Shattered Dreams – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a piece of fiction from the photo prompt provided in around 100-150 words – give or take 25 words. It encourages us to comment, constructively, on other entries, so supporting each other’s writing. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Wednesday to Wednesday every week.

Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Vanessa Rodriguez.

wpid-photo-20150704120546349

. . . and this is my story:

‘You realise this is the end, don’t you? After all we’ve worked so hard to achieve…’

René took his tearful wife into his arms, knowing she was right, but wanting so much to ease her distress. The vineyard had been their hope for the future… for themselves, their children, and grandchildren yet to be born. Now they faced a future of hardship and regret.

‘Another hurdle, Françoise, not the end,’ he said, instilling a positive note into his voice. ‘This is 1887 after all, and the wine industry can deal with crop diseases nowadays. We’ll see no profit this year, but –’

‘Not just no profit, René! We’ll have nothing to cover the year’s production costs … including the new wine presses we bought, and employees’ wages.’

‘Phylloxera is a new disease, ma chérie, and ways will be found to eradicate these sap-sucking insects. By next year, we’ll be back to normal.’

Françoise shook her head, unconvinced. ‘I’ll remind you of your prediction in two years time when we’re begging on the streets of Paris.’

Word Count: 175

*

My story this week is based on the phylloxera outbreak in France in 1887 (often called the ‘Great French Wine Blight’). I’ve written a little about it at the end of my ‘exta’ piece below.

If you’d like to view other entries, click the little blue frog below:

***

For anyone interested, here’s some information I’ve put together about the history of wine production:

Rothschild_white_Bordeaux

Rothschild dry white Bordeaux. Author: Agne27, Commons

The earliest evidence of a fermented drink based on grapes is in China, 7,700 – 6,600 years BC.  It gradually became more widespread and we soon find evidence of it in the Near East. The grapevine and the alcoholic drink produced from it were important in Mesopotamia and Egypt and were essential aspects of Phoenician, Greek and Roman civilisations.

Grape cultivation and wine making in ancient Egypt. Author: Agyptischer Maler in the 1500s. Public Domain.

Grape cultivation and wine making in ancient Egypt. Author: Agyptischer Maler in the 1500s. Public Domain.

Boy  drawing wine from a crater. His nudity shows that heis serving as a cup bearer at a symposium or banquet.at a Greek symposium or banquet (

Boy drawing wine from a crater. His nudity shows he is serving as a cup bearer at a Greek symposium or banquet. Artist: Cape Painter. Public Domain

Wine was an integral part of the Roman diet and wine making became a widely spread and precise business during the time of the Roman Empire. Most of the major wine producing regions of Western Europe today were established during that time. Wine-making technology improved during Roman times, as did the number of varieties of grapes and cultivation techniques. The design of the wine press advanced and barrels were developed for the storage and shipping of the wine.

The most famous Roman wine was Falernian, due to it high alcohol content! Anyone who has read the brilliant Falco books by Lindsey Davis (set in ancient Rome) will recognise this wine as one of Falco’s favourites. Wines were also mixed with herbs and minerals for medicinal purposes.

Throughout history, wine has often been associated with religion. The Greeks worshipped Dionysus (god of wine) and the Romans carried on his cult, calling him Bacchus. Wine has been in Jewish culture since Biblical times and has been part of the Eucharist commemorating Christ’s Last Supper in the Christian Church.

Monastic cellarer tasting wine. From a French manuscript. late 13c. Public Domain

Monastic cellarer tasting wine. From a French manuscript. late 13c. Public Domain

Although Islam generally forbids the production and consumption of alcohol, during the Golden Age (8th-13th century) alchemists such as Geber pioneered wine distillation for medicinal and industrial processes (e.g. producing perfume).

In the medieval period, wine was the common drink of all classes in the south of Europe where grapes were cultivated. Further north and east, where few grapes were grown, beer and ale were the usual beverages. Wine was exported to these regions but was expensive, so was only consumed by the upper classes. Because it was used in the Catholic mass, a supply was crucial. Benedictine monks became one of the largest producers in France and Germany, followed closely by Cistercians and various other Orders.

Wine production increased dramatically from the 15th century onwards as part of European expansion. By the 18th century, the wine trade had soared, especially in France, where Bordeaux became the preeminent production.

Bordeaux wine Region. Author: Trainspotter. Commons

Bordeaux Wine Region of France. Author: Trainspotter. Commons

In the New World (America) the first successful wine production was in Ohio in the 19th century. In Australia, too, wine production began about that time. In the Old World at this time, Champagne was established as a favourite luxury drink and fortified wines like sherry and port became increasingly popular in Britain.

Vineyards everywhere were badly hit in 1887 by a disease called phylloxera (often grape phylloxera)  which was caused by the infestation of almost microscopic, pale-yellow, sap-sucking insects related to ahpids.

Phylloxera nymphs. Author: maurice Girad. Public Domain.

Phylloxera nymphs. Author: Maurice Girad. Public Domain.

800px-Phylloxera_cartoon

Phylloxera cartoon from ‘Punch’, 1890. The caption with it reads: ‘The phylloxera, a true gourmet, finds the best vineyards and attaches itself to the best wines.’

It is possible that it originated in North America and was carried across the Atlantic in the 1850s (although this is still debated). France was the worst country to be hit but other European countries were also affected. It was dealt with by grafting European vines to the resistant American rootstock that was not susceptible to phylloxera. It proved effective, but the ‘Reconstitution’ of the French vineyards – as it was called – was a very slow process. There are still a few vineyards in Europe that inexplicably remained unscathed and exist today as they did before the disease arrived.

***

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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57 Responses to Shattered Dreams – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

  1. HumaAq says:

    Oh what a heartbreak. As always a good information with a great story

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Huma. Phylloxera would have ended a lot of people’s dreams.

      • HumaAq says:

        Yes it seemed to be very close to reality story. Hope people recovered from damages somehow

      • milliethom says:

        The European wine industry as a whole took a long time to recover, but they did, eventually, once they found how to deal with this ‘bug’. For small, family businesses, without the money to carry on with the vineyard not producing, it would have meant the end. 🙂

  2. Great story Millie! It was an excellent example of pessimism vs. optimism. The information you gave was VERY interesting. I didn’t know about that bug that did so much damage. It would be interesting to find out why some vineyards were not effected by it.

  3. luckyjc007 says:

    I enjoyed your story and the history of wine production ,and the photos.

  4. scrapydo2.wordpress.com says:

    Love the bit of history in your writing it makes it feel very real. Thanks also for the wine information.

  5. Hannah says:

    Hey Millie, great piece; infused with historical facts, made it a very interesting read! 🙂

  6. Sonya says:

    Credit to René for his optimism, but I reckon Françoise’s prediction is closer to the truth… Excellent use of the prompt!

  7. draliman says:

    A scary and uncertain future ahead for these poor people.

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Ali. Definitely an uncertain future for the industry in general. I imagine that many small, family concerns would have been unable to cope and went out of business. It took a long time to get rid of these ‘bugs’.

  8. Bekki Hill says:

    Sad story and interesting information. It’s easy to forget in our ‘pick up whatever you want at the supermarket’ world that crop production and other plants used to be, and still can be, so vulnerable to nature.

    • milliethom says:

      What a very astute comment, Bekki, and so true. We do take so much for granted nowadays and want everything ‘on a plate’, so to speak. So many things in nature are susceptible to disease – not to mention climate change and land degradation and so on. Thank you for sharing that thought – much appreciated.

      • Bekki Hill says:

        It’s a message I keep finding at the moment and especially sad this week to take the dog for a walk and find metal brushes chained to the trees in the woods by the car park asking people to remove mud from their shoes before they leave to stop some awful tree disease spreading. Although heaven know the dogs must bring it back anyway 😦

      • milliethom says:

        Oh dear. Is it Ash Dieback disease? I heard something in the news about that being around. It’s such a shame and, as you say, you can’t stop it carrying on dog’s paws. It’s not long since we had Dutch Elm disease, either.

      • Bekki Hill says:

        No. You’re right Ash Dieback is about, but this was some parasite beginning with P. I know, if you’d seen it, you’d have taken proper notice.

      • milliethom says:

        I’ve seen nothing about a parasite around here, but I’ll keep my eyes and ears open now. The effects must be pretty bad for such precautions to be necessary.

      • Bekki Hill says:

        The notice says they’re felling threes to stop it – so must be pretty bad. I’ll go back and read the notice properly. I was in a bit of a hurry, so may have got it all wrong, although they definitely didn’t say Ash Dieback – it was a weird name us dyslexics need time to work out!

      • milliethom says:

        I’d look it up if I had a few more letters. P is a bit limiting. 😀 I wonder if it’s a localised thing , or more widespread in the UK. I want to know more now… Perhaps it will be on your local news, if not the national. Ears open, I think. Thank, Bekki.

      • Bekki Hill says:

        LOL! Think there was a T too. I’ll let you know when I know. I must say, I was in a tearing hurry, but it did cross my mind I’d heard nothing of it before.

      • milliethom says:

        Was it Phytophthora? My husband has just suggested that as a possibility. When you’ve had a look, would you mind letting me know? Very interesting, anyway.

      • Bekki Hill says:

        Yes, I think it might well be. Will let you know.

  9. I love this. The last line fills us with suspense and a whole new world around the corner. In a sense we don’t want them to beg, but at the same time the new adventure excites us. A marvellous flash fiction, Millie.

  10. rogershipp says:

    “‘Another hurdle, Françoise, not the end” What a great way to view misfortunes! Well done!

  11. Excellent tale Millie and I liked your link with history…I see you do love to research don’t you….thanks for sharing so much….

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks Michael. Yes, I really enjoy looking things up. I knew about phylloxera and just needed a few extra details about the history of the wine industry in general.

  12. exiledprospero says:

    Like René I’m an optimist (more of a cynical optimist, if that’s possible) and would have told Françoise the same thing (while brushing up on Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thaïs to be played on les Champs-Élysées for pecuniary tokens).

    • milliethom says:

      Surely, Massenet’s ‘Meditation’ from Thais can only truly be appreciated on les Champs-Élysées! It’s good to hear you’re an optimist. Why be otherwise? There’s always the hope of receiving those ‘pecuniary tokens’, should luck run out. Thank you for that nicely optimistic comment Prospero.

  13. Norma says:

    And…I was thinking this is a present day story until I saw 1887. History lives along with other things and of course “wine” to go with or without food. Thanks for sharing the history of wine, Millie. 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, wine goes back a very long time. It’s such ‘big business’ nowadays, but it was for the Romans 2,000 years ago, too. Thank you for reading, Norma. 🙂

  14. Tastyniblets says:

    great story Millie – and love the mini history of wine at the end 🙂 ahh those crazy Romans. if only they didn’t all go mad in the end from all the lead (and god know what else) they kept adding to their wine! And on another note, in Australia they always grow roses alongside every row of vines in vineyards because the rose plant is more susceptible to phylloxera – so if the rose gets sick, then they know the vines might be next..

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Az. Yes, lead pipes didn’t do the Romans a lot of good at all.lol Totally contaminated water… I didn’t know about the rose trees, so thank you for that…it’s very interesting. I imagine they rely on pestidides nowadays, once the phylloxera aphids are about, but whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable. Do you live in Australia, Az, or just know about the use of rose trees from reading and so on?

      • Tastyniblets says:

        I live in Sydney, but I’m also an unashamed wine lover 🙂 We’re lucky enough to have the Hunter Valley vineyards less than 2 hours drive away, and tend to make an annual trip up to there (used to be more often once upon a time!) they mainly grow Shiraz and Semillon there, but the larger wineries sell varietals from other regions as well. Well worth the visit if you’re ever in this part of the world!

      • milliethom says:

        We had a month in Australia ten years ago, and stayed along the Gold Coast. We spent most of our time having trips out, Including flying out to the Barrier Reef (I adore snorkelling). We had one visit to a vineyard and that was great. It was too early in the day to drink much, but we had a few samples of excellent wines. We had some wonderful ones with evening meals, too. I rarely drink alcohol now (I need to focus when I write!) but my husband still buys various Australian wines.
        We do intend to visit Australia again, if we can fit it in with everything else we want to do. But New Zealand will probably be first because we haven’t been there yet. 🙂

      • Tastyniblets says:

        That would have been lovely 🙂 we’re thinking of going up to the Gold Coast ourselves soon for a week.. I haven’t been since I was about 10 so I’m sure that it’s changed a bit since then! Would love to get up to the Barrier Reef one day, and don’t get me started on NZ! So many places yet to see 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        It’s a big, beautiful world, and I wish I could spend all my days travelling. Perhaps I’ll win the lottery…!

  15. The extra piece was very interesting, as always! And als loved the flash fiction part – your stories’ women are often so wise 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Well, some women are wise, so I have to give them credit for that. So many books set in the past depict women as total airheads! lol As it was, the phylloxera outbreak did take a long time to deal with, and many smaller vineyards would not have survived.
      Thank you for liking my post! Hope you are well and that summer has eventually arrived where you are. 🙂

      • Summer hasn’t arrived but I’m working in an office all summer this year so never mind… Anyway, it was a pleasure to discover 2 new posts from you! Hope you are well, too! I hear it’s been sunny in England 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        We’ve had some lovely days but today’s been typical for here – some sun, some rain. We never know what to expect, it’s always so changeable.
        Thank you for liking both my posts. I’m almost through the alphabet now with my WOW posts. Goodness knows what I’ll do for X, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.
        I hope you enjoy the work in an office. It doesn’t sound like your usual type of job. If it’s just for the summer, I suppose you can always go on holiday in the autumn. We go to Malta, just for a week, in September but we’re around Britain for August, visiting family here and there. Talk again soon… Millie

      • Malta sounds so nice 🙂 Talk to you later!

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