1956: When Caterina Rosetta inherits a cottage in the countryside of Italy from a grandmother she’s never known, she discovers a long-buried family secret — a secret so devastating, it threatens the future of everything her mother has worked for. Many years before, her mother’s hard-won dreams of staking her family’s claim in the vineyards of California came to fruition; but as an old murder comes to light, and Caterina uncovers a tragic secret that may destroy the man she loves, she realizes her happiness will depend on revealing the truth of her mother’s buried past.
From the time I drew my hardbound copy of Jan Moran's The Winemakers out of the mail envelope, I knew it was a special book. The cover art is gorgeous and the book was made with care. And I don't mind telling you, the inside of the book lived up to the cover.
The Winemakers reminded me in scope and spread of The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. You see a total of four generations of the Rosetta family. The oldest generation contains Violetta, Ava's mother-in-law and Caterina's grandmother. Next comes Luco and Ava (Caterina's father and mother). Then there is Caterina herself. The youngest generation is represented by Marisa, Caterina's daughter.
The story switches from the 1950's (the novel's present day) and the late 1920's, covering Ava's early married years. Ava has told Caterina that her father was a good man, and that he died heroically and this is the picture Caterina has carried with her. Ava runs the Mille Etoiles Winery, and historically I believe vineyards were a type of business passed from generation to generation in the same family. But Caterina took a semester off from college, and walked away from her fiance in order to take a class in Los Angeles. But that wasn't the truth.
You see, Caterina was pregnant. The father was a young man she had grown up with, who was not the man to whom she had been engaged. At that time, unwed mothers had many prejudices against them. They stayed in special homes, away from the 'good people'. When Caterina went on a trip with Marisa, an old woman who had offered to hold the child to give Caterina a break, handed Marisa back when she ascertained that Caterina had no husband. I think she would have sprayed disinfectant or used a hand sanitizer if such things had existed at the time. Unwed mothers had a hard time renting due to a 'morals clause' present in many leases. It didn't seem to affect the men who had impregnated the women and then abandoned them. (Of course.)
Lies are like a helium balloon that is attached to a nozzle and the gas is turned on. They get bigger and bigger until they explode. Caterina had kept her pregnancy a secret from her mother, out of fear of her reaction. (It was not pretty.) Ava kept secrets about her past from her daughter. Try as she might, Caterina could not get anyone to open up to her, saying it was her mother's story to tell.
Caterina receives a bequest from the grandmother she's never met - a cottage in Italy, near the family home. She goes there, presenting herself as a widow with a daughter. Eventually she learns more of her mother's story, and her own history.
Ms. Moran's language is as rich as the story and as full-bodied as the best bottle of wine. There was a lot of information about the wine business, from growing the grapes to blending the wine and aging. I'm afraid my knowledge of wine is limited to red, white or rose...and to be called 'champagne' it has to come from France, otherwise it's sparkling wine. Oh, there's also, "Oooh...that's a pretty label." The shop talk was not overwhelming at all, but rolled out at the right times to let even people with no knowledge of the process of making wine follow along.
The pacing of The Winemakers was wonderful. I was drawn into the story and the history, how little some things have changed, and how much others have changed. The action wound tighter and tighter until the end. I was literally on the edge of my seat!
If you like grand sagas like Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw, North and South by John Jakes, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, or Shogun by James Clavell, you will want to add The Winemakers by Jan Moran to your library.
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