Review: Tangled Vines by Frances Dinkelspiel

While the original thirteen colonies were fighting for independence from England in 1779, in California, Franciscans were perfecting wine. Tangled Vines depicts the fascinating history of California’s wines. It’s bookended by the story of the worst wine arson ever: In 2005, Mark Anderson set a wine warehouse on fire and destroyed over 4.5 million bottles of wine worth over 200 million dollars. The author learns that the bottles destroyed include an 1875 vintage produced by her own great-great grandfather: Isaias Hellman.

Tracing these bottles’ origin takes her back to Rancho Cucamonga, the Southern California town that once dominated the California wine industry. She chronicles the ups and downs of California wine — including a depressing period when vintners allowed hogs to run wild through their vineyards eating grapes because grape prices had plummeted beyond the practicality of production. With the gold rush of 1849, vintners prospered and customers rode through on horses decked with silver. Ms. Dinkelspiel describes a time when one could ride horseback for hours and see only cows in the wilderness that once defined California. When California became a state in 1850, laws that you probably didn’t hear about in history classes are passed that deny Native Americans the right to vote, deny Native Americans the right to testify against a white man in court, and allow Native Americans to be arrested for not working. This leads to exploitation by certain vintners. In the 20th Century, Bobby Mondavi led Northern California’s emergence as the dominant territory for California’s wines.

I listened to the Audible edition of Tangled Vines. Narrated superbly by Dina Pearlman, the audio version presents this well-written book with the engaging style of a favorite history teacher. Mark Anderson currently remains in a federal prison serving a 27 year sentence.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Tangled Vines from Audible in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

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