Itâs hard to believe that Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the Worldâs Greatest Wine by Maximillian Potter is a true story. From start to finish, it feels like a mystery thriller at its best. Instead, itâs the story of how Domaine de la RomanÃ©e Conti, one of the worldâs most celebrated wine producers, faced potential disaster at the hands of an extortionist intent on ruining the lifeâs work of owner Aubert de Villaine.
I donât always read wine books, though, as I mentioned, Iâve been reading a fair amount lately. Among the other books I read, mysteries arenât usually on the list. Thereâs a few memoirs in there, mostly educational stuff, and every once and awhile I still harken back to my preferred reading growing up and lose myself in fantasy worlds where the hero was almost always an average teenager who ended up becoming a hero and saving the world Harry Potter style. Not that I ever wanted to be that hero. Right.
Mysteries like this rarely seem to intrigue me, but involving wine, itâs a different story. And, when the story is about one of the rarest and most expensive wines in the world, a wine that all wine lovers know and revere regardless of their individual styles and preferences for Burgundy or expensive wine, I had to know more. What struck me more, is that even though all this transpired just seven years ago, I had never heard about it. It was shortly after I really started getting into wine, but it seemed so egregious that I couldnât believe more wasnât made of it, like a movie.
The story goes, Jacques Soltys, who grew up in Burgundy but did not care for wine, a man who was clearly troubled, decided to hold hostage one of Franceâs national treasures. And yet, while in many places this might mean paintings or sculptures, or people, to France, this means wine. And not just any wine, but Domaine de la RomanÃ©e Conti or DRC, located in the town of Vosne-RomanÃ©e, a region just recently named a UNESCO World Heritage site making it not just a treasure for France, but the entire world. Somehow, Soltys found a way to systematically poison the vines of one of DRCâs vineyard and led M. Villaine and the police on an elaborate chase full of anonymous ransom notes, cryptic maps, and hidden bunkers.
Through it all, the author, Potter, tells the history of DRC, how the de Villaine family came to be involved in DRC, and their relationship to their neighbors, which is not always rosy. Perhaps it comes with the territory of being famous, but I was shocked by how much drama could surround one tiny producer. But the part I was probably most fascinated with, wasnât even the story. Instead, I loved thinking about being in Burgundy, driving or walking along the narrow, winding streets, as Potter was in researching the book, and getting to talk with de Villaine, learning about this famed producer from the inside. My mind almost always goes to thinking about the places where the stories take place and what it would be like to be there, to smell the air of the vineyard, and, of course, to taste the wines that they must have drunk together. This is what makes a good book to me.
However, the story here, certainly did excite. Iâm not sure how well movies about wine play out here in the US--if A Walk in the Clouds is any indication, well--but this would be bound to make a good thriller. At the very least, it was a worthwhile read, especially if you want to picture yourself sipping wine among the stone walls and manicured vineyards of Burgundy.