I am very excited to announce that my new book, Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California will be published on Oct. 6, 2015 by St. Martin’s Press.
I have been working on this book since late 2009, ever since I wrote a story for the New York Times about an arsonist who destroyed 4.5 million bottles of fine California wine worth more than $250 million. The culprit set fire to a wine warehouse in Vallejo in October 2005. Four years later, he was about to go to trial for the crime.
It was only later that I realized that 175 bottles of wine made by my great great grandfather Isaias Hellman in 1875 in Rancho Cucamonga were burned up in that fire. I had long wanted to write about Hellman’s involvement in wine. For my first book, Towers of Gold, I had examined Hellman’s role in the banking industry, as well as other endeavors, but I had glossed over his role as a wine maker and businessman. I realized in 2010 that I might have my next book topic – an examination of the arson, the largest involving wine in history, with a special focus on that 130-year old bottle and how it came to be.
Here is the publisher’s description of my book:
“On October 12, 2005, a massive fire broke out in the Wines Central wine warehouse in Vallejo, California. Within hours, the flames had destroyed 4.5 million bottles of California’s finest wine worth more than $250 million, making it the largest destruction of wine in history. The fire had been deliberately set by a passionate oenophile named Mark Anderson, a skilled con man and thief with storage space at the warehouse who needed to cover his tracks. With a propane torch and a bucket of gasoline-soaked rags, Anderson annihilated entire California vineyard libraries as well as bottles of some of the most sought-after wines in the world. Among the priceless bottles destroyed were 175 bottles of Port and Angelica from one of the oldest vineyards in California made by Frances Dinkelspiel’s great-great grandfather, Isaias Hellman, in 1875.
Sadly, Mark Anderson was not the first to harm the industry. The history of the California wine trade is a story of vineyards with dark and bloody pasts, tales of rich men, strangling monopolies, the brutal enslavement of vineyard workers and murder. Five of the wine trade murders were associated with Isaias Hellman’s vineyard in Rancho Cucamonga beginning with the killing of John Rains who owned the land at the time. He was shot several times, dragged from a wagon and left off the main road for the coyotes to feed on.
In her new book, Frances Dinkelspiel looks beneath the casually elegant veneer of California’s wine regions to find the obsession, greed and violence lying in wait. Few people sipping a fine California Cabernet can even guess at the Tangled Vines where its life began.”
This book was a lot of fun to write as I got to interview winemakers, ATF agents, a U.S. Attorney and Mark Anderson, as well as spend many hours in the Bancroft Library, the Huntington Library, and the California Historical Association looking through old letters and business documents.
If you want to hear me talk about the book, please check out my upcoming events. I hope to see you at one of them.