STARRED REVIEW
July 29, 2014

Uncorking a French mystery

By Maximillian Potter
One day in January 2010, Aubert de Villaine received a cardboard tube in the mail. Inside was a map of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, his vineyard, more detailed than any map he himself owned. There was also a note threatening to poison his vines unless a one million euro ransom was paid. Despite the detailed map, De Villaine doubted the threat, which turned out to be real; the vines were in fact poisoned. Shadows in the Vineyard is not a conventional true crime story, but then, poisoning the rarest and most expensive wine in the world is not your average crime.
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One day in January 2010, Aubert de Villaine received a cardboard tube in the mail. Inside was a map of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, his vineyard, more detailed than any map he himself owned. There was also a note threatening to poison his vines unless a one million euro ransom was paid. Despite the detailed map, De Villaine doubted the threat, which turned out to be real; the vines were in fact poisoned. Shadows in the Vineyard is not a conventional true crime story, but then, poisoning the rarest and most expensive wine in the world is not your average crime.

The prime suspect in the ransom plot defies expectation at every turn, executing an intricate, sophisticated plan with virtually no resources save his own two hands; he sent his ransom demand through the regular mail, and retrieved the money alone and on foot.

Author Maximillian Potter spreads the story of the crime out, taking numerous side trips into wine history both in France and California. Readers learn, for example, that during Prohibition, Paul Masson kept the Almaden winery solvent by growing grapes for “medicinal” wine under a legal loophole, predating medical cannabis by more than a century.

Whether you're an avid wine collector or find the notion of terroir terrifying, Shadows in the Vineyard uses this highly unusual story to immerse readers in the pleasures of the grape. Armchair tourists and those who can't pass by a historical crime landmark without taking photos will find it hard to put down.

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Shadows in the Vineyard

Shadows in the Vineyard

By Maximillian Potter
Twelve
ISBN 9781455516100

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