Thursday, July 14, 2016

Another Peek at THE LOVELY PINES

Hey, guys, I almost hate to take down my book covers for the three BJ Vinson Mystery Series novels, but it’s time to move on. Once I learn how to do it, I'll replace the old covers on the blog with the new ones. As you can probably tell, I’m a little pumped by DSP Publications’ re-issuance of the first two books and initial publication of THE CITY OF ROCKS. That, in turn, puts me in mind of the fourth book in the series that I’m presently working on. (See how my mind works?) Therefore, I’d like to share a little more of THE LOVELY PINES with you.

The following scene takes place in Chapter 2 when  protagonist BJ Vinson visits the Lovely Pines Winery for the first time after owner Ariel Gonda hires him to investigate a break-in.


     For the next hour, Gonda walked me through the property, starting with the chateau. He took me to their living quarters on the top floor and prompted me to stick my head in every room. This tier had a distinctly European flair, from the eclectic blending of Louis IV and Queen Anne furnishings to the heavy, somber renaissance paintings on the wall. It was tastefully done.
     From the chateau, we went to the large stone building behind the house, which was, indeed, the winery. On the way, I met Maurice Benoir, the master of chocolates, who better fit my image of a Swiss merchant than his boss. Solid, even stocky, he had thinning sandy hair cut short and a fair but florid complexion. His accented voice rumbled up out of a deep chest as he greeted me amiably.
     Ariel paused at the doorway of the winery to show me the hasp that had been ripped away, now replaced with a new one firmly affixed to a reinforcing steel plate. Entry by the same means would be more difficult now. When we entered his lab, as sterile as any hospital facility, which also served as his winery office, Ariel told me this was the room where the mischief—such as it was—had occurred. Then he opened a desk drawer and handed me a gallon-sized clear plastic bag containing a bottle.
     He nodded. “This is the one which was disturbed. I thought you might wish to see if there are fingerprints on it.”
     “I can give it a try. I assume your prints are on record because of your alcohol license, but since we’re going to have to take elimination prints from all of the family and staff, it would be better for your people to see you being printed, as well.”
     “Certainly. Whatever you think best.”
     We walked through the winery, and although I am not a wine aficionado, I had visited other such facilities in the area and was able to make mental comparisons. The big surprise was the aging or storage facility... the cellar. Until Gonda opened a heavy double door and ushered me inside. I hadn’t realized the building backed up to a cavern. The cellar was actually a natural cave.
     “This is one of the reasons I was attracted to C de Baca’s operation,” he explained. “This underground storage is ideal. The temperature seldom varies beyond a point or two, and the humidity is easily controlled. I age my wines at fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit and keep the humidity rather high. I prefer to mature the product slowly. Rapid aging caused by elevated temperatures gives the product a questionable taste.”
     I stared at what appeared to be oak barrels stacked in rows that disappeared into the gloom of the large hollow in the earth. The darkness was only partially broken by low-watt bulbs placed at regular intervals.
     “I bulk-age in split oak barrels for a period of time and then bottle-age until the wine reaches maturity,” he said.
     “How long does that take?”
     “Cabernet Sauvignon has a fairly long aging period. Anywhere from four to twenty years, depending upon the product you are striving for.”
     That was when I realized the bottles he'd given us at the office were part of the former owner's wines. None of Gonda's had yet matured.
     He confirmed my reasoning. "Most of what you see is inventory I purchased from C de Baca. Fortunately, my practices mirror his closely."
     I glanced around. “Is the only access to the cellar through the winery?”
     “Yes. This door is the only way in and the only way out.”
     I pointed up. “Is the ground over the cavern on your property?”
     He nodded. “Yes, but the end of this tunnel means you have reached the northernmost boundary of the ten acres the winery sits on.”
     Without waiting for an invitation, I walked the length of the long corridor. I estimated the size of the cavern at around one square acre. Part of it was given over to barrels, and part was lined with row after row of racked wine completing the aging process in bottles. Gonda explained that early aging was done in wood to give the wine the flavor of the oak, and then the product was siphoned off the lees by means of a racking hose attached to a racking cane. Thereafter, it was bottled and placed in another portion of the cellar to mature.
     At the far end, behind the oldest wine barrels, I found an area with a battered sofa, a few chairs, some cabinets, and other indications of human occupancy.
     “What’s this?”
     “I suppose you could say this is our preparation against the—how do you say?—vagaries of both man and nature. Our own little shelter against disaster. We store water and canned and packaged foods in case our people need to take shelter for any reason. The prior management set this up, and I have continued it, although I cannot really think of a reason it would ever be required.”
     “But no one lives down here?”
     “Oh, no. It is a little too cool for my tastes, and I was raised in Switzerland. It is merely a precaution.”
Hope this peek piques your interest.  (Say that three times, fast.) Please give me your opinions and comments at As always, thanks for being readers.

New Posts published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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