August 15th – The Festival of Sour Grapes

Unlike wines imported from more southerly climes, Buentoilliçan wines have long been less sweet and more acidic, or ‘fresher’ as sommeliers are wont to term it. This is primarily down to the climate of Buentoille, which is a too cold to produce sweeter, high yield grapes like mother’s bosom and pearl of nectar. Instead, the most popular variety of wine-making grape in Buentoille is snake’s eye, a dark green variety that has a thick skin which adds subtle, almost herbal, flavourings and a sustained dryness to the juice and consequently the wine. There are very few red varieties of grape grown in the Buentoille region.

Today it is a little early to be harvesting grapes for wine, but according to the chief viticulturalist of the Black Soil Vineyard, today is the perfect day to harvest grapes for brandy (which is distilled from ‘base wine’, itself made from early-harvested grapes), and more importantly for the creation of sting, the drink for which the Black Soil Vineyard is famous. Early this morning, before the sun rises, this year’s workers will despondently arrive, dragging their feet and looking pensively off into the distance. They are all spurned lovers, those who have been recently rejected, and today they have the opportunity to put their pain to good use.

It is the belief of the Vineyard, and of many who drink sting, that the pain of these poor souls, struggling to handle rejection, is what gives sting its characteristic taste and, well, sting. The finished product is somewhere between brandy and the ‘base wine’ from which it is produced, in terms of distillation and alcohol content (about 45%), but it tastes remarkably different from both. In addition to the alcoholic ‘burn’, there is a sourness that is not accompanied by a pain in the stomach as with many too-sour wines. In combination, what is created is something similar to the sensation of being stung by a bee, but on the tip of your tongue only; it is an acquired taste.

The pain of the workers is said to be imbued into sting at every stage of the process that they are involved in; picking and stomping the grapes are the primary two activities that they partake in, the latter apparently being a very therapeutic activity. In the same way that during the stomping process phenolic chemicals leech from the skins into the liquid that later (after partial distillation) becomes sting, imparting flavour, the heartache of the ex-lovers is said to leech from them, usually leaving them feeling much better about themselves.

In addition to these normal wine-making practices, the workers also contribute two other crucial elements to the production of sting. Firstly, they are required to provide written testimony (leaving names and identifying details out) as to the exact nature and cause of their heartbreak, so that it can be balanced with other forms of betrayal and unrequited love, and can be included on the tasting notes later. Secondly, if they have any physical reminders of their now-gone lover, they are encouraged to burn them ceremonially tonight. The ashes will later be used to fertilise the Vineyard, and this is where the name ‘Black Soil’ comes from.

In addition to generous pay and catharsis, the workers will also each receive a bottle from the fruit of their labours, later on when the other processes have been completed. Sting is one of those alcoholic beverages that is seldom drunk, sitting at the back of the cabinet gathering dust, but this is not because it lacks quality. It is a rare product, as the Vineyard is small, so is given due respect in that regard, but also it is usually saved for moments of sombre reflection, for lonely nights and funereal gatherings. The dark green liquid is thought to engender feelings of pensive sorrow, the kind of feeling you have when looking back on a period of your life that is slowly but surely slipping from your memory. Sometimes there is a perverse pleasure in wallowing in these emotional states, and it is in those moments that someone will reach for the bottle of sting, pour a small measure into a little cup, and savour the bitter, stinging flavour, the way it lingers on the tongue like an unwanted lover lingers in the recesses of your heart.

Other festivals happening today:

  • A Day to Remember the Controlling of Sister Mandreeal
  • The Festival of the Straightest Flights
  • The Cold and Bitter Sea – A Festival of Immersion