Book Review: Tangled Vines by Frances Dinkelspiel

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Photo courtesy St. Martin's Press

Photo courtesy St. Martin’s Press

The book for review today is Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California by Frances Dinkelspiel (just released on October 6, 2015).

Just glancing at the title of the book, I first thought this was going to be a novel. Turns out, I was very wrong! In general, I am a huge fan of true crime stories be it in book, visual, or audio formats, so knowing that is exactly what I was about to get myself into made me very excited to read the book.

Tangled Vines by Frances Dinkelspiel opens your eyes to the dark side of the wine industry in California and is written in such a page-turning way that if you didn’t know any better, you would think you were reading a novel. Dinkelspiel is able to capture some of the dark corners of California wine history in such a spell-binding way, that you don’t realize how far into the book you’ve gotten in such a short period of time until something else distracts you.

The book opens with the 2005 arson of the Wines Central warehouse building in Vallejo, California and uses the personal and historical connections to the people and wines in that fire to lead into other tragic and downright scandalous events that have rocked the California wine industry throughout its entire history. Parts of each story are interspersed in chapters non-chronologically throughout the book, making you want to turn those pages even faster so you might find some resolution to each one. If you prefer your stories to be completely chronological, you may not be totally happy with the layout, but the book is so well written that I think you’ll get over that stylistic decision relatively quickly.

To tie into some of the early history of California wine, Dinkelspiel describes one particular wine destroyed in the fire at the Wines Central warehouse, the 175 bottles of Port and Angelica made by her great-great-grandfather in 1875 from a vineyard at Rancho Cucamonga in southern California. Determined to learn more about this wine and how it came to be in her possession, Dinkelspiel uncovers a dark past to the property, leading to greed and murder multiple times over.

In Tangled Vines, Dinkelspiel follows the trial and eventual conviction of the warehouse

Photo By Unsigned cut; presumably original copyright holder was J. Gundlach & Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By Unsigned cut; presumably original copyright holder was J. Gundlach & Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

fire arsonist, Mark Anderson, and delves more deeply into the reasons why he did it in the first place, and how his convoluted reality led him to not only defraud many of his clients of their wines, but also to destroy the hopes, dreams, and memories of scores of other innocent victims who happened to store their wines in the Wine Central Warehouse.

Tangled Vines pulls together the human element of these tragedies beautifully, and allows the reader to more fully understand exactly what these crimes mean not only from a historical and economic perspective, but also a personal and emotionally private perspective. Even though millions of dollars of wines were lost in the fire, Dinkelspiel is successful in presenting how even the seemingly most dire of tragedies can pull together a community in its darkest times, and how as united individuals we can overcome whatever obstacle is thrown our way.

I recommend Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California by Frances Dinkelspiel to anyone who enjoys true crime, drama, and history, particularly as it relates to California wine. So, get yourself the book, grab yourself a nice glass of wine, and enjoy!

To purchase the book, you may do so by following any one of the links below:

1 comment for “Book Review: Tangled Vines by Frances Dinkelspiel

  1. October 11, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Sounds great. Thanks for the review!

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