One of my favorite movies, as revealed in my latest New Books in Historical Fiction interview with Kristen Harnisch, is Bottle Shock, the film starring Chris Pine and Alan Rickman. (In truth, I love anything starring Chris Pine or Alan Rickman, but that’s another story. RIP, Alan. You are missed.) Bottle Shock explores, with intelligence and humor, the moment in 1976 when the world woke up to the idea that not all great wine came from Europe.
I remember, vaguely, when those results came in—and how surprising they were, but I was even more surprised to learn from The California Wife that in fact certain California vineyards were winning awards in Paris almost a century before that dramatic victory by North American reds and whites. I discovered quite a few more tidbits from our interview, but I won’t spoil them for you by revealing them here. Mostly I had a great conversation with a talented and articulate author. And we laughed a lot. Go listen to the interview (as always, it’s free), and you’ll find out why.
And by the way, kudos to whomever designed that gorgeous cover.
But here is a taste of the story, as always taken from New Books in Historical Fiction:
Sara Thibault and her new husband, Philippe Lemieux, grew up in Vouvray, amid the French vineyards that dot the Loire Valley. But when the phylloxera blight of the 1870s devastates their families’ business, Philippe decides to try his luck in California. Sara soon follows, driven by a tragic series of events detailed in The Vintner’s Daughter. The California Wife (She Writes Press, 2016), the stand-alone sequel to that earlier novel, traces the later history of Sara, Philippe, and the group of wholly or partially orphaned children whose care they undertake.
The California wine industry, although somewhat healthier than the French, has also suffered from the blight. Its reputation is less secure than that of its European rival, and the existence of too few outlets has driven prices down to the point where many vintners can hardly afford to harvest their crops. Meanwhile, Sara fears for the survival of the vines on her childhood estate, and Philippe worries about the cost of developing his current lands. Into this seething mix of competing loyalties steps, all unaware, Philippe’s former mistress, sharing a secret that he cannot hope to keep from the ears of his new bride.
Kristen Harnisch does a wonderful job of creating warm, believable characters who struggle for their future against catastrophe and crisis and the pull of their own pasts. If you have ever wondered who stands behind those labels at the local liquor store, this book will give you insight into their origins. Listen in as we explore winemaking now and then, including how, in the end, California put itself on the map as an essential part of the world’s viniculture.