It’s no secret that hard work produces fine results; it’s also no secret that to produce those results it is important to step back and relax, because it is in moments like these that the best things happen to us. Just like the protagonist – Emmy – discovers in Jo Thomas’ latest novel.
Jo spent many summers in France as a child and it was a combination of those fond holiday memories that inspired her latest book, Late Summer in The Vineyard. Below, Jo takes us on a journey reliving her nostalgic memories of France and her more recent wine tasting escapades, while researching fundamental aspects of her book.
“I LOVE FRANCE! Having spent many childhood summers making the long journey in our Renault 14 to the lavender-strewn fields of Provence and the sparkling coastline of the Côte d’Azur, where holidays seemed to go on forever, France is my happy place. So when friends of mine bought a big town house in southwest France a few years ago – right in the heart of wine country – to run writing and painting holidays, I was thrilled!
The house sits in the middle of a busy, bustling town on the banks of the Dordogne, packed with fabulous restaurants and friendly bars, surrounded by vineyards. The town has a lively Monday market with all the variety, colour and smells that you’d expect from a typical French market. There are food stalls bathed in glorious sunshine and piled high with plump vegetables, bulging sacks of herbs, pink, dappled charcuterie, glistening olives, rounds of yellow cheese and trays of gnarled oysters hiding secret pleasures within; all sitting side by side next to clothes stalls with rows of T-shirts and Moroccan kaftans swinging in the light breeze.
I love the way people take the time to greet one another in France – to shake hands, kiss each other on the cheek, and share un café. One of the other things I love is the fact that a ‘Petit Rosé’ is perfectly acceptable at practically any time of day!
The surrounding countryside is covered in vines – even the flowerbeds at the airport and the roundabouts in the roads have them growing. Apart from the vines, the thing that always strikes me about the town is its sense of history. It practically reaches out and touches you. You can see it, feel it. It’s the shadow, a crucial part of the town’s backdrop, against which the vines sit.
Having decided that I wanted to write about these vines and their history, I was suddenly terrified. Yes, I liked drinking wine, but knew nothing about how it is made! Reading books only made me realise how much I didn’t know.
So, like the heroine in my book, I was going to have to find out, hands on. I met and talked to winemakers and visited a fantastic ancient, organic vineyard where I walked the vines, and explored the chai, where the winemaking happens, and the wine is stored in barrels. I also spent a morning at the Saint-Émilion wine school, like a naughty kid at the back of the class, getting fits of giggles as I sniffed, sipped and then snorted wine up my nose!
One of my favourite wine experiences was a blending session with a winemaker, where we worked in teams learning to blend grape varieties: to sniff the wine, taste it, name it and then write a sales pitch and sell it, X Factor-style, to a panel of judges!
But nothing beats the feeling of sitting in the sunshine, looking out over the wonderful French countryside as the sun begins to set, sipping a glass of something that has grown and matured in the soil beneath your feet. And, as a wise winemaker told me, the harder the vines have to work, the better the grapes they produce and the finer the vintage they become – a bit like my heroine in Late Summer in the Vineyard.
Try it for yourself: visit France and grab yourself a ‘Petit Rosé’.”
Jo Thomas has worked for many years as a radio reporter and producer. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was written in her car on a laptop after the school run and was a runaway bestseller in ebook. It was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children but now has a campervan to write in.
Have a read of Jo’s latest novel – it might inspire you to follow in her footsteps and take that well earned break from busy life.
Late Summer in the Vineyard is available now in Paperback and ebook