“Love and betrayal, forgiveness and redemption combine in a heady tale of the ever-present past...fantastic!” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris
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.
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Read an Excerpt
The Winemaker’s Wife
The road snaked over the lush vineyards of Champagne as Inès Chauveau sped southwest out of Reims, clouds of dust ballooning in the wake of her glossy black Citroën, wind whipping ferociously through her chestnut hair. It was May, and already the vines were awakening, their buds like tiny fists reaching for the sun. In weeks they would flower, and by September, their grapes—pale green Chardonnay, inky Pinot Meunier, blueberry-hued Pinot Noir—would be plump and bursting for the harvest.
But would Inès still be here? Would any of them? A shiver ran through her as she braked to hug a curve, the engine growling in protest as she turned down the road that led home. Michel would tell her she was driving too quickly, too recklessly. But then, he was cautious about everything.
In June, it would be a year since they’d married, and she couldn’t remember a day during that time that he hadn’t gently chided her about something. I’m simply looking out for you, Inès, he always said. That’s what a husband is supposed to do. Lately, nearly all his warnings had been about the Germans, who’d been lurking just on the other side of the impenetrable Maginot Line, the fortified border that protected France from the chaos besetting the rest of Europe. Those of us who were here for the Great War know to take them seriously, he said at least once a day, as if he hadn’t been just four years old when the final battle was waged.
Of course Inès, younger than Michel by six years, hadn’t yet been born when the Germans finally withdrew from the Marne in 1918, after nearly obliterating the central city of Reims. But her father had told enough tales about the war—usually while drunk on brandy and pounding his fist against the table—that she knew to be wary.
You can never trust the Huns! She could hear her father’s deep, gravelly voice in her ear now, though he’d been dead for years. They might play the role of France’s friend, but only fools would believe such a thing.
Well, Inès was no fool. And this time, for once, she would bring the news that changed everything. She felt a small surge of triumph, but as she raced into Ville-Dommange, the silent, somber, seven-hundred-year-old Saint-Lié chapel that loomed over the small town seemed to taunt her for her pettiness. This wasn’t about who was wrong and who was right. This was about war. Death. The blood of young men already soaking the ground in the forests to the northeast. All the things her husband had predicted.
She drove through the gates, braked hard in front of the grand two-story stone château, and leapt out, racing for the door that led down to the vast network of underground cellars. “Michel!” she called as she descended two stone steps at a time, the cool, damp air like a bucket of water to the face. “Michel!”
Her voice echoed through the tangled maze of passageways, carved out of the earth three quarters of a century earlier by her husband’s eccentric great-grandfather. Thousands of champagne bottles rested on their sides there, a small fortune of bubbles waiting for their next act.
“Inès?” Michel’s concerned voice wafted from somewhere deep within the cellars, and then she could hear footsteps coming closer until he rounded the corner ahead of her, followed by Theo Laurent, the Maison Chauveau’s chef de cave, the head winemaker. “My dear, what is it?” Michel asked as he rushed to her, putting his hands on her shoulders and studying her face. “Are you quite all right, Inès?”
“No.” She hadn’t realized until then how breathless she was from the news and the drive and the rapid descent into the chill of the cellars. “No, Michel, I’m not all right at all.”
“What’s happened?” Michel asked while Theo regarded her silently, his expression as impassive as always.
“It has begun,” Inès managed to say. “The invasion, Michel. The Germans are coming!”
A heavy silence hung in the damp air. How long would it be before the quiet of the cellars was punctured by the thud of goose-stepping boots overhead? Before everything they’d built was threatened, perhaps destroyed?
“Well then,” Michel said at last. “I suppose it is time we finish hiding the champagne.”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Winemaker’s Wife includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The year is 1940, and the Germans are quickly approaching the champagne-producing regions of northern France. As Inès, a young bride, rushes to inform her husband, the owner of a champagne house, of the Nazis’ impending approach, she has no idea how much her life will change over the course of the next five years.
Many years later, Liv is recovering from a failed marriage and doesn’t know how she’ll start anew. But her eccentric elderly grandmother, Edith, has just the ticket—literally. She whisks Liv off to France, but won’t tell Liv what she’s doing there or how Edith is connected to the city of Reims.
These two stories in The Winemaker’s Wife, set decades apart, intertwine to tell a gripping narrative of love, loss, the tragedy of war, and the hope that comes from the smallest resistance against evil, set against the lush backdrop of northern France’s champagne vineyards.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. This novel takes place in the champagne-producing region of France. How does the location play into the plot? Is the setting crucial to the story, or could this book have taken place at any vineyard during World War II?
2. Inès struggles with her place at the Maison Chauveau. She feels disrespected by her husband and left out of everything important. Did you feel sympathy for Inès’s predicament, or were you frustrated by her focus on her own problems? Or a mix of both?
3. Michel is not very attentive to Inès and doesn’t notice her attempts to be useful. However, he pays very close attention to Céline. Why do you think Michel was so frustrated with Inès?
4. Inès looks inward for much of the novel, and as a result, she misses a lot of the horror happening around her. How did you feel about her spending time with a Nazi collaborator? How do you think Inès justified it to herself?
5. Much of The Winemaker’s Wife revolves around characters being complacent in a time of crisis; therefore, it’s easy for one to be willfully blind to what’s really happening. Are there other times in history where this same observation applies?
6. Liv has her own struggles, including dealing with the end of her marriage. How does her situation compare with Inés’s predicament?
7. Céline goes through an emotional journey over the course of the novel, worrying about her family and her own safety. Her story, sadly, is dictated by the times she lived in. Did you feel satisfied with the way it turned out, or did you want Céline’s story to go differently?
8. Michel feels that he must defy the Nazis in any way he can. How did you feel about his resistance, with his knowing that he was putting others at Maison Chauveau in harm’s way?
9. Inès tries to help the Resistance, but those around her accuse her of only acting, as a way to prove that she’s useful—in essence, for still having selfish motives. How did you separate her motives from her actions? Is there something inherently selfish in every generous act?
10. Discuss what you learned about champagne making in The Winemaker’s Wife. How much did you know before you read the novel, and what did you learn from it?
11. Harmel surprises the reader with a twist, revealing new truths about modern-day Edith’s identity. Did you suspect that this was the case? Did it impact your understanding of the character of Inès?
12. The selfishness Inès displays has dire consequences at the end of the book. Do you think her work in the Resistance redeemed her?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Buy a selection of champagne to sip while you discuss The Winemaker’s Wife. Can you tell a difference between different champagne houses? What about the differences of varying vintages?
2. Read The Widow Clicquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo, a history of Veuve Clicquot (and a woman who’s mentioned in The Winemaker’s Wife), and compare it with the information presented about champagne making in this book. Discuss how important history and culture is to French winemaking.
3. Read Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup, which is about French winemakers who resisted the Nazis. Discuss the Resistance techniques depicted in both books and whether they were effective.
4. Research French dishes that were popular in the 1940s. Have each member bring a dish to share, to celebrate the cuisine present in the novel.