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Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of a Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine [Hardcover]

Maximillian Potter

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Book Description

28 Aug 2014

When Maximilian Potter went to Burgundy to report for Vanity Fair on a crime that could have destroyed the Domaine de la Romanée Conti-the tiny, storied vineyard that produces the most expensive, exquisite wines in the world-he soon found a story that was much larger, and more thrilling, than he had originally imagined.

In January 2010, Aubert de Villaine, the famed proprietor of the DRC, received an anonymous note threatening the destruction of his priceless vines by poison-a crime that in the world of high-end wine is akin to murder-unless he paid a one million euro ransom. Villaine believed it to be a sick joke, but that proved a fatal miscalculation; the crime was committed and shocked this fabled region of France. The sinister story that Potter uncovered would lead to a sting operation by top Paris detectives, the primary suspect's suicide, and a dramatic trial. This botanical crime threatened to destroy the fiercely traditional culture surrounding the world's greatest wine.

Like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, SHADOW IN THE VINEYARD takes us deep into a captivating world full of fascinating characters, small town French politics, an unforgettable narrative, and a local culture defined by the twinned veins of excess and vitality and the deep reverent attention to the land that run through it.

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Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of a Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine + Land and Wine: The French Terroir
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve (28 Aug 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455516104
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455516100
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 15.8 x 2.7 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 49,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A gripping crime drama more creative than most procedurals, and Potter does excellent working in fleshing out both the involved players and the historical context of the Burgundy region and its oenophiles." ""The Daily Beast"""

Book Description

Journalist Maximilian Potter uncovers a fascinating plot to destroy the vines of La Romanee-Conti, Burgundy's finest and most expensive wine.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By TOM O'CONNOR - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have been torn between my competing impulses of not being able to put "Shadows in the Vineyard" down and a contradictory desire to extend the time it takes for me to finish this book for as long as possible so as to prolong its enjoyment. The character development and imagery are incredibly vivid and seamlessly melded across time and geography. When you combine this with a love of historical writing and historical fiction as well as crime and mystery novels, "Shadows in the Vineyard" has accomplished at least a trifecta of everything that is dear to me in a book. Although this book is non-fiction, it reads like a novel and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Love Letter to a Vineyard 13 Aug 2014
By R. Hardy - Published on
There are plenty of true crime books out there. _Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine _(Twelve) by Maximillian Potter tells the story, as the subtitle points out, of a unique crime, and one that after this book, readers will hope does not inspire copycats. The crime - pay me off or I will poison your vines - is related in less than half of the pages of Potter’s book, so if you just want a police procedural, look elsewhere. The other pages are about wine lore stretching back over the centuries and about the current family holdings and production status of the esteemed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (known as the DRC in the business) in the Burgundy region. They aren’t filler; they help show wine culture, the importance of this particular vintage, and how horrifying the crime could have been. I know nothing about wines, slightly less than Potter did when he started investigating this story. He was a crime reporter, and true to the image, he had stuck to beer and whiskey. He learns plenty while working on this story, and has obviously enjoyed recounting the bizarre crime during the length of the book and the meandering but colorful asides throughout. Also, lucky fellow, he has gotten to enjoy the wines themselves.

The DRC would be a good target for extortion. It produces red wines that are regarded as the pinnacle of viniculture. Some of them can cost $10,000 a bottle. Jacques Soltys knew something about wine. He was a failed bank robber and kidnapper, and hatched the plot of kidnapping vines while he was in prison. One evening in January 2010 the Grand Monsieur of the DRC, the elderly Aubert de Villaine, found a ransom note along with a detailed map of the vines of the DRC. The French equivalent of the FBI went to work, initially thinking it was an inside job, and amazed to find when it came time to pay off the ransom in a quiet local cemetery that there was no truck full of gun-toting hoods, no motorcyclist who sped away with the duffel bag full of money, but only a man who casually appeared from nowhere, picked up the bag, and sauntered off. It must have been a big let-down for the cops to make a simple arrest of an unsophisticated former robber, and there were essentially no loose ends after the arrest; case closed. I don’t mind telling the ending here, because there isn’t much excitement to the story and the denouement of the capture of the sad and incompetent Soltys is only surprising because it has no surprise to it. The story of the crime and capture threads throughout the book, but it is the digressions that make it worth reading. Among these are the descriptions of the Grand Monsieur himself., who remains close to the earth with an unassuming home life, complete with cheap cars he can use for what was essentially the career of a farmer. He did regard his vines as his children; when he learned of the plot and regarded the poisoned plants, he wept.

Villaine always said that to fully appreciate a wine, you had to understand the vines and you had to understand the terroir, or all the natural characteristics that go into it, like soil, sun, and rain. But he also thought you had to understand the history of the place and of the people who brought the wine through the centuries. Potter’s work does this for DRC and its region. Not only does he profile Villaine and his family, he goes into the court intrigues during the reign of Louis XV, the economic competition that secured the original vineyard for the raffish and mysterious Prince de Conti, and the religious and political intrigues that led up to the French Revolution. Other illuminating tangents are the devastation of the vineyards by the pest _Phylloxera_ in the late 19th century, how Americans got interested in French wines, the effort to make the region of the DRC a World Heritage Site, and a glimpse at the history of wine fraud. Even for those of us who never drink wine, and those who will never get to taste one of the Grand Monsieur’s bottles, this is a satisfying crime story expanded into a love letter to a great French vineyard.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph! 9 Aug 2014
By Carmine Rauso - Published on
In his Acknowledgements, Potter shares that his goal was to "enthrall and inform" the reader, and he more than delivers on this promise. "Shadows in the Vineyard" instantly engages its audience, leaving the reader always wanting more. Potter masterfully weaves world politics, intrigue, vivid imagery, viticulture and oenology in what can only be described as a triumph. I found myself transported to another time and place, at times touched and overwhelmed with emotion, and always feeling completely immersed in the story. Highly recommended read, no matter your level of wine experience.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intricately Detailed Crime Against A Part Of History 8 Aug 2014
By John D. Cofield - Published on
Deep in the heart of Burgundy lies the Cote d'Or, where the finest French wines are produced, and in the heart of the Cote d'Or lies the legendary vineyard Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, where the very finest of the finest grapes are grown and made into the most renowned of wines. In 2010 an intricately detailed crime was committed against that vineyard that threatened to poison the vines and even the soil itself. Shadows in the Vineyard is the story of how that crime was planned and carried out, how it was revealed to the owners and winemakers, how the vines were saved, and how the perpetators were eventually tracked down. Maximillian Potter, who originally covered this story for a magazine article, has written a really spell binding account which not only recounts the crime and how it was dealt with, but also reveals much that I had previously not known about the industry of fine wine-making.

Potter recounts the history of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and the rest of the Cote d'Or, beginning with the Romans and continuing through the Benedictine monasteries to the Prince de Conti, relative and rival of King Louis XV. The story of the finest wines is also the story of the families who produce them for generation after generation, of the soils in which the vines grow, and of the fragile plants themselves, which are hostage to extremes of heat and cold and prey to any number of insects and fungi. With this material as background, the reader better understands what was really at stake when the crime was committed and detected, and can admire the dedication of the vineyard master and workers as well as that of the French police who diligently traced and charged the perpetrator.

I knew very little about the fine wines of the Cote d'Or or the history of the region before I read this book, and I really enjoyed learning more about them. It was also interesting to learn more about the rivalries between vineyards, some of which go back for generations, and about the personalities of the owners, masters, and workers who maintain the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. I even felt a certain degree of sympathy for the criminal who attempted to destroy the fabled vineyard once I learned more of his story. While I doubt that I shall ever purchase or even taste any of the finest products of the Cote d'Or or the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, I am glad that they were spared destruction, and I appreciate Potter's hard work that revealed their history to me.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is why this book is such a delight to read 9 Aug 2014
By Art Mirto - Published on
It's not often you come across books that read as compelling, fictional accounts cast in the world of wine. Rarer still that such an account could be non-fiction and based, very accurately, on actual events. This is why this book is such a delight to read. Yes, Potter steeps us in the intoxicating atmosphere that is Burgundy, with the glowing tenor and timbre of anyone that has had the privilege to travel and spend some time there. But the real hook for me, as a wine lover and someone in the industry, was the realization that this whole story actually took place, building over centuries and culminating in the act of terroirism just a couple of years ago.

The novel reads as much a biographical account of Aubert de Villaine as it does a crime plot, which only endears itself to the reader. The language, whilst never technical, is technically accurate, and an immense educational exercise whether you're a novice or an expert. A wonderful book to read and just as others have already mentioned, a great gift for just about anyone, but especially those tuned in to wine.
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