Drink In Life Book Club-The Vintner’s Daughter

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.

Our 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!

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.

About the Book…..

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.

A Word with the Author….

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!

The Vintner’s Daughter Food and Wine Pairings

Cuviason Winery

Both the Loire Valley and Napa Valley are famous wine destinations and deciding on what wine to pair with the recipes that Chef Jill created this month for 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 our 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. Jill and I would like to thank Cuvaison Winery for being The Vintner’s Daughter wine sponsor.

Loire Valley Inspired Cuisine

It’s generally agreed that one of the most attractive features of the Napa Valley is its European charm. For this reason Chef Jill used her French Culinary training to developed French inspired recipes that pair perfectly with the trio of Cuvaison wines from the Napa Valley. Motivated by the abundance of crops and meats available in the Loire Valley, Jill compiled a complete meal that is drawn from the Loire’s country landscape, fertile soils and balanced climate. The Loire is known as the “Garden of France” and has long been a source of the ingredients for classic French cooking, we hope with that influence these recipes motivate you to create a beautiful dinner to enjoy with a couple of bottles of Cuvaison wine when you have finished reading The Vintner’s Daughter.

Marinated Goat Cheese and Wild Mushroom French Loaf Appetizer

The best meals often begin with a cheerful wine toast and an appetizer that awakens the palate to prepare it for the main course still to come. With this in mind Chef Jill has created a stunning Marinated Goat Cheese and Wild Mushroom French Loaf Appetizer that will dazzle your friends and family.

For this recipe Jill recommends soaking the goat cheese in herb infused olive oil at room temperature for an hour. A do ahead step that will have your guests will be saying merci.

All Recipe Photographs for The Vintner’s Daughter were taken by Chef Jill Sonlin.

Marinated Goat Cheese and Wild Mushroom French Loaf Appetizer

Recipe by Chef Jill Sonlin
"Using ingredients commonly grown and used in authentic cooking in the Loire Valley of France, this French inspired appetizer could be a meal all by itself. Full of an abundance of flavor complexities the look of the loaf served halved and piled high is super impressive. Just have a bread knife available next to the appetizer for your guests to cut individual slices of heaven for themselves off the loaf, and to enjoy a little French flavor experience!" Chef Jill Sonlin


  • 1 French Bread Loaf, whole, cut in half, lengthwise
  • 1 cup olive oil, (plus additional as needed)
  • 2 cups assorted Wild Mushrooms
  • 1 cup Yellow Onion, halved, sliced thin
  • Basil Pesto Sauce (homemade or store bought), 4 oz for half loaf
  • Goat Cheese, 4 oz for half loaf, 8 oz for two halves being used
  • Fresh Herbs Sprigs: Thyme, Rosemary, or any you love from your garden, approx. 6 sprigs (whole)
  • 2-4 Fresh Radishes, sliced thin
  • Salt and Black Pepper to taste


  • Take goat cheese and place in freezer for 10 minutes to harden before cutting with a clean sharp knife or cheese wire/floss into discs. Place approx. 1 cup olive oil for 4 oz goat cheese into a glass container, add 1 tsp salt and black pepper as desired into olive oil. Add whole herbs into oil and stir gently.
    Remove goat cheese from freezer, and slice into discs carefully, then place directly into herb oil and allow to marinate 1 hour at room temp.
    Preheat oven to 375F. Cut French loaf in half. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place on baking sheet to toast in oven until crispy and lightly golden. Set aside.
    In a large sauté pan cook all mushrooms and onions in 2 tbsp olive oil (can add more oil as needed) on medium heat. Once soft and lightly cooked, remove mushroom/onion mixture from heat. Once off heat sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, & stir.
    Take room temp basil pesto sauce and spread across toasted half of baguette.
    Top with mushroom and onion sautéed veggie mixture.
    Top with crumbled marinated goat cheese.
    Top with fresh herbs. Add radish slices.
    Lightly season with salt to taste on top.
    Serve warm or at room temp. Enjoy!!

The Main Course

For many occasions you can just add a beautiful and delicious appetizer with a glass of wine and you’re good to go. Still, for those other gatherings that require something a little more decadent and “Wow” worthy Jill has put together a French Roast Duck dinner that will impress any guest pulling up a chair to sit at your table. Visit Maple Leaf Farms to learn more about their duck products.

French Roast Duck with Balsamic Fig & Wine Sauce

Recipe by Chef Jill Sonlin
"I created this recipe to be as true to classic French style and techniques as possible, but updated to the present day. I am a French trained Chef, and I love embracing authentic French techniques in my cooking and recipe development, yet modifying them a bit with my own creativity, artful fingerprint, and with methods that are simple for home cooks to achieve delicious success." Chef Jill Sonlin


  • 1 3-5 pound Maple Leaf Farms-whole fresh or thawed Duck, I use Maple Leaf Farms brand
  • ½ large yellow onion, chopped
  • Fresh Organic Herbs: Thyme sprigs, Sage, Oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • tsp black pepper


  • Preheat oven to 425 F.
    Rinse duck inside and out. Pat completely dry with paper towels, inside and out.
    Don’t forget to remove gizzards (they are the neck and organs) from inner cavity to use for future stock or other purposes.
    Season inside the bird with salt, pepper, onion pieces, and fresh herbs.
    Brush the outside with melted butter, and season with salt, pepper, and herbs.
    Using a sharp tool to prick the skin (being extra careful not to prick the meat) about every inch over and around thighs, legs, wings, neck, and lower breast areas.
    Place duck breast on a wire rack that fits inside a large roasting pan. Tuck wings under body. Place in preheated oven at 425 F for 20 minutes, then reduce the temp to 375 F for 30 minutes.
    Then check the meat temp with a meat thermometer, by placing the instant read thermometer into the thickest area of the thigh for the internal temp.
    Add additional time in 15 minute increments to continue to roast in the oven until temp registers 130 F in thickest part of thigh for medium rare or 140 F for medium well.
    Once the temp is where you like it, remove duck from oven and rest for 10 minutes covered in foil.
    Trouble shooting Crispy Skin:
    If the skin is not crispy enough or caramelized to your liking when your meat is at the proper temp you want it, then set your oven to broil and place duck back in oven under broiler (not too close) for just a minute or two. WATCH IT VERY CAREFULLY!
    It can burn easily, so stand and watch it under the broiler with full attention for 1-2 minutes until skin caramelizes and crispness advances. Once crispy to your liking, remove from oven and let rest.
    *Reserve any Duck grease in the pan for use in Duck Fat Mashed Potatoes recipe below. (Any leftover grease can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week. Delicious to use when frying meats, vegetables or any food that your are sautéing).
    Carve meat and serve with JGD’s Balsamic Fig and Wine Sauce. (Next recipe).

“The most important things are actually the easiest to obtain: great friends, good food, and a decent bottle of wine.” — Blake Mycoskie

Balsamic Fig and Wine Sauce for Roast Duck

Recipe by Chef Jill Sonlin
"This sauce has the perfect balance of flavors, showcasing sweet summer figs and tart balsamic, each working harmoniously together to compliment this ultra savory meal. Cuvaison 2019 Pinot Noir in this sauce blends in an even greater layering of fruit flavors that works so tremendously well with crispy duck!" Chef Jill Sonlin


  • 3 cups Figs, cut in half
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup Cuvaison 2019 Pinot Noir wine
  • 3 tbsp White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Lemon juice
  • Zest of one small Lemon


  • Start by adding figs, water, wine, vinegar, lemon juice, and zest in a saucepan, heat on medium.
    Bring to a boil, then reduce to a rolling simmer. Cook until fruit is tender, approx. 15-20 mins. Add additional water if water reduces too much while simmering. You want the fruit mostly covered in hot liquid.
    Once fruit is tender, remove from heat and very carefully pour into blender. Blend until smooth.
    Add additional water if too thick, until it reaches a sauce consistency.
    Taste! Add salt as needed. Stir.
    To serve, spoon the fig sauce on a plate, then top with Roasted Duck breast (whole or sliced).

Don’t forget to Reserve any Duck grease in the pan for use in Duck Fat Mashed Potatoes recipe!

Duck Fat Mashed Potatoes

Recipe by Chef Jill Sonlin
"This special mashed potato recipe fuses all the comfort of whipped buttery mashed potatoes with the most gorgeous elegant flavors of fresh duck fat saved after making my roasted duck. These are literally the most decadent mashed potatoes of all!" Chef Jill Sonlin


  • pounds baking Potatoes (like Russett), cut in quarters
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3-4 tbsp Whole Milk (plus more if needed for consistency)
  • 1-2 tbsp Duck fat, (or as much as desired, I used a little extra!)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  • Boil Potatoes in salted water until tender (knife goes in super easily, and potatoes break apart), then drain. Place back in cooking pot off heat, and add the stick of butter, milk, duck fat, salt, and pepper. 
    Using a hand mixer, whip potatoes well until all is blended smooth. 
    Add additional milk as needed for smooth consistency yield. 
    Taste and season as needed. Garnish with duck meat on top and crispy skin. 
     Then serve and enjoy! So incredibly delicious!

French Apple Cherry & Walnut Tarts

A Tarte Tatin, upside-down apple tart, is a classic of the Loire Valley region, but in this recipe Chef Jill is bringing a modern twist to this Classic French Dessert with a collection of summer fruits that bring their own natural sweetness to this delicious crowd pleaser.

French Apple Cherry & Walnut Tarts

Recipe by Chef Jill Sonlin
"I created this easy yet delicious French Tart recipe to utilize fruits traditionally used in French cuisine. Apple Tarts are as French as Apple Pie is American, but my French Tart recipe combines multiple fruits along with nuts for hidden health benefits and rich in natural nutrients and sweetness. These tarts are light, fast to assemble, and are definitely a crowd pleaser!" Chef Jill Sonlin
Servings 6


  • 1 package Puff Pastry, store bought, 2 sheets, thawed fully in refrigerator
  • 3-4 Gala Apples, PEEL LEFT ON, cored, sliced ¼ inch thick slices
  • 6-8 Bing Cherries, fresh, pitted and cut in half
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup Apricot Preserves
  • Salt as needed
  • ½ cup Walnuts, crushed
  • Fresh Thyme


  • Preheat oven to 400 F.
    Take a sheet pan and line with French Silpat silicone liner or parchment paper.
    Open puff pastry and use 3.25 sized scalloped round pastry cutter to cut out individual circles of pastry. Place on Silpat/parchment lined pan. If you don’t have this pastry cutter, you can simply cut each puff pastry sheet into squares or rectangles with a knife and place on parchment.
    Place sliced apples in a row on top of the puff pastry cut outs, then add cherries. Sprinkle with sugar and a pinch of salt. Bake until puffy and golden, approx. 20-25 mins. Then remove from oven to cool.
    In a small saucepan, heat apricot preserves with a couple tbsp. of water until warmed and thinned. This works in the microwave as well.
    Brush cooked pastries and fruit topping well with thinned warmed preserves. Sprinkle with crushed walnuts and fresh thyme. Serve immediately. Best if eaten the day they are baked!
    Serve with a side of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of crème fraiche for the ultimate in traditional French sweet endings!

Visit Jill’s Gourmet Dreams to find more of Chef Jill’s delectable recipes.

Previous Book Club Recipes from Elaine and Chef Jill can be found on the Welcome to the Drink In Life Book Club and the Drink In Life Book Club posts.

“Bon Appetit!” Jill and I hope that we have inspired you to make some of these recipes to enjoy while you read The Vintner’s Daughter by Kristen Harnisch. We would love to hear your thoughts on these recipes and the book. Cheers everyone and we hope to see you soon at the next Virtual Drink In Life Book Club discussion. 

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 and/or Jill’s Gourmet Dreams.

2 Comments on “Drink In Life Book Club-The Vintner’s Daughter

  1. This looks amazing! Wonderful to hear the author’s perspectives on creating the book series!

  2. Pingback: Napa Valley’s Cuvaison Winery - Drink In Life

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