Professor Clark, my graduate adviser, walked to the podium. The guest speaker followed. With his lean build, he glided across the stage. He stood tall and relaxed in a white linen long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans. While the professor introduced him, he scanned the audience, and his eyes landed on me in the front row. I sat up straight and wished I’d worn something more flattering than jeans and a T-shirt. Mom always told me never leave the house without looking your best. His brown eyes met mine before he took the podium.
So, this was Lucien Laroche. I was to be his ambassador for the weekend. Professor Clark had asked me to take Lucien to consult with two wineries near Santa Barbara. Since I was going to my nana’s vineyard in the valley already, it worked out perfectly.
“Biodynamic agriculture springs from a spiritual worldview called anthroposophy,” Lucien Laroche stated. His French accent had me. “A biodynamic farm is a living system. A self-sustaining ecosystem that is responsible for creating and maintaining its health without any outside or unnatural additions. Each farm has its own unique characteristics.”
I followed his every move. His presence held my attention. My undivided attention.
“The celestial bodies transmit forces to the earth that affect the four elements, earth, fire, air, and water, which in turn affect the four parts of the plant, the roots, the flowers, the leaves, and the fruit. Thus, the biodynamic calendar regulates planting, pruning, and harvesting.”
He went on to describe the European origins of the biodynamic movement and the adoption of the practice at numerous farms and wineries in France.
When Lucien’s talk ended and the smattering of applause died down, Professor Clark invited the audience to stay after with questions. I had a lot of questions.
The room cleared out. I was the only one who went to the stage. Professor Clark and the Frenchman stood talking.
“Olivia,” Professor Clark said, “this is Lucien Laroche. Lucien, this is Olivia, your guide for the weekend. And congratulations, Olivia!” He turned to Lucien. “This last class culminates Olivia’s master’s degree.”
“Almost. I still need to find a research internship. I’ve canvased all the certified biodynamic wineries in California, with no luck. I had hoped to internat one near the central coast so I can be close to my grandmother’s vineyard.”
“That’s a tall order. You may have to go to Oregon, but I’ll make some inquires. Now, my apologies to you both, but I must run to another class.Olivia, can you take Lucien to his next appointment?”
The professor shook Lucien’s hand and strode away.
I looked at Lucien, not knowing where to start. He put out his hand.
“Call me Luke.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Luke.” I liked the way his name rolled off my tongue. I shook his hand and smiled.
“The pleasure is all mine. Your grandmother has a vineyard?”
I nodded. “Clos de l’Harmonie.”
“Why don’t you intern there?”
“It’s not certified yet. I applied for the conversion from organic to biodynamic in January, when my grandfather was still alive. We should have approval by next January.”
“Are your parents involved with the vineyard?” Luke asked.
“No. They live in Santa Barbara, thirty minutes away, but they have no interest in farming. They’re into sailing. My mom couldn’t wait to get out of the valley and away from the farm. She’s going to sell it when my grandmother passes away. But me, I love the farm and the vineyard. I’ve spent every summer there since I was five. They had to drag me back to school in the fall every year.”
“I’ve heard Santa Barbara is beautiful,” Luke said.
“Yes, but probably not as beautiful as France,” I said.
His smile disarmed me. I was off-balance, and I’d forgotten the questions I wanted to ask. Tonight, I’d write them out to ask him on the drive. We’d have five hours in the car tomorrow to talk about biodynamics.
We walked out into the bright May sunshine. Luke looked up his next appointment on his phone. We both leaned in and squinted at the screen to read the location. Our heads were close. His hand stroked his five o’clock shadow even though it was only eleven a.m.
I stepped back and found my voice. “Professor Lee’s office is on theother side of campus.”
We started walking, weaving our way through throngs of students.
“What are your plans after you graduate?” Luke asked.
“After I complete my internship I’m going to manage my grandparents’ vineyard and winery,” I said.
“I’ll bring in seasonal workers to help prune and harvest.”
Luke raised his eyebrows. Why did everyone think I couldn’t manage this? Luke followed me up the stone steps and into the building that housed Professor Lee’s office. I stopped outside his office door.
“Here you are. I’ll pick you up at eight a.m. tomorrow. Which hotel?” I asked.
“I’m staying with Professor Clark, actually. He and his wife are planning a wine pairing dinner. The age-old French versus California duel. But I have a surprise for him, the latest vintage from my winery.”
The glint in his eye made me smile. “I’ll pick you up at Professor Clark’s house then. I know where he lives—I’ve been to a few wine tastings there myself over the years.” I did my best to walk away nonchalantly. I glanced back and called, “See you in the morning!”
“Thank you, Olivia,” Luke said as he watched me walk away.
He made my name sound exotic with his accent. Was I really going to spend three days with this handsome Frenchman? Maybe he’d even give Nana’s vineyard a once over and advise me.