A Riesling to Die
The Wine Trail Mysteries #1
By J. C. Eaton
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Norrie Ellington is a successful screenwriter living in New York City. She’s also been a silent partner for her family’s winery upstate—until her sister and brother-in-law take a year-long sabbatical. With an experienced staff doing the work, Norrie figures Two Witches Winery will run itself while she enjoys the countryside and writes in peace and quiet.
Unfortunately, there’s a sour grape in the town of Penn Yan who doesn’t care for vineyards. Bed and breakfast owner Elsbeth Waters complains to everyone who’ll listen that the local wineries are bad for her business. But when Elsbeth’s body is found on Norrie’s property, the victim of foul play, the screenwriter-turned-vintner dons a sleuthing cap to uncover the identity of a killer who told the B&B proprietress to put a cork in it—permanently . . .(from Goodreads)
Francine Ellington Keane, the older of two sisters, has managed day-to-day operations of the family’s Two Witches Winery for several years. Norrie is the silent partner, trusting her sister’s decisions while she is a screenwriter in Manhattan, living in the apartment inherited from their great-aunt Tessie. She is content with her work as a writer.
When Cornell University’s Experiment Station, where Francine’s husband Jason works, lands a coveted grant to study a special bug in Costa Rica, everything changes. So that Francine could go with Jason for a year, Norrie is convinced to pack up her laptop – because after all, she could write anywhere – and move to the winery that she hasn’t seen since a teenager. With her apartment sublet for a year, she’s kind of stuck now, no matter what happens. And things definitely start to happen within hours after Francine and Jason leave.
Two Witches Winery, so named by the original owner, is on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail in New York, an area rich with vineyards and wineries. One thing Francine advises Norrie about before leaving is how a developer has been trying to purchase their vineyard and winery, and others nearby, to make a mega-winery and vacation spot that would attract tourists from around the world. She tells Norrie also that she can trust the partners of Grey Egret Winery just down the hill, Theo and Don, if she has any questions. Norrie had a crash course in the vineyard and winery before her sister and brother-in-law left. Norrie, however, just wants the year to fly by so she can return to Manhattan.
A peaceful year is not to be. There are two pets that the vineyard guys take care of. Well, one, now. Children love to see the Nigerian Dwarf Goat, Alvin, who seems to like everyone else…saving special treats for Norrie. Charlie is a Plott Hound who appeared at the winery in the past year. Charlie takes a tremendous liking to Norrie, in spite of the special baths she has to give him. He chooses to be her companion, as long as she keeps him out of the tasting room.
The morning after taking her sister and brother-in-law to the airport, two of the men working at vineyard woke her up far too early with an emergency. They found a body in the new area of the vineyard. She called 911 and met the unimpressive Deputy Hickman. When they turned the body, Norrie, a relative newcomer, could make the identity. It was Elsbeth Waters, who owned the nearby Peaceful Pines B & B. She had met Elsbeth twice, a woman who complained about everything occurring at the neighboring wineries and was disliked by most. While there are many good suspects, the sheriff’s office doesn’t want Norrie’s input and doesn’t seem to be making any progress.
Now there are so many people wanting to tour the vineyard that Norrie has to bring in the part-time summer students to lead the curiosity-seekers through. They might be selling more wine than ever, but who wants to be known for this? Norrie continues to “investigate” on her own, making some interesting decisions to try to pin down the real bad guy/ gal.
At first I really liked Norrie. I had empathy for her move from Manhattan to the vineyard, even though I liked the vineyard and most of the employees. Norrie took risks that were above and beyond what I would think wise. Maybe when I get to know her better as the series continues, I’ll like her better. I like Cammy, the tasting room manager who has a good grasp of the business. Lizzie, the cashier and Nancy Drew fan, has expectations that would be hard for any amateur sleuth to live up to while overseeing the operations and meeting a screenplay schedule.
This is a complex mystery that satisfies the armchair sleuth in many ways. I learned a little about vineyards and the dedication taken with the fruit and vines, picturing the distinct beauty of that part of New York. I also see great potential for this series in the way that the authors led us through finding the real killer. The plot twists made the mystery unique in the way the solution lies in a direction not readily thought about, then bringing a satisfying surprise at the end. Overall, in spite of shaking my head more than once at Norrie’s actions, I recommend this cozy mystery to those who enjoy the combination of farming and brewing the fruit of the vine.