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Book Review of "Decanted ", by Linda Sheehan

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Decanted by Linda Sheehan is a beautifully told atmospheric novel comprised of two interwoven stories set mostly in the vineyards of France.  It’s a story about love, heartbreak, redemption, resilience, courage, and the intriguing world of wine.

Decanted presents an immersive glimpse into winemaking and the clique of winemakers who are at the top of their craft. By pure osmosis, you’ll learn that your wine cellar should be cooler than 55 degrees Fahrenheit and most importantly, you’ll learn that old dusty 1945 bottle of Romanée-Conti, sitting on a shelf in your basement is probably worth over 100,000 dollars.

Sheehan tells her story in evocative prose that makes your reading of her novel a bit surreal,  a little bit magical, and totally absorbing.  If you have ever been to France, you’ll feel like you’re back. If you haven’t: welcome. It’s a crazy place. You’ll get a feel for the wine region’s unique, romantic atmosphere.

Alternating between the past and present, friendships and romance, hope, and despair, Decanted becomes a novel about finding oneself through passion, history, acknowledgment, grief, and love.

 

Decanted is women’s fiction at its best. It has relatable characters and a well-developed plot that is composed of two interwoven stories. Sheehan introduces her contemporary tale with a prologue set in Montmartre. Paris, June 1936. With the tone set, Sheehan catapults the reader to New York City in 2020. Samantha Goodyear and her friends are celebrating what would have been her Great Aunt Vivian’s ninety-sixth birthday with a special bottle of wine. Unfortunately, Viv had recently passed away. Aunt Vivian had taught Samantha about wines, and more importantly, how to follow her dreams and think outside the box.

Circumstances at Samantha’s job alternate with flashback stories from Vivian’s life in pre-Hitler Paris. Sheehan states that Samantha is based on a real-life Samantha whose sense of humor and adventurous spirit are shown when Samantha realizes that she didn’t want a job related to wine but wanted to make wine. The “impact of my epiphany” and encouraged by her aunt’s feisty, adventurous spirit, Samantha quits her well-paying job to volunteer as an unpaid grape harvester in the vineyards of France. She dreams of becoming a winemaker and willingly begins at the bottom cutting stems of grape clusters, then working in the assembly line. She faces romantic overtures and challenges as she learns the trade. The craft of winemaking is essential to the story.

Samantha tells her story in the first person, while Vivian’s story in Paris is related through her thoughts and dialog. Aunt Vivian’s influence on Samantha is evident as Samantha remembers her advice, “borrowing money from a friend, you should decide what you need most – the friend or the money.” Samantha struggles through heartache and trials, disappointments, and tragedy. She is overcome by CO2 gasses and falls into a fermentation vat. She survives an earthquake that destroys many barrels of aging wine. Broken dreams, dysfunctional parents, and kookie friends add to the complex plot.

Throughout the story, some of the dialogue and thoughts are in French, but the context is revealed through the text.  The references to Paris, WW II, and the French wine industry enhance the story. With detailed description of harvesting, the reader can visualize the process. “After a series of slices that only produced mangled vines, I found the correct stems that, when snipped, sent those tightly packed clusters into my gloved hand.” She learned that “ninety-five percent of winemaking involves sanitizing the floors, walls, and equipment.” Samantha also personally foot stomped her grapes.

Readers will never travel through wine country without respect for the diligent, intellectual, and physical hard work involved in growing, harvesting grapes, and creating distinctive wines. This is an informative as well as an entertaining novel.

Decanted beams readers with pinpoint accuracy to the heart and soul of the winemaking craft and on a vicariously magic carpet ride of Samantha’s romantic adventure skillfully conjured by Sheehan. It is a beautifully rendered sprawling tale that will charm and linger in the readers’ minds. 

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