The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah is a moving and rich story about family secrets and lost love set in the vineyards of Burgundy. If you enjoy mysteries, historical fiction, wine, French culture with a love story mixed in, you’ll love this one. I sure did.
The Lost Vintage follows the protagonist Kate as she travels to Burgundy to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. While she reconnects with her cousin Nico and his wife, Heather, she’s also trying to avoid Jean-Luc, her first love. As Kate helps Heather clean out the enormous basement, she eventually discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Her search will take her back to World War II and a relative she never knew existed, a great–half aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation. For more about the synopsis, check my preview here.
We follow the first-person perspective of Kate throughout her journey. The perspective of her great-half aunt Hélène is told through her diary entries during the Nazi occupation. I loved this dual-perspective storytelling style. We really get to know Kate through the first-person narrative and she’s a very likable and relatable protagonist. I also enjoyed learning about Hélène through her diary entries, which are written in such clear and vivid details. It’s impressive how the author was able to make these two voices sound appropriate for their ages and time periods. That’s not an easy thing to do and she did it very efficiently.
I also felt there was a great balance between the two storylines unfolding and how the past relates to the present. As I mentioned, there is a mystery of who exactly Hélène was, which side was she on and is she still alive? Plus, there are questions if there are other family secrets as well. I don’t want to give anything away but it’s a fascinating mystery. I was captivated until the last page!
Love of food and wine
French countryside, food and wine, these are a few of my favorite things. So, I knew right away I would enjoy this story just for those subjects alone. But the writing about food and wine has even another layer of authenticity as Ann’s background includes being the recipient of a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship and earning the Level 2 Award in Wine & Spirits with distinction from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). She’s also written cookbooks and a memoir about her time in Paris.
So, it’s safe to say that all the food and wine descriptions are coming from a trusted expert. There’s plenty of content about the winemaking process along with the descriptions of the different tastes of wine. The setting of the vineyards of Burgundy will make you want to take a trip there. I highly recommend picking up some French wine and cheese while you enjoy this read because you will crave it!
The power of home
What you think of home, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For some, it’s where they were raised. For others, it’s where they currently are. But when it comes to family heritage and home, it can be tricky to define. Kate’s mother didn’t have much affection for France and after Kate’s grandfather passed, her mom chose not to return back to her home country. And while Kate became a wine connoisseur, she avoided the wines of Burgundy as much as possible. Kate loves but also resisted her heritage, partly because of her complicated family but also due to her first-love also being a winemaker in Burgundy.
But can you really ever fully remove yourself from your home? The book answers the questions what is home, how the past impacts the present and being fully comfortable with you who are and where you came from.