I shared my review of Madame Pommery by Rebecca Rosenberg in an earlier post and I am pleased to welcome the author back today with an excerpt from the novel. Please read on to learn about the book and to experience a small piece of this exciting story.
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About Madame Pommery:
Champagne, France, 1860. Madame Pommery, an etiquette teacher and orphanage founder, loses her husband and is forced to support her family. With no experience, the forty-year-old widow decides to make champagne. Her unique vision is to change it from a sweet dessert beverage to a dry, crisp wine to be enjoyed anytime.
When champagne makers refuse to teach her their craft, she forges ahead on her own and secretly begins the excavation of champagne caves under the Reims city dump.
Soon after, her son and her entire crew are conscripted to fight the Franco-Prussian war, leaving Madame Pommery alone to struggle with her champagne dreams. After Napoleon and a hundred thousand French troops are captured, the Prussians invaded France, and Prussian General Frederick Franz occupies Madame Pommery’s house as his army headquarters.
Undaunted, Pommery uses her secret wine caves to hide the Francs-Tireurs, resistance fighters for France, while she plans to build a spectacular castle winery above the caves.
But when her former lover, a Scottish Baron, unexpectedly proposes marriage, Madame Pommery must choose between nobility and her passionate quest for fine champagne and the most beautiful winery in the world.
Based on a true story, Madame Pommery is a heroic novel about a mother and widow who fights the Prussians, the social class system, champagne patriarchs, and champagne tastes to create a champagne legacy.
You can purchase Madame Pommery on Amazon.com
About the Author:
Follow Rebecca Rosenberg on Amazon: award-winning novelist, champagne geek, and lavender farmer. Rebecca first fell in love with methode champenoise in Sonoma Valley, California. Over decades of delicious research, she has explored the wine cellars of France, Spain, Italy, and California in search of fine champagne.
When Rebecca discovered the real-life stories of the Champagne Widows of France, she knew she’d dedicate years to telling the stories of these remarkable women who made champagne the worldwide phenomenon it is today.
Rebecca is a champagne historian, tour guide, and champagne cocktail expert for Breathless Wines. Other award-winning novels include The Secret Life of Mrs. London and Gold Digger, the Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor.
Reims, Champagne, France, 1858.
If it wasn’t for the vital volume of Etiquette for Ladies weighing down my lap, I would float away with my dear Louis, who I pray is knocking at heaven’s gates by now. The waxy body before me is not my Louis, no longer smelling of lanolin from working the wool. His lips and cheeks are painted with embalmer’s rouge in a grotesque likeness of the trollops at Le Palais Alhambra brothel.
My husband was a simple man who would have preferred his untouched body encased in a plain pine box. Why did I let Reynard Wolfe convince me to embalm and inter Louis in an extravagant casket of walnut burl inlaid with brass and pewter? Wolfe, Louis’s banker and executor, appealed to my sense of societal duty. “Madame Pommery, as the very pillar of Reims society, you would certainly be expected to maintain Louis Pommery’s dignity as a respected businessman.”
Dignity my eye. Louis puffed up and painted like a suckling pig? May as well have an apple stuffed in his mouth. I’ve kept our two-year-old daughter in the nursery with her nanny, Lucille. No one should remember their parent in a box looking so unnatural. I shudder at the thought, and Madame DuBois wraps a shawl over my shoulders against the chill.
“Merci.” I pat her hand. She’s been with me every moment since I started the Saint Remi Auxiliary for the orphanage. The other auxiliary ladies babble on about Louis—how steadfast, gentle, and loyal he was, never once mentioning his failing wool and wine business. I’ve given them all Etiquette for Ladies.
Their words drift to the ceiling with the candle smoke, as my fingers examine the gift Louis gave me last year for my thirty-ninth birthday. I’d hoped for canvas and paints, but he gave me a chatelaine. “Everything you ever need hanging from your belt.” He’d demonstrated each item with such pride, I hid my disappointment. “Thimble, watch, scissors, and measuring tape for your needlework, a funnel for your oils, a pencil, a pantry key, a wax letter seal, and a vial of smelling salts. Uncorking the vial, I breathe in the stinging vapors of camphor, which smell like embalming fluid.
“It’s time, Madame Pommery.” Reynard Wolfe dons a Bavarian hat from his homeland.
My son, Louis’s namesake, squeezes my hand. A flesh-and- blood image of his father with his brooding brow and broad shoulders. So grown up in his military school uniform, yet sweat beads his upper lip. Still a boy at seventeen.
As Father Pieter closes the coffin lid, I steal a last look at the man who is not really here. “Wait.” I pluck a rose from the vase and lay it on his folded hands that feel so cold. My son helps Narcisse Greno with his coat. My husband’s partner has aged overnight. His head quivers. Thick lenses enlarge his cloudy eyes. An ear trumpet sticks out from his breast pocket. The rest of the pallbearers pull on fur-lined gloves and black overcoats over blacker mourning suits.
Henry Vasnier, my husband’s young apprentice, wears the same suit he wears every Sunday for church.
He has a fresh cut under his long sideburns and a bit of lather behind his ear. No wife yet to help him catch those things. Reynard Wolfe positions the esteemed Mayor Werle and Doctor DuBois at the head of the coffin. I imagine it’s so the crowd outside will see these important men first in the procession.
As the widow, I am forbidden to join the procession. That bitter pill sticks in my throat. The men lift the coffin, and I jump up from my chair. The weighty Etiquette for Ladies falls on my foot with a sharp blow. Catching myself on the casket, the pallbearers buckle under my added weight.
“I want to go to the cemetery,” I say, my foot aching. “Madame Pommery, you of all people know only men walk behind the hearse wagon,” Wolfe scolds. “I will make sure Monsieur Pommery is buried properly. Your friends will keep you company.”
The Saint Remi Auxiliary ladies gape at me, shocked at my outburst. They do not expect such misbehavior from me. I turn my head to the banker. “Please, Monsieur Wolfe, I must accompany my husband to his grave.”
“You must set a good example, Madame, or all your etiquette lessons are for naught.”
I grit my teeth. If I do not live by the rules I teach, my integrity is lost. “Get on with it then.” The men carry the coffin outside, and Old Greno grunts under the weight. Louis takes a wider grip, trying to help. Limping after them on my sore foot, I watch them load my husband into the shadowy hearse wagon. A forlorn moan escapes my throat, and I bite down on my thumbnail. The auxiliary ladies surround me, simpering and sniveling.
The wagon lurches off, and black-shrouded horses slip on cobblestones. Despite the snow, townspeople line the street on both sides. Women wave black lace handkerchiefs as the hearse passes. A procession of fine carriages and gigs slog through the slippery street, wheels squealing. My nanny, Lucille, brings out my daughter, who is flushed and tearful.
“Papa? Papa? Where Papa?” Little Louise totters to me.
“I am sorry, Madame. She will not stop asking for him.” Lucille tucks dark curls into her kerchief. Even with her hair covered, the Jewess provokes the auxiliary’s glares. Her cavernous eyes, perfect oval face and aquiline nose cannot go unnoticed, yet she never flaunts her beauty. Louise presses her red rumpled face into my breast and wails. The auxiliary ladies’ eyes bulge like moor fish, and they cover their disapproval with black silk fans. Something snaps inside me. “Thank you for your kindness, ladies. You have been a great comfort to me.”
Hugging Louise close, I wind my way through them and out to the carriage house. “Etiquette can be tricky, Louise.” I strap her in the gig. “Inevitably, one finds oneself in a predicament where rules do not apply, or worse, they contradict each other. When that happens, one must listen to one’s heart for direction.” Snapping Beau’s reins, I turn him toward Saint Remi.
I will not allow my husband to be buried without me.