Do you like wine? Why don’t you just get up from your desk NOW, leave everything you know and go and make wine? I don’t know about you, but much as I love drinking wine, the thought of doing that scares me enough to have to worry about the cost of the dry-cleaning bill.
This is the premise of Grape Expectations, A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France which was sent to me recently(ish) to review by the publishers. The problem is, I hate to admit, that I read very little that is not on my computer screen. It took me until the summer holiday to find the time to read it. I’m glad I did.
The book follows the real-life tale of Caro Feely and her family who give up business careers, friends, family and security to pursue the dream of making wine in France. Yes, it has been ‘done’ before, but as it is a first-hand account there was always the possibility of different outcomes and insights. I also happen to have some friends who have done something very similar, so I hoped to have a better insight into their experiences too. It was worth giving it a chance.
I almost gave up after the prologue:
‘How can they be in liquidation if they make wine this good?’ I asked.
We should have stopped right there. We were driven by something that went beyond logic: a decade-long dream that took us to places we could not have imagined.
A decade of dreaming and you STILL don’t realise how hard it is to make wine and also a living? Come on! This is WHY so many wineries are in liquidation. Too many dreamers, large and small, who want to live a dream and are not prepared for the true cost and agricultural labour and heart-ache of the wine maker and grape grower. Is this going to be another “A Good Year” nonsense?
I was encouraged on by the title of the first chapter: “Beware the Dream“. OK, not just romantic fantasy then.
The story of the family and the winery, Chateau Haut Garrigue, unfolds over their first year in France. It is filled with (mis)adventures, revelations, heart-warming stories of family and the value of friends, and beautiful descriptions of the landscape of Saussignac.
Despite my cynicism, I enjoyed reading this book. The book balanced the story of the family, the diary of a winery in the making, some background on wine and a sense of some excitement with delicate skill. The wine information in particular was well done, giving the reader useful information on wine making and wine tasting to illustrate a point, but without falling into dull repetition of technical matters of no interest to real people.
What this book is not, is a manual for dreamers looking to buy a vineyard.
If there is a criticism to be made of this ‘insight’ into running Chateau Haut Garrigue, is that despite the very personal story of Caro (Caroline Feely), I felt I learned a lot more about the inner-life & philosophy of Mr Bonny (the mechanic) than I did about Sean (Sean Feely; winemaker, grape grower, father and husband). I hope that future books, which I assume must be in the works since this covers only the first vintage or so and dates back to 2006, give Sean more of a voice in the story.
Ultimately the book is worth reading and a great introduction to a winery, tourism destination and family that deserve our attention. I shall be on the lookout for a bottle of their wine in the very near future.