Bordeaux is the home of the great red French wines and the Medoc region is where Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut-Brion are produced. What better place to set the saga of a French winemaking family?
Francoise Bourdin has put Fonteyne, the Laverzac family winery, northwest of the city of Bordeaux. Aurelien Laverzac is passionate about his grands crus, the first-rate wines that his family hs been making since 1800. Fonteyne produces a Margaux with Second Growth ranking in the Bordeaux classifications of 1885.
But the members of this family are passionate about a number of things besides wine. Aurelien's oldest son, Louis-Marie, is devoted to journalism and his second son, Robert, is a dedicated surgeon. Alexandre, the third son, loves the family winery and the vineyards. The youngest son, Jules, who was adopted, is the most devoted to the grapes and the winery and has been slowly taking responsibility for the management of Fonteyne.
As the novel begins, the family is all together at Fonteyne for the first time in six years. Robert, who is in love with Louis-Marie's wife Pauline, has been staying away, but this year he has joined the rest of the Laverzac's for the harvest. Jules, whose 30th birthday is being celebrated only days before the harvesting begins, is very much in love with the daughter of a neighboring vintner, Laurene. But in the most convincing love/hate relationship since Eliza and Mr Darcy, the two spar with one another, fear they will never get together, and worry about the reaction of old Aurelien if they do.
There is much to fear -- or at least to worry about -- in this story, beginning with the rain that comes every day in this crucial time when the grapes need sun. As one of the characters says, "You know, wine is mostly about water." If the storms don't let up the grapes on the lower slopes will rot. And a bad thunderstorm with hail could be ruinous.
Also disturbing these September days that should be idyllic, is concern about Aurelien's health. He has had a heart problem and he is in his 60s. Pauline has lured Robert to Fonteyne and she has begun a dalliance with him which she isn't trying overly hard to keep from her hsuband. Alexandre's father-in-law, the owner of Mazion, a small nearby vineyard, has been ill and he and others are worried about what will happen to the harvest there without the old man to run things.
And quietly lurking under everything is the fact that Jules was adopted and no one except Aurelien (and the reader) has any idea who he is and where he comes from. Eventually Jules has to face the questions about his past.
This family is unusual in fiction in that they love one another. They fight, sometimes physically, and they argue and they complain and they get into impressive shouting matches. But underneath is a profound feeling of family, despite the worry about their father, about the harvest, and about their entanglement in love triangles (which sometimes seem more like octagons.)
One complaint. The translator has chosen to put everything in English, including M as Mr and chateau as castle. And the English slang she has chosen to represent the French (Gee and kiddo for example) would in my opinion much better have been left in French. An English-speaking writer would have used much more French.
But this is a matter of taste. The interactions of the members of the Laverzac family and their love of their land, of the grapes and wines, make for an engrossing story. And it would make a terrific movie.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.