Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book review: The Vintner's Daughter, by Kristen Harnisch

Harnisch’s satisfying first novel draws readers into two glorious locations, France’s Loire Valley and California’s Napa Valley, with an intermediary stop in New York’s Lower East Side. The timeframe is the late 19th century, and as might be guessed, the characters are involved in wine production.

This industry is shown literally from the ground up: from the land best suited to different grapes and vine inspections through the harvest, pressing, storage (barrels vs. the more newfangled bottles), and sales and distribution. Her thorough presentation also delves into the winemaker’s natural enemies: not only phylloxera infestations and competitors’ cheaply priced vintages but also the temperance movement sweeping across 1890s America.

These instructive details don’t overwhelm the story, fortunately, resulting in a fast-moving romantic saga about two independent, ambitious people hoping to succeed in winemaking. In the French village of Vouvray, Sara Thibault is a vintner’s daughter who wants to be a vigneronne in her own right. After her father is killed while out seeking a buyer to give him a fair price for his wine, the Thibaults find it hard to make ends meet.

Their vineyard falls into rival hands after Sara’s older sister, Lydia, marries Bastien Lemieux, a cruel man who’s easily recognizable as the novel’s villain. After Sara takes a drastic step to save herself and her sister, they escape to America. Sara’s search for a winemaking career eventually sets her on the path to Napa – where she crosses paths with Bastien’s reputed ne’er-do-well brother, Philippe, who owns a sizeable vineyard. Although sparks fly between them, he doesn’t recognize her from Vouvray or know her role in his brother’s death.

There is some stiffness in the dialogue early on, but the pair’s complicated love story plays out realistically, and the regional landscape is beautifully described. This relaxing summer read offers an enjoyable armchair voyage to wine country.

This review first appeared in August's Historical Novels ReviewThe Vintner's Daughter is published this month in the US in trade pb by She Writes Press ($16.95) and in Canada by HarperCollins Canada ($22.95).  Kristen Harnisch will be stopping by next Monday with an essay about the inspiration behind her novel's female characters.


  1. Sounds like a great story.

  2. Sounds very good.

  3. This sounds terrific. I love the Napa valley.

  4. Going on my wishlist. Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. Thanks for everyone's comments! I haven't read many historical novels set in the Napa Valley or about winemaking, and I wonder why there aren't more of them.

  6. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Sounds wonderful, great locations. Looking forward to the essay Tuesday!

  7. Hope you'll like it! And I just realized I got the day wrong (I really ought to learn how to read my calendar...). The author's guest post will be next Monday, not Tuesday. Just fixed it in the post above.