Saturday, March 06, 2021

Weekend Cooking: The Winemaker's Wife by Kristin Harmel

Recently I joined a book group on Facebook. I can't remember why, but I did. One of the books that was mentioned many times was this book, The Winemaker's Wife by Kristin Harmel. I had heard of this author before, mainly because of her most recent release, The Book of Lost Names but I hadn't read her. It turns out she is one of five authors that are involved in the group but I didn't figure that out until much later! I am not always the sharpest tool in the toolbox.

When Liv Kent's husband declares their marriage over, she loses everything. Her force of nature French grandmother, Evie, turns up unexpectedly to her door and drags her to Paris. Evie is 99 years old and yet still elegant and fierce. Once in Paris, Liv begins to feel the weight of her loss lifting but it is clear that her grandmother has something on her mind, and yet she won't actually say what it is. Together they travel to Reims, where her grandmother's behaviour becomes very odd, to say the least. 

Evie has things to tell Liv, but how do you begin to tell the stories of the past when there is so much tragedy, so many lies, so many secrets. These stories have been untold for many years, back to World War II.

This is a dual timeline novel, so whilst we learn about Liv's heartbreak and the underlying cause of the breakdown, and about her relationship with Evie, the historical timeline deals with life at Maison Chauveau - a family run vineyard in the Champagne region of France, which is centred around the city of Reims. 

When Ines marries Michel, owner of Maison Chauveau, she thinks it will be a glamourous life, not realising at all that running a vineyard is hard work that she is expected to participate in, whether it be by moving bottles around or preparing the barrels for the wine, it is hard physical labour. The couple is assisted in the venture by their chief winemaker Theo and his wife Celine.

The beginning of WWII is a difficult time for everyone in France, with the German occupation imminent. Michel sees what is coming and prepares the champagne caves, hiding his most successful vintages deep within the network of tunnels. It is, however, hardest for Celine who is part Jewish. Whilst in the early days of the occupation she is not a target for the Nazis because she is married to a French man and was born in France, she doesn't know what is happening with her extended family and she is worried. 

Whereas Theo believes that they should just keep their heads down and do as the Germans say, Michel is more determined to do what he can to derail the German occupiers. The Germans, however, are most interested in the champagne that he produces, so he has to be seen to be compliant. It's a fine line, especially when Celine catches the attention of an officer, especially as the net tightens on Jews as the war progresses.

Ines was introduced to Michel by her closest friend Evie, who lives in Reims with her husband and together they run a restaurant that soon becomes the haunt of German soldiers. With her husband so preoccupied with the vineyard both legal and illegal, Ines begins to feel ignored and so she turns to her friend Evie. Evie is involved in a dangerous game of her own, one that Ines threatens with her rash and impulsive behaviour. And so begins a series of events that will ultimately end in betrayal and death.

One of the interesting things about this book, particularly the historical part, is that none of the characters are especially likable. They are all a bit flawed and there are secrets and lies between all of them, but in a way that makes them interesting. Normally you have the one character who is all things good fighting the good fight, but these characters are treading fine lines as best they see fit to try and survive in a time where there is danger at every turn.

What I did enjoy was the author's writing style. From the first page I felt very involved in the story so I will be reading more from her.

I also enjoyed the history and culture regarding wine making that was included as part of the story, the detail of how the soil affected the grapes and help create the champagne, the barrels and more:

On the day before March's first full moon, late in the month, the cellars filled with a dozen workers - most of them children between twelve and fifteen, who were grateful for the small fee Michel would pay them at day's end, and despite her growing exhaustion, and the way her whole swollen body ached, Celine mad her way below ground to help. It was tradition to begin bottling the wines the day the springtime moon rose in the sky; for hundreds of years, winemakers in Champagne had believed that the power of the lunar cycle drew the bubbles into the bottle.

I'd like to share one other quote, but I am going to skip a couple of key phrases which would otherwise be spoilers:

....she'd found a bottle of 1940 Champagne Chauveau in a specialty wine store on West Seventy-Second Street and bought it, thought it had cost a small fortune. But it had been a sign; it had been the last vintage Michel and Theo had finished together before the world fell apart. All of them - Ines and Celine, too - had played a part in making the wine that year, and as *she* popped the cork in the living room with shaky hands, she felt as if she were holding something that belonged to another age, another reality.

........Even though the 1940 harvest had been so terrible, the bubbles were fine and elegant, the wine itself buttery as brioche, with a crisp, lemony-edge and just the faintest traces of caramel and chalk. It was perfect, a masterpiece, and ode to the land, to the cellars, to the winemakers. Celine had been right about this vintage; they had managed to make something beautiful from the chaos. Michel would have been so proud, and as she drank sip after perfect sip, she closed her eyes and imagined returning to Ville Dommange......

This is not the first time that I have read about the caves in the Champagne region being used during both world wars, and I know that I have at least one more book on my TBR which treads the same ground. It is, however, fascinating history and I would love to visit the areas if we ever get to travel to France again!

Rating 4/5

About the book

The author of the “engrossing” (People) international bestseller The Room on Rue Amélie returns with a moving story set amid the champagne vineyards of northern France during the darkest days of World War II, perfect for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.

Champagne, 1940: Inès has just married Michel, the owner of storied champagne house Maison Chauveau, when the Germans invade. As the danger mounts, Michel turns his back on his marriage to begin hiding munitions for the Résistance. Inès fears they’ll be exposed, but for Céline, half-Jewish wife of Chauveau’s chef de cave, the risk is even greater—rumors abound of Jews being shipped east to an unspeakable fate.

When Céline recklessly follows her heart in one desperate bid for happiness, and Inès makes a dangerous mistake with a Nazi collaborator, they risk the lives of those they love—and the champagne house that ties them together.

New York, 2019: Liv Kent has just lost everything when her eccentric French grandmother shows up unannounced, insisting on a trip to France. But the older woman has an ulterior motive—and a tragic, decades-old story to share. When past and present finally collide, Liv finds herself on a road to salvation that leads right to the caves of the Maison Chauveau

Weekly meals:

Sunday:  Spaghetti bolognaise
Monday: Pork Nachos
Tuesday: Chicken Stroganoff
Wednesday: Chicken Stroganoff (leftovers)
Thursday: Steak Mushroom and Broccolini with potatoes
Friday:  Chicken schnitzel, chips  and gravy (takeaway Friday)

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.


  1. Sounds like a read I'd enjoy. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I really liked this one too. And I agree, that even though I didn't love all the characters, I liked the story and the descriptions of the vineyards and the wine. Maybe you'll get your France trip later this year?????

    1. I think it is most likely going to be 2022 before we are going to be allowed to go anywhere, and now we are doing some other things so it may even be a bit longer for us financially.

  3. The two World Wars devastated the Champagne region, as you indicate. An interesting nonfiction account of the people there is “Champagne” by Don and Petie Kladstrup, which I wrote about here:

    be safe... mae at

  4. That title is in my list. Love the idea of the champagne business & the plot. Funny how a cast of unlikable characters can still have you turning the pages.

    Your chicken stroganoff sounds good, I usually think of beef. Have you posted the recipe before? I’d love to try it. :-)

    1. The stroganoff is my husband's recipe which he just adds a splodge of this and a splodge of that. I cant cook like that. We normally do beef too but we had chicken and mushrooms so this is what we ate.

    2. Thanks! I may try it and see how my adaptions go.

  5. thanks for sharing. now you have made me hungry and its time for breakfast
    sherry @ fundinmental

  6. The last trip we took before this pandemic included a trip to these Champagne caves, a wonderful experience. I passed this title onto a friend who is interested in WWII stories.

    1. It must be such an interesting place to visit Jackie!

  7. We visited a champagne cave some years back, and the stories about the cave related to us were fascinating. I feel certain this one would be interesting.

    1. It is definitely on my one day when we get to visit France list!

  8. I think I like the fact that the characters are flawed! It sounds like a great read.

  9. Thank you for the review.. It sounds like a book I would like to read..

    1. I hope you like it if you get to read it Judee!

  10. I participated in a Zoom this week with Kristin Harmel and three other historical fiction authors to celebrate the release of Lauren Willig's Band of Sisters. It was such an interesting discussion about determined women in history.

  11. The WWII novels just keep coming! It was a very popular display at the library last month, and no problem keeping the display filled as the books on display were taken. Next month for my library book club we're reading Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar, historical fiction about the WASPs in WWII.

  12. I'm looking forward to reading this one Marg. And having a glass of good Champagne as well.



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