“Great!” The rich merchant couldn't help but praise. With just a cup of wine, he felt his whole body light and floating, as if he was going to ascend to immortality, but his mind was so clear that he suddenly remembered many past events that he thought he had forgotten.
He remembered that when he was young, his parents asked him to learn the craft from a mason. On the first day, the mason asked him if he had any ambitions. He replied that he wanted to build a big house for his family and one for his master. After more than a year, the mason suddenly fell ill and became very sick. Then, the village was affected by the plague. His father took the entire family away when the plague first appeared. Later, the officials came to seal the village, and it was said that the entire village of people was burned to death.
As he grew older and went through several changes, he started a family, established a career, and had children. He gradually forgot this experience and the promise he made when he was young. Although by chance, the family also lived in a big house, his first master, who had only taught him for more than a year, who treated him like a parent and ruthlessly locked him out of the door for fear of infecting him, was buried in a sea of flames without even a lonesome grave.
The rich merchant's heart ached and his memory was as clear as yesterday. The corners of his eyes were a little moist, and he silently said that he would go back to his hometown and build a big house for Master so that his soul would have a place to return to.
The next moment, a word of ‘thank you’ rang in his ears, and it was the voice of the mason.
The wealthy merchant wondered if he was drunk, but still replied, “This disciple has promised you.”
He fell into a mysterious mood, but the other guests looked confused. They saw the rich merchant laughing and crying and muttering to himself after drinking only one cup of wine.
Someone said, “Is he down after one cup? How bad is his alcohol tolerance?”
Another burly man said, “Is the aftereffect of the wine so powerful?”
Jing Yue just happened to serve him the wine. “The wine is not strong but you have too much on your minds.”
The burly man bristled and muttered, “A load of baloney. I won’t get drunk in a thousand cups!”
He grabbed the wine flask and poured it into his mouth. The clear wine poured down the spout of the flask and the big man smacked his lips. His eyes gradually became a little unfocused and he laughed madly.
He saw himself becoming a hero in the martial world, carrying a sword to fight for righteousness and traveled throughout Great Zhao. During this period, he met countless heroes and many beautiful women threw themselves at him. In the end, the emperor even gave him the princess…
The burly man laughed so much that everyone else was creeped out, but he was oblivious to it. The wine in the flask had been drained by him, but he still maintained the posture of pouring wine as if he could not wait to die of drunkenness, never to awaken.
“Is that a thousand cups without getting drunk?” Everyone shook their heads.
A scholar tasted a sip of wine and it seemed he had been struck by lightning. At that moment, he seemed to have tasted the ups and downs of life, all emotions, and the desires of mankind. Inspiration struck and he composed ten poems in a row.
Many other guests inadvertently drank a pot of wine but they seemed to have drunk all worldly affairs. Every mouthful could hit the most vulnerable corner of their hearts or capture the core of their desires, weaving a dream shrouded in fantasy and reality.
Apricot Blossom Village wine—such a common name, but only when one truly experienced it that they knew the pleasure could indeed surpass the immortals.
As if overnight, Apricot Blossom Village wine spread to the ears of thousands of households in Jin County. Sai Shenxian Tavern also attracted more and more guests, including the rich and powerful gentry and dignitaries. The news spread from one to ten, ten to a hundred, and gradually spread to Jiangnan.
In the past few days, Wan Changpeng was simply burnt out, only because the time for making an annual imperial tribute was fast approaching, but the internal affairs division had heard of a wine named Apricot Blossom Village and wanted to explore it. Thus, there was a subtle change of attitude toward Wanchun Distillery.
At this time, Wan Changpeng was smashing pots and bowls at home, cursing. His concubine sat aside and suddenly said, “Apricot Blossom Village? I remember Chen Jing and Chen Qin were sent back to Apricot Blossom Village. Before this, I remember hearing that they were also making wine?”
Wan Changpeng was startled and hesitantly said, “It can’t be…”
The concubine was quite skeptical too, but now, she had no news about the two rascals at all. They had been removed from the clan and would have no share in the Wan family property in the future, so she couldn’t be bothered anymore and told her spies to return.
But what if? The little concubine couldn’t help being a little uneasy for some reason, so she said, “Why don't I send someone to find out? Either way, we can be prepared for it.”
However, the result of the inquiry was quite upsetting. They didn’t find out who made the Apricot Blossom Village wine. Instead, they learned that not only did the wine tasted good, but after drinking it, they really felt better than immortals, and every guest who had drunk this wine was conquered.
Wan Changpeng was extremely worried. If this continued and finally reached the ears of the emperor, his Wanchun wine was likely to lose the top spot!
After thinking about it, Wan Changpeng hardened his resolve, called for the steward, and gave him a few instructions.
Thus, ten days later, a group of foreign county hooligans suddenly came to the Sai Shenxian Tavern. One second, they said there were flies in the dishes. The next second, they said the food was not fresh. Even if they had ordered wine, they smashed the flask without taking a single sip.
Jing Yue grabbed them by the lapels and tossed them out one by one, but these people simply sprawled at the doorway and rolled on the ground, howling about the inferior dishes served in the tavern and being beaten up.
In that case, Jing Yue really gave them a thorough beating.
The fake howling turned into miserable cries, and all the passersby on the street dared not make a sound.
And it was not over yet. At night, Jing Yue and Qin Yanzhi split up to find the temporary residence of these hooligans, and sent them another bout of ‘warm hospitality’. Hence, on the next day, several people who didn't even wear pants were found at the entrance of a certain inn. Everyone had bruised noses and swollen faces, unconscious to the world, and attracted the constables of Jin County.
Although people didn’t see what happened, they could more or less guess the reason. The reputation of Sai Shenxian Tavern grew bigger and everyone suspected that there was an expert behind it.
When Wan Changpeng heard about this, he almost passed out with anger. At this time, worse news came. Sai Shenxian Tavern was about to expand to the capital!
The news came from the internal affairs division, and the reason for telling Wan Changpeng was simply to blackmail him for more silver.
But what could Wan Changpeng do? Even though he cursed incessantly in his heart, he had no choice but to put on a smiling face and send in his respects.
Even so, things continued to develop in the direction he feared the most—as the reputation of Apricot Blossom Village wine grew, the emperor finally heard about it.
At a palace banquet, the emperor suddenly mentioned Apricot Blossom Village wine, saying that he heard the folk rumors about the divine taste of this wine. All the court concubines and courtiers joined in.
Someone said, “I heard that one sip of this wine can make you dream, and you’ll feel a sense of enlightenment when you wake up.”
“This concubine heard that this wine not only has an excellent taste, but can also nourish the body, and even make people rejuvenate.”
“There are also rumors among the people that the Apricot Blossom Village wine is real immortal wine, and the recipe is bestowed by the gods in their dreams. If you drink more of it, you can gain immortality.”
Throughout the dynasties, every emperor yearned for longevity, and Emperor Zhao was no exception.
Someone guessed it and flattered, “Why don't you let the owner of Sai Shenxian Tavern offer the wine recipe?”
The emperor said lightly, “We should respect the immortals. The immortals must have their reasons for giving the wine recipe to whomever they want, and everything should go according to the rules.”
The person in charge of the internal affairs department was the emperor's uncle. He said knowingly at this time, “I heard that the owner of the tavern has come to the capital. I’ll immediately find him to discuss procurement matters.”
However, to everyone's surprise, the next day, Sai Shenxian Tavern sent a challenge notice to the Wanchun Distillery, inviting the Wan family to enter the capital for a wine-making competition in half a month.
This matter quickly spread across the country. As the emperor was interested in the Apricot Blossom Village wine before, someone deliberately told him about this matter. The emperor said with interest, “In that case, let Maester Liu and General Li be the judges to see whose wine is better. The winner can tribute the wine to the royal family.”
Wan Changpeng, who received the challenge notice, was almost covered in dark clouds overhead. He wanted to ignore it at first, and portray Sai Shenxian Tavern as a jester clamoring for attention with a breezy attitude. Unexpectedly, the emperor had intervened, so how could he have the guts to refuse?
But the sudden appearance of Apricot Blossom Village wine was too strange, and Wan Changpeng really had no confidence. These days, he couldn’t eat or sleep well, and even most of his hair had fallen out. Seeing that the time to enter the capital was fast approaching, he was helpless and uncertain.
“Master, since there is no way to avoid it, let's just turn passivity into the initiative.”
The concubine came to whisper in his ears again, and Wan Changpeng said urgently, “What do you have in mind?”
Concubine, “Since the owner of Sai Shenxian Tavern wants to challenge us, then we should choose the venue for the competition.”
When Wan Changpeng heard that, yes! The Wan family had been running a wine shop for many years, so of course, they knew the importance of the drinking environment. He had no way to interfere in other aspects, but at least they could start from this aspect!
In the end, the competition between Apricot Blossom Village wine and Wanchun wine was set in the garden of the chief minister of internal affairs, the Marquis Yong’an.
On this day, in front of the Yong’an Marquis Manor, many courtiers and their followers in the capital came. After all, even the emperor was paying attention to this wine competition, and the challenge was in the name of the royal tribute wine. Even those not interested in this topic could not appear nonconformist.
The debate was heated. Some people thought that although the Apricot Blossom Village wine was a latecomer, it was a fast-rising star. Others thought that Wanchun wine was even more extraordinary as they had been a tribute for many years, and both sides argued endlessly. When Marquis Yong’an, Grand Maester Liu, and General Li were seated, the competition officially began.
As the Jing Qin duo and Wan Changpeng had been placed in different rooms earlier, the two parties only met when a servant came to invite them.
When Wan Changpeng glanced at them, his eyes almost burst into flames. He could hardly wait to choke the two unfilial sons to death on the spot, before peeling their skins and pulling the tendons out, leaving the bodies exposed to the sun for three days.
Unexpectedly, the people messing with his Wanchun Distillery behind the scenes were really Chen Qin and Chen Jing who had been removed from the clan by him!
Jing Yue and Qin Yanzhi also saw Wan Changpeng for the first time, but they both ignored him in tandem, making Wan Changpeng almost vomit blood.
When they entered the garden, Jing Yue found that the decorations in the garden were very expensive and compelling, and guessed that Wan Changpeng was behind this. It was estimated that Wan Changpeng thought that the Apricot Blossom Village wine was rumored to be so amazing was due to the main reason of the celestial atmosphere in the tavern, which affected the guests’ perception. Now that it was replaced by an opulent environment, the wine would seem out of place and the taste would also lose favor by one or two points.
In this regard, Jing Yue only felt amused. In the face of absolute strength, all his scheming was in vain.
After a series of complicated etiquette and questioning, both sides presented their wine. The flask containing the Apricot Blossom Village wine was a plain bottle that looked a bit shabby today. Wanchun wine, on the other hand, had always taken the flashy route due to its status as a tribute wine for many years, which was a perfect match for the current environment.
Everyone knew the idea behind ‘preconceived notion’, and this was especially true of wine tasting. Once the wine touched the tongue, it would more or less affect the sense of taste. In that case, the wine that was up for the first tasting would gain a huge advantage.
Although Marquis Yong’an was not on close terms with Wan Changpeng, they knew each other for many years. The Wan family had always been obedient, and the filial silver had never been short. Therefore, he was slightly biased. Otherwise, he would not arrange the garden in this way.
When Wan Changpeng saw that Marquis Yong'an had taken the lead in choosing Wanchun wine, he was relieved. Although he had expected it a long time ago, he was completely at ease at this time.
As long as Marquis Yong'an picked Wanchun wine first, the other two lords would not go against his wishes, and must taste Wanchun wine first!
In this way, he had all the advantages of timing, location, and people. Unless the Apricot Blossom Village wine was really heaven-defying, he was sure to win!
With slightly curled orchid fingers, a maid poured the Wanchun wine into the cup. The aroma was blown away by the breeze, and the garden was suddenly full of fragrance.
“It smells so good…”
Many ministers couldn't help but take a deep breath. Some of them had tasted Wanchun wine at a palace banquet. It was pretty good, but it didn't have the aroma of today.
When Wan Changpeng saw the looks of the crowd, he couldn't help but feel a little smug. For this competition, he had offered up all the aged wine he had originally intended to pass down to his descendants, so how could it not be intoxicating?
The marquis of Yong'an took a sip and praised aloud, “Gentle in the mouth, mellow and fragrant. Good wine!”
He turned to Grand Maester Liu and General Li and said, “What do the two lords think?”
Grand Maester Liu put down the wine cup, stroked three inches of his beard, and said, “It is indeed a good wine. Clear but not thin, thick but not murky. Just one sip and the fragrance linger on the tongue for a long time.”
General Li couldn't spout so much nonsense and just said directly, “Pour me another cup!”
Marquis Yong'an laughed, “General Li, don't be hasty. You still have to taste the Apricot Blossom Village wine before that.”
When his enthusiasm for drinking was interrupted, a trace of impatience flashed through General Li's eyes. However, thinking that he still had a task to do, he said with disinterest, “Hurry up and serve it.”