Ann Mah comes to the blog today with a story full of searching: searching for family secrets, lost wine, a place in the world and even the recognition one has worked for in
The Lost Vintage
Readers beware – this is not truly a story of wine, but one of a family that has held secrets and scars and land, all through hundreds of years and fine Bordeaux wines, even in the worst of times. Kate’s mother took her back to her home in France occasionally and rarely, but never was she (or the family) much for sharing history. Now years later with her Master of Wine practical (tasting) exam coming up, and the unexpected closing of the restaurant at which she worked: she has time (and a nudge from her mentor) and returns to the family vineyard. Her friend from university is married to her cousin with two young children, the time to pick the grapes is coming up, and where better to sharpen her knowledge and understanding of the process than on an actual vineyard.
While we work out Kate’s story and see her tentatively reach to her own history and struggle with her choices, there is another narrative voice in the story – that of Helene, a previously unknown Aunt, just in her teens when the ravages of World War II begin. Helene’s story is provocative, full of the hardships and dangers of war: a particularly perilous time as Hitler was obsessed with rare and fine vintages, selling to highest bidders as a supplement to the war coffers. Many of the Bordeaux vintners had carefully hidden away their best wines, Helene’s father, Kate’s great grandfather, was known for his business sense – his secret cave was filled with the best vintages, the most well-known wines.
Kate and Heather are determined to discover more about Helene – early discoveries lead to her persecution for collaboration, where all mention of her stops. The crisis of confidence, the guilt and even Heather’s fury at discovering a collaborator in the family, and the tacit acceptance as no one will (or has) answered those questions doesn’t seem to fit with Kate’s big discovery – a hidden room behind a giant armoire, with thousands of bottles of wine, a small room with a desk and tracts from the Resistance groups, all with the potential to shore up, perhaps even save the vineyard through the tough times.
A mystery, a family history, the discovery of long-buried secrets, shames, and the curious interest shown in the search (and the wine) from Kate’s former boyfriend’s new girlfriend and the strange American that never quite seem honest, all in search for one particular wine – one created on the family vineyard and resembling drops of gold. Fascinating and frustrating in alternating moments, as we, the readers, are shown Helene’s heart almost from the beginning, her bravery and determination as she puts herself in danger and struggles to keep her younger brothers healthy and whole, even when her step-mother is less than involved. It is all too easy for Kate and Heather, not having the actual story and history until the end, to use the few references and bits of information to conclude that the ‘available history’ is the only story, and her Uncle, one of Helene’s young half-brothers, was too young, and is too intimidating to ask for the truth. Fascinating for the story, the questions discovered as they dig up family history, and the struggles and feel of Occupied France as we follow Helene’s tale, now brought to light. Mah has taken a story that is essentially a search for self and history and turned it into a compelling and fascinating read, in which all of the pieces weave together into a lovely whole, with a bit about wine, viticulture and the heart-felt connection of winemakers to their land.
Title: The Lost Vintage
Author: Ann Mah
Genre: Historic Elements, Literary Fiction /Family Saga, Setting: France
Published by: William Morrow
Published on: 19 June, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 43 minutes
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Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II
To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife Heather, who now oversee the grapes’ day-to-day management. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a neighbor vintner and her first love.
At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was teenager during the Nazi occupation.
As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.