Excerpt from Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian Potter, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Shadows in the Vineyard

The True Story of a Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine

by Maximillian Potter

Shadows in the Vineyard
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2014, 304 pages
    Jul 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Print Excerpt

SHADOWS IN THE VINEYARD: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine

The chamber the man had built for himself was small and dark, filled with a kind of disquieting energy. The very same things, in fact, could be said for his mind.

It was a late fall night in 2009, and inside that small, dark space, he began to stir. A barely audible click, then a light—his headlamp.

He had been lying down, not so much resting as he was waiting for nightfall. Now that it was about 1 a.m., just when he was certain the world around him was asleep, he rose and readied himself.

He was short and squat, with a thick neck and a head like a canned ham. He shuffled about as one tends to do in darkened, cramped quarters. He bumped into things. He was groggy. His breathing heavy. Always, there was wine in his blood.

As the man moved, his tiny spotlight moved with him, darting here and there, illuminating his surroundings in flashes: four walls, a couple of center posts, a roof. The framework formed a chamber no larger than eighty square feet. The limbs that served as vertical supports were anchored into a dirt floor. Wall and ceiling unions bound together by rope and L-brackets. Exterior walls and roof made of blue plastic tarps stretched taut. Blue plastic also covered the floor and on top of the plastic, like a flower floating on a mud puddle, a brightly colored door mat. The overall aesthetic of the place was akin to Robinson Crusoe meets the Unabomber.

The interior felt vacuum-sealed. The trapped air was greenhouse humid, weighted atmosphere, invisible cobwebbing, stale. Tolerably uncomfortable. That the space was subterranean, burrowed into the earth like a giant weasel warren, was palpable. So, too, were the smells: plastic of the tarps, dirt, body odor, laundry in need of washing, pungent cheese, stale wine.

Along the east wall was a cot, also made of tree branches and topped with a foam mat and a sleeping bag. Against the west wall a hot plate, pots and pans, and a narrow table—a plywood top affixed to tree-branch legs. On the floor, around the interior perimeter, plastic bins were neatly stacked, even under the cot and table. Tight. Well organized. All in all, an efficient use of meager space, correctly giving the impression that this was someone accustomed to making use of a confined room.

An array of items was scattered on his makeshift table: a clock-radio, an MP3 player, work gloves, a jar of moutarde, a Tupperware container of carottes, a small wheel of Lepetit brand cheese, a pair of bent and smudged bifocals, a diary-like notebook. And there was a magazine—one of those large-format, richly colored glossies. In the headlamp's light the magazine's cover shined like a polished pearl. It was titled Bourgogne Aujourd'hui, or "Burgundy Today," a periodical dedicated to Les Vins et les Vignobles de Bourgogne, "The Wines and Vineyards of Burgundy." One of the stories in that issue was a feature on the legendary Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

Of the world's twenty-five top-rated wines, the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti regularly places seven: Richebourg, Echezeaux, Grands Echezeaux, La Tache, Romanee-St.-Vivant, the Domaine's only white grand cru, Montrachet, and the world's very best wine, which is the winery's namesake grand cru, Romanee-Conti. For its unparalleled and sustained excellence, the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti is known by wine critics and serious oenophiles around the world and frequently referred to by its initials, or simply as the Domaine.

The article noted the insatiable market—the legal and otherwise "gray" market—for the wine. This, despite the fact that not surprisingly the wines also happen to be among the very most expensive in the world. A bottle of the Domaine's least expensive wine, Echezeaux, in the most recent vintage available, which is typically the least expensive vintage of any wine, was then going for about $350. For a single bottle of the Domaine's priciest wine, Romanee-Conti, the cost was roughly ten times that of the Echezeaux, at $3,500.

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From the book Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine. Copyright (c) 2014 by Maximillian Potter. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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