A dissatisfied Manhattan office dweller escapes to Chilean wine country in Benjamin’s rich debut novel.
The unnamed protagonist experiences a series of frustrating social and career hiccups that persuade him to pursue his passion for fine wine. After some time learning the profession in the vineyards of upstate New York, he heads to rural South America, where the growing season has just begun. There he meets party guy Mauricio, spunky Jessi, beautiful Carolina, damaged Sonia, irritable Oscar and other men and women who’ve also come to work for the upcoming season, or vintage. Because Gringo—as the protagonist is called by his new friends, including a romantic interest—intends to stay only through the vintage, he tries to maintain his status as an outsider. As the season goes on, however, he grows more attached to his friends and girlfriend than he’s willing to admit. When a visa technicality requires him to leave for a short time, Gringo has to consider where he wants to be when the vintage concludes: stay in town or move on to another winery with a different growing season? And is he truly willing to begin a new life in Chile and give up the one he left in the U.S.? The story moves at an unhurried pace, allowing characters to slowly reveal themselves and their pasts. Likewise, the depiction of daily life in the Chilean winery community feels authentic, not overly gritty or idealized. Expert details about the culture and process of winemaking are seamlessly woven into the narrative, and lush descriptions of the different wines may have readers reaching for a glass. One paragraph early in the book gives away an important plot point that would have been better uncovered in its own time, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of joining Gringo on his journey.
A smooth, mellow read with notes of inspiration and drama, and a satisfying finish.