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Book Review: Tangled Vines

The author, award-winning journalist, Frances Dinkelspiel, is drawn to the story of the worst case of wine arson in California history because a family member’s 175 historic bottles of Angelica and Port, passed down through generations, was lost in the tragic fire. Frances Dinkelspiel’s great-great-great-grandfather, Isaias Hellman, crafted the wines in 1875 from one of the oldest vineyards in California. The dark history of Isaias Hellman’s vineyard in Rancho Cucamonga, that includes murder and struggles for monopolies among rich men with an obsession for wine, is detailed as a backdrop for the modern story of how a demented, preposterous and blatantly crooked wine enthusiast, Mark Anderson, torched a warehouse in Vallejo, California (Wines Central) in 2005, destroying an estimated 4.5 million bottles of wine worth $400 million.

Central Napa Valley wine luminaries in this book include Delia Viader (Viader), Dick Ward (Saintsbury), and Ted Hall (Long Meadow Ranch), among others, whose dismay at losing valuable vintages and in some cases, irreplaceable libraries of wine, is related through interviews.

Dinkelspiel was also able to gain intimate interviews with Anderson to try to understand his motivation for such a horrific deed. Anderson remained evasive to the end, unable to fully admit his own wine obsession and selfserving greed that led to his actions.

This book is absolutely captivating! I simply could not put it down, and read it quickly over the course of two days. It is a remarkable piece of investigative journalism that will send shivers down your spine if you store wine in a storage facility. I immediately wanted to check the security and fire prevention system at the wine storage facility where I store all of my wines. This is the best wine book (and I read almost every new one published) I have read in several years. I guarantee you will be captivated.

Published by St. Martin’s Press, New York, hardback, 289 pages, 2015, $26.99.

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