Being a wine writer I am perpetually drawn to books where wine is an underlining theme. Regardless if it’s non-fiction or fiction, the chance to dive deeper into the world of wine and discover a previously unknown fact or learn something new through an author’s prose always rouses my curiosity. Reading a newly discovered non-fiction book that spins fascinating facts about Bordeaux, capturing the spirit of the storied French wine region is always captivating. However, my favorite wine reads are fiction books that combine actual events in history with snippets of wine knowledge and lore, to produce a thirst-inducing escapism novel.
The August book club title, The Vintner’s Daughter appeals to wine buffs and lovers of historical fiction alike by combining a fascinating look into the world of old and new wine making, with actual events in history and a bit of romance. The Vintner’s Daughter will inspire you to open a bottle of wine while reading, just be careful not to spill on the pages of the book as the story draws you in!
Set in the1890’s in both France and America, The Vintner’s Daughter follows one young woman’s steadfast quest to carry on her father’s legacy and become a Vintner. The story opens in the Loire Valley where you are introduced to Sara Thibault, a strong-willed and lively young lady who knows what she wants in life, to follow in the footsteps of her winemaker father in their Chenin Blanc vineyards near Vouvray. Sara’s intense passion for wine is felt with each descriptive passage that Harnisch writes, completely transporting you to the vineyards of the Loire Valley.
When an unexpected tragedy strikes the family, Sara’s Mother makes the decision to sell their land to a business rival whose eldest son marries Sara’s sister Lydia. Sara is both deeply shocked and disappointed when she realizes that her dream to take over with winery will not happen. As the story unfolds, and the true face of her sister’s husband begins to come into focus, Sara’s disappointment quickly turns into fear for her sister and herself.
Soon a violent tragedy has Sara and Lydia fleeing the Loire Valley and they find themselves sailing across the Atlantic to America to seek safety. Upon arriving in America Sara works on plans to eventually reclaim her family’s vineyard, yet another twist of fate sees her traveling to California instead in hopes of making her own way in the winemaking world of Napa.
Sara’s determination to make her own way in the Napa Valley and pursue her dream of making wine is in question when she cross paths with her old neighbor and brother of her sister’s husband, Philippe Lemieux, who is also in the Napa Valley making a name for himself as a winemaker. A passion for winemaking brings Sara and Philippe together, but Sara’s past, the one she thought she left when she fled France, comes back to haunt her.
Throughout this first compelling novel by Kristen Harnisch she brings together a rich story of heartbreak, betrayal, atonement, and love.
Photo Credit: Kristen Harnisch
When Kristen joins us for our virtual book club discussion on September 26th, there will be plenty of time for participants to ask her a few questions about The Vintner’s Daughter. First however, I wanted to ask Kristen some questions about how she did research for The Vintner’s Daughter and a little more about her interest in the world of wine.
Here is my Interview with Kristen Harnisch:
For writers, inspiration for a story can come from the most unexpected places, can you
share what inspired you to write this novel?
In 2000, while I was pregnant with my first daughter, my husband and I travelled to France and toured the châteaux and vineyards – including those of the Loire Valley. Obviously, I wasn’t sampling the wines at that time, but as I walked through the pristine rows of vines and admired the landscape, I thought to my then-banker self, this would be an awesome setting for a novel!
Fast forward to 2001 when I traded a banking career for stay-at-home motherhood. I carved out time between carpooling, laundry and life to chase my secret dream of authoring a historical novel. I drew inspiration from my ancestors who had immigrated to America. I don’t believe any were winemakers, but their journeys from their homes in Normandy and Paris in the 1600s and their eventual emigration from Canada’s St. Lawrence River Valley to western Massachusetts in the 1800s, sparked the question: What is it like to leave the only home you’ve known and arrive homeless in a foreign country where you don’t even know the language? In The Vintner’s Daughter, I wanted to answer this question through Sara Thibault’s eyes.
My Irish grandfather also set sail for New York from Ireland in 1921 at the age of nineteen. The ship’s manifest from Ellis Island bearing his name, address and a note indicating that he was detained in the hospital with the mumps, was the inspiration for Sara and Lydia’s arrival scene in New York. Researching vineyard life in nineteenth-century France and America challenged me. Learning to write energized me and empowered me to create an imaginary world—my respite from the joyful, but selfless job of raising three kids. Finally, in 2014 my dream was realized, and The Vintner’s Daughter was published!
I imagine that you did some extensive research for this book, can you share some of the ways that you sought out information about vineyards, winemaking and the history of this time period. Also, what was your favorite or most unexpected discovery during this research process?
“I was surprised by how much research was required to develop the story of a young French girl following in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker in the late 1800s. I delved into French and California wine history books, read years of nineteenth-century trade papers such as The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, and books about historical wine farming from libraries across the country.
I consulted winemakers, reviewed old maps and photographs at The Napa County Historical Society and toured several family-owned Napa vineyards on foot and on bike.“
Photo Credit: David Harnisch
“Many discoveries intrigued me. For example, after Chinese immigrants had labored building the transcontinental railroad, they played a crucial role in planting crops and digging out wine cellars with their pickaxes during the second half of the nineteenth century. Despite their work, Napa’s Chinatown was deliberately burned down several times during the 1800s. After I learned this, I felt obliged to feature the Chinese in my first novel and celebrate their contributions to the success of winemaking in the region.
I also learned that every bottle of wine contains nearly three pounds of grapes, and the vulnerability of this fruit is striking: over the last century and a half, grapes have fallen victim to pests, rodents, frost, mildew and Prohibition in the United States. Still, with a precise blend of hard labor, science and art, winemakers continue to perfect the wines that fill our glasses. I remain inspired and humbled by their efforts.“
Photo Credit: Kristen Harnisch
Before writing The Vintner’s Daughter were you always interested in wine and winemaking? How did your research for this book broaden and/or change your perspective of the world of wine and the winemaking process?
“I became interested in winemaking (or really, wine drinking) when I lived in San Francisco in my mid-twenties and toured the Napa and Sonoma wineries. However, until I researched the history, I had no idea how much commitment and expertise are required to grow grapes and make wine. Even though my research and knowledge of wine is extensive, I still consider myself a wine enthusiast, not a wine expert. There’s still so much to learn!
The pioneers and the economics of the wine trade in the late 1800s provided a treasure-trove of historical drama for the backdrop of The Vintner’s Daughter and the series. Many who came to California for the gold stayed for the rich soil and climate, so perfect for farming sheep, cows, fruit and vegetables. The first northern California winemakers—notables such as Jacob Schram, Charles Krug, Gustave Niebaum, Georges De Latour, Jacob and Frederick Beringer, the Nichelini family and the founders of the Italian-Swiss Colony in Asti—cultivated the first vineyards with the goal that one day their wines would compete with the finest French and European vintages.”
The sequel to The Vintner’s Daughter, The California Wife was published in 2016 and your third (stand-alone) novel in The Vintner’s Daughter Series, The Vintner’s Legacy is coming soon. Can you tell us a little more about this third novel and when it will be published?
[Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read The California Wife, you may want to before reading what happens in the third novel, The Vintner’s Legacy!]
“The Vintner’s Legacy begins as four interrelated families confront the turmoil of the First World War, the deadly influenza epidemic and a looming American prohibition in a saga of wine, war and love. In 1918, vintner Luc Lemieux enters the fight as his fellow Americans join forces with the Allies in France to defeat the advancing German troops. Motherless siblings Ondine and Michel Marchand, victimized and taken from their home in Lille by the invaders, escape and stowaway in Luc’s wagon.”
“Sara and Philippe Lemieux battle to save their Napa vineyards and world-renowned wines from the blight of prohibition. Their daughter, Pippa Lemieux, a talented artist, strives for independence as a devastating secret surrounding her birth is revealed. Adeline Donnelly, a surgical nurse on the Western Front, makes a fateful decision to save an injured enemy soldier. Heinrich Sommer, a German medic, struggles to repair his fractured family and reclaim his humanity during one of the deadliest wars in history.”
“From the pristine vineyards of Napa to the battlefields of France, from an army hospital in Juilly to the bustling streets of Manhattan as the city mobilizes for war, The Vintner’s Legacy drives us deep into the entangled fates of four families and a single year in our collective history that changed the world forever.”
Could you share with us one of your favorite wines from the Loire Valley and a favorite wine from Napa Valley and what your favorite food pairing is for both of these wines?
“Domaine du Clos Naudin: Vouvray Sec or Vouvray Moelleux Reserve (or ask your local wine merchant for a Vouvray Chenin Blanc recommendation). Chenin blanc is my favorite summer wine and best when slightly chilled but allowed to warm to 60 degrees or so before drinking. This will make the flavors sing! Chenin blanc pairs nicely with lobster, fish or Greek chicken and I love serving it with a platter of triple-cream brie, herb-crusted goat cheese, sliced baguette and strawberries.“
“Any of the Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon releases will deliciously complement your backyard BBQ, your pork tenderloin, or a nice juicy steak!“
Both the Loire Valley and Napa Valley are famous wine destinations and deciding on what wine to pair with this month’s book, The Vintner’s Daughter was incredibly difficult. While I encourage you to enjoy a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley while reading the first few chapters of the book I also wanted to find a Napa Valley winery whose wines would compliment both the book and this month’s recipes.
In my next blog post I will be introducing the Wine Sponsor this month, Cuvaison Winery who’s history in the Napa Valley spans back more than 50 years. Until then you can order the Cuvaison Wines featured here by visiting the Special Drink In Life Book Club page on their website where they have put together a special offer. I would like to thank Cuvaison Winery for being The Vintner’s Daughter wine sponsor.
“The most important things are actually the easiest to obtain: great friends, good food, and a decent bottle of wine.” — Blake Mycoskie
Remember to join the Book Club Live Chat with the author of The Vintner’s Daughter, Kristen Harnisch on Sunday September 26th at 1:00 pm PST/4:00 EST make sure that you are signed up to receive email notifications from Drink In Life (Email Subscription on right hand of the page) and Comment on this story post. You will receive an email invite to join the discussion. You can also follow @drinkinlifebookclub on Instagram, comment on the September Book post and ask to join the discussion.
“To the sun that warmed the vineyards.
To the juice that turned to wine.
To the host who cracked the bottle,
and made it yours and mine!” -Unknown
Images, content and recipes © of Drink In Nature Photography/Drink In Life Blog.
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