“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.
This reading group guide for The Winemaker’s Wifeincludes 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.
Kristin Harmel is the international bestselling author of The Room on Rue Amélie and The Sweetness of Forgetting, along with several other novels. Her work has been featured in People, Woman’s Day, Men’s Health, and Ladies’ Home Journal, among many other media outlets. She lives in Orlando, Florida.
“Love and betrayal, forgiveness and redemption combine in a heady tale of the ever present past…fantastic!"
– Pam Jenoff, NYT bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris
“With exceptional skill, Kristin Harmel constructs The Winemaker's Wife between the past and the present, giving equal weight and importance to both, all the while weaving a tale full of secrets and betrayals that puts to the test mankind's strength, fragility and vileness. Once you start reading this moving novel, you will not be able to put it down until you reach the last page.”
– Armando Lucas Correa, bestselling author of THE GERMAN GIRL
"Written in heart-wrenching prose, THE WINEMAKER'S WIFE is a complex story of love, betrayal and impossible courage set in the champagne growing region of France during World War II. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough and savored every moment at the same time."
– Anita Hughes, bestselling author of Christmas in Paris
“What could be better than a story of champagne, secrets, lies, and history from a writer as compulsively readable as Kristin Harmel? Pick up this epic and heart-wrenching WWII tale immediately!”
– Alyson Noël, #1 New York Times bestselling author of SAVING ZOE
"Kristin Harmel is the best there is at sweeping historical drama intertwined with modern-day stories of real, relatable women you can't stop cheering for. In THE WINEMAKER'S WIFE, you'll fall in love with Ines and Liv, and wish you had a grande dame in your life like Edith, whose depiction is as perfect as her omni-present Kelly bag.
As you stay up late reading this novel of the French Champagne region in the midst of the second world war and the generations forever altered by those dark hours, keep a good supply of tissues close, not just for the reading of this gorgeous work, but for that moment when the story ends and your heart soars with the beauty of the telling."
– Kelly Harms Wimmer, bestselling author of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler
“The Winemaker’s Wife is a beautifully told, atmospheric story about redemption, heartbreak, resilience, and courage. With evocative prose and a lush setting in a champagne winery, it reminds us of the power of secrets, and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love.”
– -Maureen Leurck, author of Cicada Summer and Monarch Manor
"Harmel's engrossing latest reminds us that love, like resistance, begins with courage."
– People on THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIE
“Set against all the danger and drama of WWII Paris, this heartfelt novel will keep you turning the pages until the very last word.”
– New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe
"Reminiscent of The Nightingale and The Map of the Heart, Kristin Harmel's THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIE is an emotional, heart-breaking, inspiring tribute to the strength of the human spirit and the enduring power of love."
– NYTimes bestselling author Mariah Stewart
"The strong and courageous inhabitants of THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIE occupied all my time until the tender and powerful final pages. Beautifully written, Kristin Harmel’s latest is an unforgettable exploration of love and hope during the darkest of moments."
– Amy E. Reichert, author of The Optimist's Guide to Letting Go
“Harmel writes a poignant novel based loosely on the true story of an American woman who helped on the Comet Line, which rescued hundreds of airmen and soldiers. This compelling story celebrates hope and bravery in the face of evil.”
"Harmel injects new life into a well-worn story in this hopeful three-voiced tale about the struggle to find normalcy amid the horrors of WWII... Harmel’s emotionally fraught story hammers home the message that each person has a unique opportunity to stand against injustice. This is a celebration of those, like Ruby, who found the courage to face life head-on."
– Publishers Weekly
"This book of historical fiction is also a surprising story of love, courage, and the resiliency of the human spirit....[Harmel] manages to draw her audience in, even to the point of unexpected tears at the story’s end.."
– Jewish Book Council
“Harmel’s latest novel overlaps somewhat with recent book club favorites Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls… recommended for fans of World War II historical fiction.”
– Library Journal
"Richly detailed and yet fast-paced, Harmel’s story flows at remarkable depth, as ordinary citizens rise to the challenge of extraordinary circumstances in occupied France. A fascinating exploration of the escape routes set up for downed Allied pilots, readers will be swept up in this heart-wrenching drama."
– Juliette Fay, author of The Tumbling Turner Sisters
"A story of courage and love in unimaginable circumstances."
– bestselling author Barbara Taylor Sissel
"Harmel...authentically weaves American history into this engaging novel. An appealing family saga that connects generations and reaffirms love.”
– Kirkus Reviews on WHEN WE MEET AGAIN
"Centering on a lesser-known facet of American history, WHEN WE MEET AGAIN is a gripping novel of history, art, and the power of love. Kristin Harmel’s work is always riveting but her storytelling reaches new heights with a tale that is layered, complex, and satisfying to the last page."
– bestselling author Michelle Gable on WHEN WE MEET AGAIN
"The latest from Harmel...is an affecting tale about finding happiness amid grief and guilt. Some twists are telegraphed early in the novel, but that doesn’t diminish the satisfying conclusion."
– Booklist on THE LIFE INTENDED
“Kristin Harmel writes with such insight and heart that her characters will stay with you long after you’ve finished her books.”
– New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin on THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING
“Kristin Harmel...[is] one of my favorite authors!”
– bestselling author Melissa Senate on THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING