Roger has spent a much too warm morning helping Lanard with this and that, and is now seeking shelter from the overly warm day in the ~~ cool ~~ of the cellars. He's hoping to see how the new release is coming, for purely altruistic reasons, of course.
Roger sniffs ~~ appreciatively ~~ as the peculiar aroma of fermenting wine and wet oak assails his nostrils.
Rivulin is down in the cellars deciding which barrels to bottle this year. While the records accurately show how many barrels of what age the cellars contain, she finds it easier to decide in the actual presence of the product.
Rivulin enjoys the coolness, the scent of brandy and oak, and the peace and quiet of the cellars, but she knows there's enough alcohol in the air to blunt her critical faculties if she stays down there too long.
Roger spots a familiar face, holding a familiar wine thief.
Rivulin draws a minute sample from one barrel, puts it in a sampling glass, warms it in her hands and inhales the bouquet.
Roger: Ah, Rivulin! So good to see you. How are the new batches coming along?
Rivulin: Sosu Roger! This is some of the two year old. Have a sniff.
Rivulin offers the glass to the Companion.
Roger: I'd be happy to.
Roger takes the glass, swirls it gently, then brings it to his nose for a careful sniff.
Rivulin watches him, wondering how refined his sensibilities are in the brandy area.
Roger: Now, this is coming along. Will you bottle it this year?
Rivulin: Yes, I think we'll bottle most of it. I don't expect it to improve much with further aging, and we'll need the barrels and space this year. It looks like we're in for an exceptionally large crop.
Rivulin surveys the ranks of barrels, each carefully labelled as well as marked on her map of the cellars.
Roger: Has the quality of the fruit been maintained, despite the large crop?
Rivulin: It's too early to tell. A lot of fruit has set, but it will be some time before it ripens. And we won't know its real potential until it's fermented, distilled, and aged for at least a year. Although if it's going to be a stinker, we should know by the time the grapes ripen.
Rivulin smiles with a twinkle in her eye.
Roger smiles back.
Roger: And what would you do if the fruit is sub-standard? Blend it? Sell it to someone who isn't very discriminating?
Rivulin: Well, there was a truly terrible year, not long after Unity. It rained all summer, the grapes didn't develop much sugar, and there was a fair bit of mildew on them. We ended up double distilling it and selling it as medicinal alcohol rather than ruin our reputation.
Roger: A sad waste of a good vine.
Rivulin: It wasn't much good that year! You can make good brandy from poor wine, but if there's not enough sugar, you get a low yield, and if there's that moldy taste -- well, we wouldn't bottle it under our label.
Roger: Ah, well. Medicinal alcohol is useful too. If not nearly as aesthetic.
Rivulin: Fortunately, we had a good stock of older vintages to sell that year, so things weren't as bad as they might have been.
Roger: I noticed that the warehouse was getting full. When do you usually ship the outgoing sales?
Rivulin: Oh, we ship year round. But we're doing more bottling right now because we're running out of space in the cellars. We have some five year old I'd like to hold back for another ten years or more, but space is getting to be a problem. We can't extend the cellars any further. They're the remains of a collapsed Ancient structure.
Roger: I suppose if they lasted this long, they'll likely last a bit longer?
Rivulin: They seem to be very strong. Frihill says these structures were used to store the 'cars' and 'trucks' the Ancients had. They were all metal, and very heavy, so the structure is built for that. The ramps are very convenient for us, too.
Roger: Yes, I've seen the carts going back and forth.
Rivulin has occasionally wondered why the Ancients wanted to store their magic vehicles deep underground, but much of what they did is mysterious to modern minds.
Roger: How much space are you short? That is, if the new crop is worthwhile?
Rivulin: Well, we won't know for sure until we distill it. But we've ordered more barrels, and we may have to move some of the barrels closer together on the bottom level, which will be inconvenient for access.
Rivulin: And we may have to bottle some barrels I'd rather age another decade or two.
Roger: Can you build racks to stack the barrels on top of each other? Like bunk beds?
Rivulin: On the bottom level. I wouldn't want to risk overloading the other floors. But it still makes it more difficult to access them, and move them around.
Roger: You don't move them when they're full anyway, right?
Rivulin: Oh, we can, with block and tackle, and some good strong Simes. And of course onto the carts to go for bottling.
Roger: It's true, the access wouldn't be as convenient. But it would be the equivalent of adding another level to your cellar. You could use it for the batches you want to store long-term. That would minimize the hassle of moving the barrels.
Rivulin: The ceiling isn't very high. We'd have to siphon samples instead of drawing them. But it could work.
Rivulin thinks about it a bit more.
Rivulin: We'd have to come up with different equipment for laying down the barrels and getting them up. The block and tackle we're using now wouldn't work.
Roger: It would be a worthy challenge for your fabricators.
Rivulin: Yes. And they can experiment elsewhere, with barrels filled with water, not my good brandy!
Roger: Of course! And I'd use old barrels, in case they drop them.
Rivulin smiles and nods.
Roger: I expect they'll come up with something before you run out of space.
Rivulin: We can put in a few double racks, try it out. I don't want to risk my most valuable old stock on some new ideas.
Roger: What will you do with the extra brandy, when it is ready? Are your current markets able to absorb the excess?
Rivulin: It depends on how it turns out. There's always a market for the young stuff, but if it turns out well, I'd like to keep it longer. It's much more valuable as it ages. If one can find the true connoisseurs to sell it to. Or those who sell to them, that is.
Roger: Has Nysek been fortunate enough to find such distributors? I confess, I hadn't heard of your brandy before Nysek asked Sat'htine for help.
Rivulin: A few. I keep saying we should sell out-Territory, since they drink more brandy there, but everyone thinks it's too complicated. They have these trade fairs for wines and brandies and similar goods out there. I think we should take some of our stock to show them what we have, but I can't go with it.
Rivulin spreads her tentacles.
Roger: Obviously not.
Rivulin: And who knows more about our brandies in this House than me?
Roger: Have you thought about starting your advertising at the top, so to say?
Rivulin: Advertising? I know brandy, not advertising. Every year I have to explain again to the accountants that if we sell too much five year old, we won't have enough ten, fifteen, twenty year old when the time comes. And that it takes ten years to make ten year old.
Roger: I've heard rumors that the current New Washington ambassador is rather fond of brandy. And he's in Capital.
Rivulin: You think we should give him some? I suppose we could. There's some twelve-year-old that is the best in the cellar for its age. But it's nearing its peak, I think.
Roger: The last time I was down here, you had a batch of ten-year-old that had a slight off taste. Not bad, just a little oily with a hint of pepper.
Rivulin: A bad year. Terrible weather.
Roger: Yes. But that hint of oil and pepper is much prized out-Territory, as I recall.
Rivulin shakes her head in wonder.
Rivulin: It's true then -- you never know what an out-T Gen will come up with next.
Rivulin is polite enough not to say Wild Gen, knowing Roger's background.
Roger: If you have a lot of that batch, you could probably sell it for a good profit.
Rivulin: Hm. I wanted to sell it off when it was younger, but we'd saturated our market for the cheaper stuff, and I didn't want to sell it under our usual label or the full price for its age, so it's sat there, getting older and taking up space. You really think the Gens would like it, despite the off-taste?
Roger: I do. If you doubt me, have someone deliver a bottle to Ambassador Tsibola, and see what he thinks about it.
Rivulin: I suppose we could put a special label on it. I can split one barrel into kegs and bottle one keg.
Roger: He may or may not be interested in facilitating the sale of your remaining stock, but at the very least, you'd know whether it was worth the effort to market it out-Territory.
Rivulin smiles with a twinkle again.
Rivulin: But if he's a diplomat, will he tell us what he really thinks?
Roger: Have a Sime deliver it, and zlin his response.
Rivulin: Would he drink some right on the spot? And evaluate it for us? He must be a busy man.
Roger: He is very fond of brandy. I expect he'd make the time to speak to your representative. It's certainly worth a try, isn't it? If it lets you sell a batch you'd otherwise discard at top dollar?
Rivulin: Sectuib goes to Capital sometimes but... of course, you'd be with her....
Rivulin doesn't want to say anything derogatory about her new Sectuib, but...
Roger: Yes. And I've met the Ambassador's wife.
Rivulin: Oh, good. Yes, I'll split the barrel and bottle some for you, for the next time you go.
Rivulin takes back the sample glass from Roger.
Rivulin: There's something downstairs I think would be suitable for a toast to future sales and future markets.
Rivulin gestures toward the stairwell.
Roger: You honor me, Naztehr Rivulin.
Rivulin laughs and pats Roger on the shoulder.
Rivulin: Just wait until you try the bouquet of this one.
Roger: I'm looking forward to it.
Roger precedes Rivulin down the stairs.