”

“It was a good time,” I said. “Or those were the good times.”

“It was difficult for you,” he said. “No support, having to do all that work. I’m amazed you were able to get along in school as well as you did. School was very different after you left.”

“It turns out I’m good at school,” I said. “Sort of to my detriment. I spent much of my adult life after Geisenheim in school.”

“Masters, doctorate,” he said. “That’s something.”

“I should have been doing what Eddy did,” I said. “He’s been all over the world. He once wrote a book about walking from Tunis to Capetown in Africa.”

Paul smiled at Eddy, while he gave Paul a rundown of some of his world travels.

“As you can see, I don’t get around much,” Paul said. “Well, I get around my little country quite a bit. Of the 80,000 bottles I make each year, I deliver much of it myself. Luxemburger customers get free delivery. That’s where much of my market is. I hardly do any business across the borders.” He pointed toward where the borders of Luxemburg, Germany, and France come together.

“I tell you what we do,” he said. “We’ll taste a few more and then I’ll take you to dinner at a restaurant that sells my wines. It’s only about three villages up the Mosel, about a five- or six-minute drive. They have excellent food.”

He poured Eddy and Udo a couple more tastes from another of his wines and picked up his phone to make sure we could get a table. Eddy and Udo tasted all Paul’s wines—pinot blanc, pinot grigio, auxerrois, Riesling, rivaner, and elbling. Udo bought a six-bottle case for of auxerrois, the grape Luxemburgers do best, for Josef and Marlies.

It was so tasteful, I thought, watching them chatter to each other about the wine, Paul’s business, and his family. They didn’t drink to excess, and Udo and Paul always had in mind they were driving. The moderation was astounding to me, a person who, at one time, turned “tastings” into drunks.

We had dinner at a tasteful restaurant, and one of the great things about Luxemburg is they take after the French. Each of us had wonderfully presented entrees—cordon bleu, trout, pork chops, each with several kinds of vegetables. Paul bought a bottle of his auxerrois for the table, treating Eddy and Udo to a wine they both found in the tasting room that pleased them. Paul tasted the wine critically, making sure that the restaurant treated it well, storing and chilling it to just the right temperature.

We left Paul at a decent hour. I had told Josef and Marlies that we’d be back home by 10 p.m., which would leave us enough time to go over our adventures that day with them. There would be another glass or two of wine from Josef’s cellar, as well as a tiny bit of schnapps for Eddy and Udo.

We drove along backroads through the countryside on our way back to Wawern—silent villages, empty but for streetlights, dark forested hills, incredible vistas of the landscape under the dark blue of late evening. We talked about girlfriends, particularly Udo’s most recent love that didn’t work out due to her religious beliefs. Udo told the story mostly in English but reverted to German when he had to concentrate on the road or ran into things he could not say in English. I translated for Eddy, who had begun to nod in the seat next to me.

We arrived back at the house in Wawern. Marlies met us at the door, inquiring what her “boys” had been up to. The night ended with an easy breath, the conversation trailing along for a couple more hours. Eddy was the first to bow out, as he is an early riser. When we finished and finally gave up each other’s company, the day was complete.

I lay on my bed in the dark apartment, listening to the quiet outside the window. What a great day we’d had. Or, at least, I thought so. My friends had all gotten on well with one another, found things to talk about, carried on conversations in three languages.

I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed of my friends and woke in the night thinking how things weren’t always about me. I was responsible for bringing these extraordinary people together. What they did with the opportunity was all their own.

They had done well.

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