Few authors have written as honestly about the challenges of starting a new life in France as Caro Feely does in her book Grape Expectations. The memoir drew me in so I kept reading, sometimes just to get to the end in hopes that things would turn out better for her. I couldn't imagine trying to rehab a barely livable house while raising a baby and a preschooler and my husband spending every waking moment in the vineyard.
Here's a passage that shows Feely and her husband discovering the ruin they have purchased in Saussignac in the Aquitaine region of France:
The house looked worse than the photos had promised. The shutters were eaten away by rot and termites....
The fence around the 3-metre-high terrace was rusted away, making it a deathtrap for children. The place was thoroughly rundown. I looked at the date 1737, etched above the cellar and thought 'Oh my God, what have we done?' then swallowed back a wave of tears and tried to concentrate on the view. The natural splendour of the valley sprawling below, decked out in the bright greens of summer, was breathtaking.Feely pulls no punches as she relates the dire financial circumstances she and her family faced, along with the thoughts that the winery would pull her marriage apart.
I enjoyed this book and rooted for Feely and her family throughout. Sometimes the book went into much more detail than I needed about how to make wine and how to farm grapes. But I think some people, like my husband, would enjoy those details, so I've recommended that he read it.
One plodding section of the book went into details about biodynamics, which is extra organic. It's an interesting idea, but again too much detail for someone like me who wanted to hear about the experience of living in France.
A side effect of reading this book was the yearning for wine. I really wanted to drink a lot of wine while I was reading it, no matter the time of day. I also looked up the specific wine that Caro and her husband are creating, and I'd love to visit their vineyard one day to stay in their guest house or take a wine class, so in that way, the book is definitely a success too.
One of my favorite quotes from the book, is actually a quote from Galileo who said, "Wine is sunlight held together by water." That's a beautiful image and encourages me to raise a glass in toast to both Galileo and Caro Feely.