Poison in the Vineyard

Despite some background padding, Helen Coburn reveals why Maximilian Potter's new book is a must for wine buffs

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13 August 2014 | 0

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Despite a somewhat baroque, discursive style, a new book by American journalist, Maximilian Potter, is being snapped up by wine buffs. It tells the true story of an attempt to poison vines at one of the world’s most treasured vineyards, Domaine de la Romanee Conti.

In January 2010, the domaine’s owner, Aubert de Villaine, received what amounted to a ransom note – only in this case the kidnap victim was his vineyard. He was told that unless he paid €1m, his vines would be poisoned. At first he thought it was a joke but on 20 January a package arrived. This time it was an elaborate map of the vineyard accompanied by a long document. This claimed that a few days after the previous grape harvest, certain identified vines had had holes drilled close to their roots and “pieces of black electric wire were stuck inside those holes. This was done to demonstrate that the operation described was credible. Because this first phase was only a demonstration, those vines had not been drilled to be concealed.” The paper then went on to claim that other secret holes had been drilled and toxic products inserted. An immediate inspection of the vineyard revealed that two of the apparently identified vines were dead. Other vines had, indeed, been drilled but were undamaged.

Anything more would be a spoiler. Despite a good deal of background padding and the sometimes irritating style, which at times takes on the tone of police procedural, the tale gains a firm grip on the reader. And even the background padding will have an appeal for the wine enthusiast, with its lively take on the history and key characters of Burgundy. In truth, they are, ultimately, more fascinating than the crime.

Potter’s book, which is an extension of an investigative piece by him in Vanity Fair, is published by Hachette at around €20. It’s also available on Kindle. And if you’d like to dip into some more wine related holiday reading, look out for Christy Campbell’s Phylloxera or Michael Dibdin’s engaging novel, A Long Finish, centred upon criminal shenanigans in the Barolo vineyards.

 

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