The Widows of Champagne

Renee Ryan

Love Inspired Pub

July 27th 2021

The Widows of Champagne by Renee Ryan is the story of a family struggling to survive in Nazi occupied France. Three widows who lost their beloved husbands must now protect their livelihood, the Chateau Fouche-LeBlanc vineyard in Reims, after it was requisitioned by the Nazis. 

“I set the story in and around a vineyard that is the LeBlanc family livelihood.  The Nazi occupiers shipped all the wine to the front to give to the soldiers.  It is based on a true story.  A lot of widows ran these vineyards because they lost their husbands during WWI.  For example, there were the widows Veuve Clicquot, Elisabeth Law de Lauriston Bollinger, and Marie-Louise Lanson de Nanoncourt.”

The plot has wine merchant, Helmut Von Schmidt, now turned Nazi Captain in the Wehrmacht, requisitioning the LeBlanc home and stealing their wine for the German troops. Throughout the days he appears as Lord over the women and the manor.  

“He is self-indulgent, self-promoting, and narcissistic. He used the war for his own purposes.  Just like him, a lot of the SS men forwarded their own agenda.  He is a bully, thief, controlling, opportunistic, and has no regard for women.  He took away Helene’s dignity and independence. Each of the widows were able to use their wits. Helene is the former Parisian socialite who is witty, charming, and brave.  She appeared to be a collaborator but is doing what must be done to save her family.  Josephine is the boss until she realizes she is becoming confused.  As the matriarch of the family, she has passed the running of the vineyards to her granddaughter Gabrielle. She is very courageous. Gabrielle is the fighter and very responsible. Paulette is spoiled and entitled.  She represents those children who have yet to grow up. All the women are trying to find their own way.”

But the three widows come up with a plan.  Josephine, the family matriarch, a grandmother to Gabrielle, another widow, will use her early stages of dementia, appearing confused.  She and Gabrielle appear to struggle for control over the vineyard so that Von Schmidt must have all his dealings with the granddaughter. Helene, Josephine’s daughter-in-law, has the worst chore, to be the social secretary and a mistress to Von Schmidt.  Her two daughters, Gabrielle and Paulette, struggle to understand why their mother seems to have turned into a collaborator. Gabrielle fights to defend her vineyard and her country by joining the French resistance movement.  She does not understand why she is both fearful and enchanted with Gestapo Detective Wolfgang Mueller, who searches out French citizens.  Completely unlike Gabrielle, Paulette is young and selfish and has an SS boyfriend. The three widows struggle to keep each other alive, out of the Nazi grasp, and to make sure the Nazis do not find out their secrets.

“I wanted to show how Helene was not a collaborator. People make assumptions without asking the questions.  It was assumed that these women were able to make choices, while for many it was their only choice.  Survival for themselves or their family should be considered very noble, such as Helene. But there were also the ones like Coco Chanel, women more like Von Schmidt.  Since I worked for Chanel for a time, I learned how she hated these Jewish brothers. The Nazi seizure of all Jewish-owned property and business enterprises, provided Chanel with the opportunity to gain back the full monetary fortune generated by Parfums Chanel and its most profitable product, Chanel No. 5. The directors of Parfums Chanel, the Wertheimer brothers, were Jewish. Chanel used her position as an “Aryan” to petition German officials to legalize her claim to sole ownership.”

This is a story of resistance, betrayal and heartache. It delves into the sacrifices and risks people will take to protect what they love. 



Recommend to friends
  • gplus
  • pinterest

About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.