Summer Book Reco: “Dragon Vine”

Looking for a great wine read for the beach, pool or patio? I was sent a copy of “Dragon Vine” by Steven Laine and enjoyed it!

The Premise: Set in California Wine Country, it’s the story of a multi-ethnic winery family and how the son overcomes a complex and interesting set of challenges to prevail as a winery owner and winemaker. Early on (I’m not giving anything away here), the dad dies in a wildfire that’s tearing through a vineyard. The son, Carmine, has his own sights set on becoming an architect, not a winery owner or winemaker, but now he’s in a real pickle: carry on his dad’s legacy or abandon ship and pursue his own interests?

Things get interesting when we realize Carmine’s mom was Chinese (his dad was American) and we meet the nasty neighbor who thinks a certain piece of vineyard property lying between his home and Carmine’s belongs to him, not Carmine’s family. But wait, there’s more: as Carmine valiantly tries to bring in the rest of the harvest, and fend off Mr. Nasty from next-door, a Chinese crime gang sets their sites on him for a fraudulent wine scheme. They want him to make fake high-end wines that they can sell to collectors and restaurants and bank big money. There are good guys and bad guys and lots of blood – and wine – being spilled all over the place!

But hold on, we’re also taking a little side trip to ancient China around the time of the first emperor of China. I’m not gonna lie – at first, I was like, “Wait, what’s the connection here?” But just remember that Carmine’s mom was Chinese and stay with it. Ultimately there is a major reveal of a historic and nearly extinct Chinese grape variety and some satisfying conclusions to different parts of the storyline.

I set myself up on my friend’s porch with a can of pink bubbles and a good book on a summer afternoon!

What I Liked I learned a lot about Chinese history and about wine fraud. The story moved along at a good pace. There was page-turning suspense at multiple points, which is an important part of any compelling story. The character development was good and I cared about what happened to Carmine, his sister and other characters.

What I Didn’t Like: There was only one thing that bugged me, and that was an early reference to how Carmine and his dad “had been set to pick all afternoon into the night.” No one picks grapes after mid-morning. It gets too hot and the grapes need to stay as cool as possible while handling them to preserve acidity and overall integrity. While it compromised the credibility of the author a bit for lack of wine knowledge, I forgave it by the time I got deeper into the book.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a suspenseful, intriguing and complex story where wine is at the center of the action, pull up a glass and give “Dragon Vine” a try.

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