I’d like to welcome Author Kristen Harnisch today to talk with me about her book, The Vintner’s Daughter. Internationally published author Kristen Harnisch drew upon her extensive research and her experiences living in San Francisco and visiting the Loire Valley and Paris to create the stories for THE CALIFORNIA WIFE and her first novel, THE VINTNER’S DAUGHTER. Ms. Harnisch has a degree in economics from Villanova University and currently resides in Connecticut with her husband and three children.
Kristen, thank you for chatting with me today about your book, The Vintner’s Daughter! I enjoyed reading your story very much! Please tell your audience a little about the story.
The Vintner’s Daughter is the story of Sara Thibault, a winemaker’s daughter, and her struggle to reclaim her family’s nineteenth-century Loire Valley vineyard. In 1895, through a series of tragic events, Sara is forced to flee her French village of Vouvray for America, on a journey that will take her across the Atlantic, to the slums of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and out west to the rolling hills and sprawling vineyards of Napa, California. In Napa, Sara is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker, but must face the one man who could either restore her family’s vineyard to her—or prosecute her for her crime.
How is your character(s) influenced by their setting?
In The Vintner’s Daughter, I often use setting to reflect the emotional state of my characters. For example, Sara is deeply attached to Saint Martin, her family’s estate in Vouvray. The vineyard, winery and ancestral home are where she played with her older sister and worked alongside her beloved father. Here she created some of her best childhood memories, learning how to cultivate and press grapes, craft wine and work to secure the best price for each vintage. She felt useful and cherished. When she’s forced to seek refuge at a cloistered convent in Manhattan, its dark stone hallways, austere lifestyle and strict schedules of this temporary home magnify Sara’s inner turmoil. She yearns to break free—and she eventually does.
What draws you in the most about winemaking and how you weaved this into your story?
I wrote The Vintner’s Daughter because I wanted to learn more about the art and science of making wine. Sixteen years ago, in October of 2000, I received the inspiration for the story while standing on the edge of a vineyard in Vouvray, France. The pristine rows of chenin blanc grapevines, the limestone caves, the whitewashed winery on my far left, and the abandoned watchman’s house on my right all captured my imagination. “This,” I thought to myself, “would be the perfect setting for a novel.”
Questions leapt to mind as I toured the Loire Valley cellars. Why have these families chosen to make wine for centuries? How do they choose the grapes they grow, how do they create fine wine, and what challenges do they encounter? The winemakers themselves answered some of my questions, but once I returned home, I also wanted to learn more about the history of the wine trade in California, where I had recently lived. I delved into French and California wine history books, read years of nineteenth-century trade papers such as The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, consulted a master winemaker, reviewed old maps and photographs at The Napa County Historical Society and toured several family-owned Napa vineyards on foot and on bike. I was fascinated by what I discovered.
Every bottle of wine contains nearly three pounds of grapes and the vulnerability of this fruit is striking: over the last century and a half, grapes have fallen victim to pests, rodents, frost, mildew and Prohibition in the United States. Still, with a precise blend of hard labor, science and art, winemakers continue to perfect the wines that fill our glasses. I remain inspired and humbled by their efforts.
In The Vintner’s Daughter, I weave my knowledge of winemaking into Sara’s story and with my descriptions, I try to bring the reader into every scene—to taste, touch, see, smell and hear the beauty of the vineyards and the winemaking process as the characters do.
What are Philippe Lemieux’s strengths and weaknesses?
Philippe is the product of a loving mother and an abusive, controlling father who favored his older brother, Bastien. After their mother died, Philippe left France to make his own way as a winemaker in America, settling as far away as possible from his father and brother—in Napa. He is an astute and trustworthy businessman and has made quick friends (and a few enemies) among his fellow winemakers. He’s had his share of indiscretions, but perhaps his biggest faults are that he’s too quick to judge and sometimes overly protective of those closest to him.
One of the themes in your story was about the Suffragette movement, can you tell us a little about that and why you chose to include that in your story?
The late 1800s were such an exciting time in American history because the women’s rights movement was gaining momentum. Our culture was experiencing a dramatic shift. Women were coming out of the kitchens and taking active roles in their family’s businesses or farms, or working in the city factories. In the last decade of the 1800s, although there was a vocal minority of women who pushed for the right to vote, most women were more concerned about their right to safe working conditions, to earn a fair wage and to open an individual bank account. They marched in their cities and towns to show their support and influence and after several decades, the legislature started to listen.
I chose to include details about the suffrage movement because, before conducting my research, I didn’t realize that the majority of suffragettes were also members of Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which supported a prohibition of alcohol. Sara, a winemaker, finds herself caught between her desire to fight for women’s rights and her commitment to protect the production and sale of wine. This conflict creates quite a dilemma for Sara in the story’s sequel, The California Wife.
What are your personal motivations in storytelling?
I was a banker for nine years before I decided to stay home and raise my children. That’s when I started to dream about writing a novel. In 2000, when I was inspired to write Sara’s story, I didn’t know how to write fiction! I took online writing classes and re-wrote the story ten times over fourteen years. It was one of the most time-consuming but rewarding leaps of faith I’ve ever taken. My motivations were simple: to challenge myself intellectually and to escape the laundry!
What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?
When I sit down to write a novel, I’m both excited and plagued with self-doubt. The only way to overcome this is to silence the voices in my head that continually ask, “What if it’s not as good as your last novel?” or “What if the critics hate it?” I focus on the story and making it the best I possibly can—and then I release it into the world. Beyond that, I have little control over how it’s received. This is the creative process!
What is your writing process?
When I write historical fiction, I start by researching the topics I’d like to cover, and many times I’ll uncover interesting real-life events that help me to construct the plot and conflict of the novel. Then I’ll make a haphazard attempt to outline the plot, which I’ll use as a guideline, but I prefer to dive in and start writing. I write in three-hour blocks, in the morning and/or late evening when the kids have gone to bed, and I usually don’t write scenes in order. Instead, I write about what excites me on that particular day—an argument between the characters, an earthquake, a shooting, a tender moment between characters—whatever I feel emotionally prepared to tackle. Coffee, afternoon tea and the occasional glass of wine in the evening all help the flow of creativity!
Where can reader buy your book? At your local bookseller, at Amazon.com, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or anywhere! The Vintner’s Daughter is available in paperback, e-book and audio book!
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