• Hardcover: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (June 19, 2018)
“If you enjoyed my Sarah’s Key and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, then this wonderful book by Ann Mah is for you.” — Tatiana de Rosnay
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 chance. 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 day-to-day management of the grapes. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a talented young winemaker and her first love.
At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousin 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 World War II and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great–half aunt who was a 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?
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"And suddenly I knew- as sure as the laws of chemistry- that remaining passive is no longer prudence. It has become cowardice."
Kate is attempting to pass the demanding Master of Wine examination in order to move up in her career in California. When the restaurant she works for closes suddenly, she takes her mentor's advice to return to the land of her roots- and her family's vineyard in Burgundy to brush up on her French wines. While staying with her brother and sister-in-law, Kate once again comes in contact with neighbor and once fiancee, Jean-Luc. To clear her mind, Kate agrees to help clean out the family cave or basement. While sifting through a hefty amount of junk Kate finds many items from an unknown family member, Helene Marie Charpin. Kate is rebuffed by her Uncle when she asks about Helene. However, a trip to the library gives a clue about the family secret, Helene was prosecuted as a collaborator during WWII. This sends Kate and sister-in-law Heather on a hunt to uncover the truth. While digging, they also uncover a secret cave, untouched since the war and filled with priceless vintage wines.
A family secret, a historical mystery and a romance round out The Lost Vintage. This story has many notes that were brought together like a fine wine. I was drawn in by the beauty of France, the descriptions of the vineyards, grapes, wines and traditions. Then I was intrigued by Kate's broken romance with Jean-Luc. Then the historical mystery found me and I was captivated by Helene and her long lost journal. Lastly, the suspense of tracking down the missing wine pulled me in even further. The point of view switched between Kate and Helene's journal, I am a sucker for dual-time stories, so this suited me perfectly. The plot did pick up for me when Helene's mystery was introduced. I enjoyed learning more about the French resistance as well as the 'horizontal collaborators' and their fate. Helene's story made me think about our choices for survival, making this a relevant story for many people during the present. I was pleased to find out that Helene's story was inspired by Resistor, Agnes Humbert, who I will be looking farther into. Overall, an intricate story that mixes past with present, romance and mystery for a delectable read.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Ann Mah is a food and travel writer based in Paris and Washington DC. She is the author of the food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating, and a novel, Kitchen Chinese. She regularly contributes to the New York Times’ Travel section and she has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue.com, BonAppetit.com, Washingtonian magazine, and other media outlets.
Find out more about Ann at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.