The True Purpose of Vines

  • by

It’s 1870 at the beginning of Siniscalchi’s novel, and Griffin Maxwell has spent 12 years in Oporto transforming his uncle’s small trading firm into “the fastest growing port company in the city.” He only needs to secure a partnership with another company to restore his family’s status to what it had been in London before his father’s death. When John Croft, the successful merchant he has been courting for months, finally agrees to partner with Griffin, he is ecstatic. But Croft has a few conditions. First, he asks Griffin to expand his planned trip up the Douro River to include a meeting with the widow who inherited Quinta do Vesuvio, the best wine- producing estate in the region. And the merchant tells Griffin that the partnership will only be his if he marries Croft’s 18-year-old daughter. Griffin accepts both conditions and sets off on his journey. He is wary about spending several weeks upriver; not only is the Douro region “a wild, unruly corner of the world,” Griffin also has never mixed with the Portuguese. In Griffin’s mind, “they make great wine, they have a bloody complicated language, they love weird food and romantic nonsense, and they like to respond to reasonable questions with monosyllabic nonsensical answers.” He also assumes that the widow at the helm of Quinta do Vesuvio will be a boring, old crone. To his surprise, he discovers that Julia Costa is a beautiful, brilliant winemaker. Griffin even falls in love with her 7-year-old son. But Julia is headstrong, with unorthodox plans to modernize her vineyard—and another suitor. A crusade to save the Douro’s grapevines against phylloxera brings Griffin and Julia close, but will it be enough to bridge the differences between a staid British merchant and a passionate Portuguese winemaker? Siniscalchi’s command of Portuguese history and winemaking is impressive, and her vivid descriptions of the Douro region will make readers yearn to travel there. Does Griffin and Julia’s first kiss occur too early in the story, eliminating opportunities for the author to build suspense? Yes. Are there too many references to Griffin ogling Julia’s legs when she chooses breeches over skirts? Yes. But the author’s compelling characters and propulsive plot smooth over these minor hiccups, creating a warm romance that goes down easily and does not hesitate to explore the difficulties of a cross-cultural relationship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.