I am delighted to announce that the city of Whittier in Los Angeles County has selected Tangled Vines as its Whittier Reads selection for 2017. (As has the city of Benicia, but more on that later.) I will be delivering a lecture on April 7 and then attend a dinner put on by the Whittier Library Foundation later that evening. The Foundation is a major sponsor of the libraries. It raises about $600,000 a year to fund the library programming, which includes Whittier Reads.
In February, I had the honor of serving as the featured speaker at the HarvEst Distinguished Women Lecture Series at UC Berkeley. As part of that, I participated in an interview for the series “Interview with History,” with host Harry Kreisler. Here is that interview, which is an hour long. We discuss Tangled Vines, my first book, Towers of Gold, and the founding of Berkeleyside. I also talk about my influences growing up.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and when I reflect on 2015 I realize I have much to be grateful for, particularly in my professional life. There were definitely some sad moments – my stepfather died at 92, I had to cover the death of six young adults who plunged to their deaths from a rotted balcony in Berkeley, among other things.
But Tangled Vines went out into the world and was greeted more enthusiastically than I ever expected. For some reason, I was very nervous about the reception for this book, more nervous than before my first book, Towers of Gold, was released. I doubted that the story was sufficiently significant and worried that no one would want to read about this huge arson fire and my quest to understand the significance of losing 175 bottles of Port made by my great-great grandfather in 1875.
It probably was second book syndrome. The first time you write and publish a book you have no idea how it will change your life and how it makes you a “public” person about whom people both praise and criticize. But I am not complaining. It turned out well. Here are some of the highlights of 2015 :
I got the call all author’s dream about.
In my case, it was an email. On Monday, Nov. 16, my editor at St. Martins Press, Michael Flamini, sent me a message.
“Tangled Vines” is #10 on the NYT monthly crime bestsellers list!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yahoo! We can now say, on any reprint and the paperback, “New York Times Bestseller”!!!!!
He then sent me the link.
I was flabbergasted. I knew Tangled Vines had been selling briskly in the Bay Area. (It made the San Francisco Chronicle/NCIBA bestseller list for the week ending Oct. 25, 2015. But to get on the NYT list, a book has to sell well throughout the United States. (I think. The methodology is a tightly guarded secret). I had no idea my book was selling elsewhere.
I have been having a great time touring around talking about Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist on the Vineyards of California. I am in Los Angeles as I write this, taking a breather after talking at The Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, the Galleano Winery in Mira Loma in Riverside County, the Huntington Library in San Marino, and the Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles. In between I had a newspaper and radio interview! I am not complaining – far from it – but tired since all those events were crammed into three days.
Tangled Vines was officially published on Tuesday Oct. 6. On Wednesday, I did my first outreach for the book. I went to Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park to appear on In Deep, a radio show hosted by Angie Coiro. Many Bay Area residents will remember Angie from her days as a traffic announcer. Then she was on KQED. Now she has an independent radio show that is broadcast on WPWC in Washington D.C. as well as on the web. Angie asked some great questions about the book, the crime, and the history of wine. It was clear she had read the book (not a given in an interview) and knew its main points.
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, much of the Catholic world was focused on the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. Pope Francis, a pope who has come to symbolize the rights of the poor and downtrodden, anointed Junipero Serra a saint. In doing so, the Pope cast light on the brutal history and treatment of Native Americans during the Mission period.
But Californians shouldn’t sit back smugly and think that violence against Indians was just a problem of the Franciscans. Serra, a citizen of Spain, may have started the trend of forcing Indians to work against their will, but the Mexicans and Americans who assumed control over California at different points in the 19th Century were worse in many ways.
In working on Tangled Vines, the most disturbing part of my research has been the realization that Native Americans paid the highest personal price for the development of the wine business. California wine may now earn international accolades and generate $24.6 billion a year, but the industry was founded on a philosophy of greed and violence.
My forthcoming book, Tangled Vines, focuses on the largest crime involving wine in history: an arson fire that destroyed 4.5 million bottles of wine worth $250 million.
The book also traces the life one of the bottles lost in the fire. It was made in 1875 in a vineyard in Rancho Cucamonga in southern California by my great-great grandfather, Isaias Hellman.
I did a lot of research on the history of California wine for my book and found some fun things.
Here are five little-known facts about California wine:
1) The Franciscan fathers were the first to plant grapes in California. Father Junipero Serra wrote to his bosses in Baja California in the late 18th century and asked that they ship grapevines north. The grapes were planted at Mission San Juan Capistrano near Los Angeles. They were named Mission grapes and became the primary grape used for making wine throughout the 1880s, even though the wine they produced was flat and bland. Historians think the first harvest in California was in 1782.