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It was March in the Napa Valley, just under sixty miles north of San Francisco, and Joy Lammenais’s favorite time of year. The rolling hills were a brilliant emerald green, which would fade once the weather grew warmer, and get dry and brittle in the summer heat. But for now, everything was fresh and new, and the vineyards stretched for miles across the Valley. Visitors compared it to Tuscany in Italy, and some to France.
She had come there for the first time with Christophe twenty-four years before, while she was getting her master’s in business administration at Stanford, and he was taking graduate classes in oenology and viticulture. He had painstakingly explained to her that oenology was everything about making wine, and viticulture was about planting and growing grapes. His family had been making famous wines in Bordeaux for centuries, where his father and uncles ran the family winery and vineyards, but his dream had been to come to California and learn more about the wines and vineyards and vintners in the Napa Valley. He had confided to Joy that he wanted a small winery of his own. It had just been a vague hope at first, a fantasy he would never indulge. He assumed that he would go back to France to follow the expected path, like his ancestors and relatives before him. But he fell in love with California and life in the States, and became more and more passionate about the vineyards in the Napa Valley during his year at Stanford. His father’s sudden death at an early age, while Christophe was at Stanford, left him with an unexpected windfall of money to invest, and suddenly made establishing his own winery in the United States not only enticing but feasible. After they both finished graduate school in June, he had gone home to France in the summer to explain it to his family, and came back in the fall to bring his plan to fruition.
Joy was the most exciting woman he’d ever met, with a diversity of talents. She had a natural gift for anything related to business or finance. And at the same time, she was a painter and artist, had taken classes in Italy over several summers, and could easily have pursued a career in art. She struggled with the decision for a while in college. Her teachers in Italy had encouraged her to forget business. But in the end, her more practical side won out, and she kept her painting as a hobby she loved, and focused on her entrepreneurial goals. She had an instinctive sense of what the best deals were, and wanted to work in one of the Silicon Valley high-tech investment firms, before starting her own venture capital firm one day. She talked to Christophe about it constantly.
She knew nothing about wine when they met, and he taught her during the year they spent together. She wasn’t really interested in vineyards and wineries, but the way he explained it all brought it to life for her and made it seem almost magical. He loved making wine as much as she did painting, or her fascination with creative investments. Agriculture seemed like risky business to her. So much could go wrong, an early frost, a late harvest, too much rain, or too little. But Christophe said that was part of the mystery and beauty of it, and when all the necessary ingredients came together, you wound up with an unforgettable vintage that people would talk about forever, that could turn an ordinary wine into a remarkable gift of nature.
When she visited the Napa Valley with him, again and again, she began to understand that making wine was in his soul and DNA, and having a respected label of his own was the ultimate achievement to him, and what he hoped for. She was twenty-five then, and he was twenty-six. She had been fortunate to get a job with a legendary venture capital firm right after they graduated and loved what she was doing. And when Christophe came back from France at the end of the summer, looking for land to buy, and vineyards he could replant exactly the way he wanted them, according to everything he had been taught in France, he asked her to go with him. He respected Joy’s advice about all the financial aspects of any deal. She helped him buy his first vineyard, and by November, he had bought six, all of them adjoining one another.
The vines were old, and he knew exactly what he wanted to plant there. He told her he would keep his winery small, but he would have the best pinot noir in the Valley one day, and she believed him. He explained to her about the fine points of the wines they tasted, what was wrong with them and what was right, how they could have been different or better, or should have been. And he introduced her to French wines, and the wine his family made and had exported from Château Lammenais for generations.
He had bought an additional piece of property on the hill overlooking his vineyards and the Valley, and said he was going to build a small château there. In the meantime, he was living in a cabin with one bedroom and a comfortable living room with a huge fireplace. They spent many a cozy night there on weekends, while he shared his hopes with her, and she explained to him how to make the business side of it work, and how to design his financial plan.
They spent Christmas together in his cabin, and stood on the small porch in the early mornings, admiring nature at its finest. With his father gone then, and his mother many years before, he didn’t want to go back to France for Christmas with his uncles, he wanted to spend it with Joy. She had no family to go home to either. Her mother had died young, of cancer when Joy was fifteen, and her much older father had been devastated and died of grief three years later. She and Christophe created their own world in the place he had brought her to, and he had cooked a remarkable Christmas dinner for her of goose and pheasant, which set off the wines he had chosen to perfection.
In the spring, he began building his château, just as he said he would. She learned that Christophe was a visionary of sorts, but remarkably he always did what he said he would, and turned his ideas from the abstract to concrete reality. He never lost sight of his goals, and she showed him how to get there. He described what he saw in the future, and she helped him fulfill his dreams. He had beautiful plans for the château.
He had the stone brought over from France, and said he didn’t want anything too imposing or too large. He based the design loosely on his own family’s four-hundred-year-old château, and gave the architect countless sketches and photographs of what he had in mind, with the alterations that he felt would work on the property he had chosen, and he was relentless about the proportions. Not too big and not too small. He had picked a hill with beautiful old trees surrounding the clearing where he wanted to build his home. He said he was going to put red rosebushes everywhere, just like they had in France, and laid it all out with a landscape architect, who was thrilled with the project.
The house was well underway by summer when he asked Joy to marry him. They had dated for well over a year by then. He was constructing his winery amid the vineyards, at the same time he built his château, which was a jewel. They were married at a small ceremony in a nearby church at the end of August, with two of his vineyard workers as their witnesses. They had no real friends in the Valley yet. They had each other, which was more than enough, for a start. They agreed that the rest could come later. They were establishing their life together, and she had great respect for Christophe’s passion for the earth and his land. It was in his bones and in his veins and in his heart. The grapes he grew were living beings to him, to be cherished and nourished and protected. And he felt the same way about his wife. He cherished her like a precious gift, and she blossomed and thrived in the warmth of his love, and loved him just as deeply.
The château wasn’t yet complete on the first Christmas they were married, and they were still living in his simple cabin, which suited their quiet life. Joy was three months pregnant by then, and Christophe wanted their home finished in time to bring their first child there when it was born in June. Joy had quit her job in Silicon Valley when they married, since she couldn’t commute that far, and she worked hard at helping him set up his winery. She handled the business and he dealt with the vines. Her belly was round and full when they moved into the château in May, just as Christophe had promised. They spent a month there, while she painted beautiful frescoes and murals at night and on the weekends, waiting for their first child to arrive, and she worked in the office of their new winery every day. He had named it after her, and called it Château Joy, which was the perfect description of their life.
They woke up excited to go to work every day, and had lunch together at the house, to discuss progress and the problems they were solving. He had planted their vines, using all the precepts he had grown up with, and two of his uncles had come to visit them, approved of everything they were doing, and said it would be the best winery in the Napa Valley in twenty years. The vines they had planted were growing well, and the château already felt like home to them. They had furnished it with old French provincial antiques they had found at country auctions and antique stores and picked out everything together.
The baby arrived as gently and peacefully as the rest of their plans had taken shape over the past two years. They went to the hospital in the morning when Joy told him it was time, shortly after breakfast. They drove down the hill and to the hospital, and by late that afternoon, Joy had a beautiful baby girl in her arms, as Christophe looked at Joy in awe. It had all been so easy and simple and natural. The little girl had her mother’s pale blond hair and white skin, and her father’s deep blue eyes, from the moment she was born. It was obvious that her eyes would stay blue, since her mother’s eyes were blue as well. And her skin was so creamy fair that Christophe said she looked like a flower, and they named her Camille.
They went home to the château the next day, to begin their life together. And Camille grew up with two adoring parents, in an exquisite small château, amid the beauty of the Napa Valley, looking out over her father’s vineyards. And Christophe’s uncles’ prediction proved to be true. Within a few years, he was producing one of the finest pinot noirs in the entire region. Their business was sound, their future secure, they were respected and admired by all the important vintners in the Napa Valley, and many of them sought advice from him. Christophe had years of family history behind him along with his own nearly infallible instincts. His closest friend was Sam Marshall, who owned the largest winery in the Valley. He didn’t have Christophe’s history or knowledge of French viticulture, but he had an instinctive sense for growing great wines, was brave and innovative, and owned more land than anyone else in the Valley, and Christophe liked exchanging ideas with him.
His wife, Barbara, and Joy were friends too, and the two couples often spent time together with their children, on weekends. The Marshalls had a little boy who was seven years old when Camille was born. Phillip was fascinated by the baby when the two families had lunch together on Sundays. Christophe would cook a big French meal for them, while he and Sam talked business and the women watched the children. Joy let Phillip hold Camille when she was two weeks old. But most of the time he preferred climbing trees, or running around the fields, picking fruit in the orchards, or riding his bike in their driveway.