Heralded as “impossible to put down” (Elle), and named a Best Book of the Summer by Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Marie Claire, and Us Weekly, Eight Hundred Grapes is a heartbreaking, funny, and deeply evocative novel about love, marriage, family, wine, and the treacherous terrain in which they all intersect.
There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide… What if your beloved fiancé, he of the crinkly smile and irresistible British accent, had kept a life-changing secret from you? And what if, just a week before your dream wedding, you discovered it?
Georgia Ford, bride-to-be, hops in her car and drives through the night, from Los Angeles to Sonoma, to her safe haven: her family, and the acclaimed family winery. Georgia craves the company of those who know her best, and whom she truly knows. Better yet, it’s the eve of the last harvest—the best time of the growing season, and Georgia knows she’ll find solace—and distraction—in the familiar rituals. But when Georgia arrives home, nothing is at all familiar. Her parents, her brothers, the family business, are all unrecognizable. It seems her fiancé isn’t the only one who’s been keeping secrets…
Eight Hundred Grapes is a story about the messy realities of family, the strength (and weaknesses) of romantic love, and the importance of finding a place to call home. “This winning tale will both satisfy on a literary level and encourage oenophiles to pour themselves a glass of a recent vintage to enjoy while reading; it’s a tasty treat for wine lovers and teetotalers alike” (Publishers Weekly). You won’t be able to put this “addictive” (Us Weekly) novel down.
This reading group guide for Eight Hundred Grapes includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Laura Dave. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In law school, Georgia Ford made her twin brothers sign a pact to never take over their family’s vineyard. There was no way she was going to get stuck in the tiny Californian town she had known all her life. Years later, Georgia’s life seems to be on track. She’s a successful lawyer engaged to a handsome British man who is ready to whisk her away to a chic new life in London.
But just a week before her dream wedding, Georgia discovers that her supposedly perfect fiancé has been hiding a life-changing secret: a four-year-old daughter that he unwittingly conceived with a beautiful movie star. Devastated, she flees north to the one place she was determined never to use as a safety net. Upon her return home, however, Georgia realizes that her fiancé is not the only one with secrets. The family business is crumbling, and it’s up to her to save the vineyard from its last harvest.
Eight Hundred Grapes is an astonishing portrait of an American family seeking solace where they least expect it, and their desperate attempt to find solid ground.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Discuss the myth of the yellow VW bug and the Ford family’s belief in “synchronization” as opposed to fate. How does this theory evolve over the course of the novel?
2. Do you think Georgia feels she has agency in the beginning of the story? The end? Is she right?
3. Georgia has made a lot of life choices to avoid repeating an upbringing that involved unpredictability. How does your life resist or yield to your own childhood? Discuss how that relates to the definition of “concerto” and its varying degrees of cooperation and opposition.
4. As twins, Finn and Bobby are often at odds with each other. In what ways do you think they are alike? Why do you think it’s so difficult for them to connect?
5. The one common denominator for the Ford siblings is love of their mother’s lasagna. Do you have a similar tradition in your family? What brings you together, no matter what?
6. Discuss the role of the contract that Georgia asks her brothers to sign. Why is she so afraid of the vineyard? Can you relate?
7. How does forgiveness play into this story? Could you forgive Ben for hiding Maddie? Could you forgive Finn for kissing Margaret?
8. Georgia insists on doing everything in her power to stop her loved ones from doing something they’ll regret. Discuss her mother’s response, “But which way is regret?” What do you think she means here?
9. Why is Jacob unexpectedly appealing to Georgia? Discuss their similarities, both in personality and life paths.
10. Georgia’s father has many rules of winemaking, like: “If you do your job,” then, “you make good soil.” He also has “a theory that what was equally as important as the wine you presented in your vintage was the wine you left out of the vintage. In winemaking, this was known as declassification.” How do these rules apply to decision making on a larger scale? Do you think Georgia abides by them?
11. Who are Georgia’s “have-to-haves” at the end of the novel? Who are the have-to-haves in your own life?
12. Ben takes full responsibility for lying, but Finn points out that Georgia wasn’t necessarily tuned in to her fiancé. Discuss whether there are two sides to every conflict, even when something seems black and white.
13. Do you think that Georgia will be happy running the vineyard and being with Jacob? Why or why not? What’s the biggest lesson she has learned?
Tips to Enhance Your Book Club
1. This is the perfect excuse to make a wine tasting part of your book club! Research local vineyards and be adventurous about trying vintages outside your comfort zone.
2. According to the Ford family, both music and wine rely on synchronization. Patronize a concert together, whether it’s a symphony or something simpler.
3. Check out Laura Dave’s other incredible novels, The First Husband, The Divorce Party, and London is the Best City in America. Discuss which is your favorite and why.
4. Laura Dave has created a special wine pairings–guide for book clubs: (http://sns-production-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/assets_us/winepairingsforbookclubs.pdf). Use her guide to make your book club meetings extra special!
A Conversation with Laura Dave
I have to ask, did you have a particular celebrity in mind when you wrote Michelle? How did you research her character?
Funny. No, Michelle is entirely her own. Michelle serves, in my mind, as kind of a glorified version of Georgia’s insecurity: a person that looms large in Georgia’s imagination and always manages to make her feel inadequate. That’s why I have Michelle show up at the moments that Georgia looks terrible. Symbolically, if not literally, Michelle is going to elicit that feeling for Georgia until she deals with herself.
Separate from Georgia, I have great fondness for Michelle. She is searching for family, for connection. And even if she’s arguably doing it the wrong way, I like that we see her kindness with Maddie, her kindness with Ben. I like to think she holds on to her family despite herself.
Speaking of research, you spent a lot of time in Sebastapol—home of the Last Straw Vineyard. Tell us what that experience was like. What surprised you about the winemaking process?
Western Sonoma County is such a special place. I started exploring Sebastopol in particular shortly after moving to California, and the more time I spend there, the more it’s become a place I hold dear. There are a lot of changes in Sebastopol, and yet, it remains true to itself.
To really understand that region though, you have to get down and dirty with the winemaking—and that has been the greatest treat of all. I was fortunate to spend time with some of the best winemakers in the world, and watching their devotion to their craft was so inspiring.
To answer your question about the most surprising part of the winemaking process? The barreling and blending process was especially interesting. My husband equated it to watching a master chef make a stew. It was fascinating.
Do you have a favorite wine? What is your go to? What do you drink on special occasions?
I like prosecco a lot. Even if you’re a champagne drinker, I could share a few types of dry prosecco that would turn your head. And even the great ones won’t run you more than fourteen dollars.
My true love though is a red wine. I’ve been indoctrinated. I love a Tuscan red. My passion though is for premium domestic wines from small vineyards that believe in low-yields and sustainable harvesting. I’m especially partial to a great California Pinot Noir. Lynmar Estate’s Quail Hill Pinot is among my favorites. It’s jammy and delicious. Their vineyard is my first stop in Sonoma County.
Tell us about your writing process for this book. Did it differ at all from your three previous novels?
Every novel is so different. For Eight Hundred Grapes, I was playing with an image for a long time of a woman showing up at her hometown bar on what should have been her wedding day. I didn’t know who she was talking to, and I didn’t know why she had come home, but that woman stayed with me. Somewhere along the line, I also started thinking about winemaking—how it was such an expression of faith and patience. How it required you to give it everything you had. Which seemed to me a metaphor for marriage and family and building a life that matters. Suddenly I knew where the woman in the wedding dress was going. And this novel was born.
You have vast experience in the media industry, from magazine writing to radio to television. What has been the greatest challenge for you thus far?
I don’t know about that, but it’s been interesting to learn how different mediums require different ways of thinking about story. I’m currently writing the screenplay for Eight Hundred Grapes (which is in development at Fox 2000), and even though it’s based on the novel, it has taken on a different life as we turn it into a movie. It’s challenging in a great way to tell the Fords’ story on the big screen.
Which character surprised you the most as you developed the story? Who would you most like to return to?
I don’t write an outline, so everyone is constantly surprising me! I figure if the characters are surprising me then my readers are going to get to have that same great experience. I have a real affinity for Jacob, who was full of surprises. I knew he felt things for Georgia, but I had no idea what he was going to do about those feelings: How would he reconcile his desire to be a good person with his new position at his company? He couldn’t possibly give Georgia back her vineyard, could he? Yet, could he walk away from this family he was starting to care about? At the moment when I realized what he was going to do, I found it very rewarding.
As for the character that I’d most like to return to, I have to pick Ben.
Do you have a big family? Which Ford sibling do you most relate to—Georgia, Finn, or Bobby?
I have a small and very loving family. Though I’ve always dreamed of a big family—lots of people running around causing all kinds of trouble. So, with the Ford family, I relate to all of them and, at times, none of them.
I adore the Ford family, but they all feel like wildcards. Especially as I moved deeper into the writing, the Fords were doing things I wouldn’t normally do, and I felt myself holding my breath that each of them would find their way through. My heart breaks for all of them, and I’m rooting for all of them. So I guess, surprisingly, I most see myself in Jen Ford, the mother character, who just wants her children to come through for one another and for themselves.
What’s up next? Do you have another novel in the works? What can you tell us about it?
It’s a lot of fun. The protagonist is unlike any protagonist I’ve ever written about before. She’s a pretty awful person—at least she appears to be upon meeting her. At the same time, she would be the first to say that about herself, which automatically makes you root for her, probably more than you should. Without spilling too many of the beans, I will say it’s a redemption story about the power of lying and the power of finding something like the truth.
Laura Dave is the international bestselling author of Hello, Sunshine, Eight Hundred Grapes, The First Husband, The Divorce Party, and London Is the Best City in America. Her novels have been published in eighteen countries and optioned as major motion pictures. Dave’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, Self, Redbook, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Santa Monica.