Murder in the Willamette Valley

Unholy Alliance by Judy Nedry


I was sent a copy of Judy Nedry’s “An Unholy Alliance” and got hooked on it after only a few pages. It’s a fast-paced mystery set in the beautiful wine country of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Joe and I had a great tour of this wine country when we attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland a couple of years ago. On a pre-conference tour, and then again as part of the Conference, we were driven to many of the wineries in the area and were able to taste their delicious Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines. We were impressed with the countryside, the wineries, the winemakers and the owners who we met. Reading this book brought me back to those visits and reminded me why I’d like to return.

In “An Unholy Alliance,” Emma Golden, divorced and in her mid-fifties, lives in Portland and is hired to write a book about the Oregon wineries. Emma, a recovering alcoholic, once lived in the wine country with her then-husband, Dwight McCourt.

Emma’s friend Melody calls her and asks her to look after their wine country BnB, the Westerly Inn, while Melody and her husband go on a much-needed vacation. Emma is reluctant to return to the area, but finally agrees to do so.

Once at the Inn, Emma begins her part-time duties as Innkeeper, while taking the opportunity to visit with as many winery owners and winemakers as possible to get material for her book. One of the first people she runs into is her ex-husband, Dwight McCourt. Dwight has expanded the winery that he and Emma had started together. They begin talking about the “ruthless and dishonest” Ted Maxell, an outsider who brought in big money to establish his winery, Cougar Crossing. No one seems to like Maxell, but it’s a shock when he’s murdered at his own dinner party. Emma was a guest at the party and together with another guest, Rob the reporter, she begins her quest to figure out who murdered Maxell. Emma has a very curious nature and also compares notes with Angel, a member of the staff at the Westerly, whose daughter is engaged to Maxell’s son.

Judy Nedry’s second book in this mystery series, “The Difficult Sister,” is set in a town near the Coast in Southern Oregon. This book isn’t about the wine country, but the town isn’t too far from the many Southern Oregon wineries we visited on our drive up to the Wine Bloggers Conference.

To learn more about this mystery series and read an excerpt from “An Unholy Alliance,” visit You can also read the author’s blogs and purchase a book if you like. There is a third book in the works, and I look forward to reading it and seeing what other danger Emma can get herself into.


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    Napa Valley- The Valhalla for Wine, Lifestyle and Characters

    The Wine Doctor Speaks

    doctor-wineMany people know me as “The Wine Doctor.” But what fewer people know is that I recently released a new, comic, wine mystery novel Pinot Envy, recently published by Bancroft Press. It’s a fun, smart, easy reading whodunit based in Napa Valley’s Carneros and San Francisco. Pinot Envy follows the quirky, charming, loveable wine guru, Woody Robins, as he fumbles his way through trying to recover a stolen, rare, priceless, large bottle of red Burgundy that once belonged to the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, for a wealthy grape grower. Full of colorful characters, deceit, blackmail, intrigue, dealings with the mob and murder, this enjoyable, first book in the series showcases northern California in all its beauty.

    So why base the story in Napa and San Fran you ask? Very simply, they’re both “must-see” destinations in the world. I mean, who hasn’t heard of world-famous Napa Valley? For wine and its lifestyle, it truly is Valhalla. Acres and acres of pristine, grape-growing real estate (some of the most expensive on earth), amazing showcase wineries, phenomenal eateries and gorgeous scenery abound. Oh, and let’s not forget about the wine…some of the best on the planet! Juicy Cabernet, luscious Chardonnay, elusive Pinot, quintessential Zin and many more thrive in this vinous wonderland.

    What can I say about San Francisco, the “city by the bay”? It’s the gateway to wine country, with phenomenal vistas, renown attractions like Fisherman’s Warf, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. It’s possesses tons of character and charm a-go-go, and has been portrayed in more major motion pictures and TV shows than Lindsay Lohan has had arrests. Quite simply, one of the top cities in the entire world!

    For a wine guy with “taste”, like my protagonist Woody, it was simply a “no-brainer” locating him here. The venue was made for him. But wait, there’s more. It’s also about the people. Folks in these parts are very special. They’re not your usual, run-of-the-mill inhabitants. There’s just something about the “terroir”, ocean and mountains that renders a certain west coast mystique affecting the population. Perhaps there’s something in the water that makes people here so unusually different. You just gotta love ‘em! Extremely colorful, interesting, off-the-wall, adventure-minded, and creative, they possess that magical, “joie de vivre”. I knew the characters I created, and particularly Woody, would fit right in. He’s one of your own. From his unconventional dress, way of doing things, offbeat approach to life, wit, and of course, taste in wine, there could be no other place.

    So pick up a copy of “Pinot Envy” and experience Napa and San Francisco the way it was meant to… through the eyes of a bon-vivant, devil-may-care wine dude and a glass of your favorite vino. Word has it that the novel would make a great motion picture. Another “Sideways”, if you will! And look for Woody’s next adventure in California wine country in “Mortal Zin”. Soon to be published! Cheers.

    Edward Finstein will be touring the Bay Area and Napa Valley California promoting his new novel Pinot Envy. If you are in the area, stop by at one of his events. For more information on Finstein please visit our Website or like his Facebook page for more on his book tour information.

    Thursday, September 12, 2013
    Oakland Public Library Mystery on the Vine: 6-8pm
    LOCATION: 495 Jefferson Street I San Francisco, CA 94109
    Phone: (510) 238-3134
    Come and meet Edward “Doc” Feinstein, internationally renowned wine expert. Doc will discuss his recently published mystery novel, “Pinot Envy”. He will also talk about recent trends in the wine industry and answer your questions about all things wine-related. As an expert on rare wines, he has traveled the world to judge wines and appraise rare bottles, so he has fascinating tales to tell.

    Friday, September 13, 2013
    Wine & Mystery Reception, Argonaut Hotel, 5-7 pm
    LOCATION: 495 Jefferson Street I San Francisco, CA 94109
    Where: The Argonaut Hotel Ballroom Foyer
    Phone: 415 345 5552
    Please join the Wine Doctor Edward Finstein, international wine expert and author of the newly released mystery novel PINOT ENVY, set in Napa Valley, for a special wine hour, filled with insider tips, wine trends, and fascinating anecdotes from the author’s hunt for the rarest vintages in California and beyond. A selection of wine and cheeses will be served.

    Saturday, September 14, 2013
    Vintner’s Collective Special Event, Napa, 1-3 pm
    LOCATION: Vintner’s Collective, 1245 Main Street, Napa, CA 94559 (Downtown Napa)
    Phone: 707-255-7150
    A Special Pinot Mystery Wine Tasting Event with The Wine Doctor, Edward Finstein
    Join international wine celebrity and author Edward Finstein for a sneak peak of his recently released mystery novel PINOT ENVY, set in Napa Valley, while you enjoy a selection of 4 different Pinots from high end boutique producers, paired with artisanal cheeses. Get the inside scoop on what’s new in the world of wine as plenty of fascinating anecdotes from Edward Finstein’s hunt for the rarest vintages in California and beyond.

    Details: Vintner’s Collective introduction; Ed Finstein introduction, short reading of PINOT ENVY (10-15 min) with focus on Napa setting and wine; followed by social hour and mingling with wine doctor; book signing and sales hosted by Copperfields Books
    Admission Price: $15


      Is the Napa Valley “Into Wine?”

      Into Wine: Terroir = soil + climate + humans

      This article is actually about the book “Into Wine” by Olivier Magny and how it pertains to the Napa Valley. Olivier is an outspoken Parisian sommelier and wine educator. I found the book to be a fun read, with little wine jargon and a lot of practical advice for both the wine beginner and the wine aficionado. The big pitch in “Into Wine” is terroir. Olivier Magny suggests rather strongly that we seek out wines that exhibit the character of the place.

      image of book into wineWith passion he talks about how terroir gives meaning and life to a bottle of wine. Its uniqueness is the result of the soil, climate, the vineyard grower and the winemaker. It is about the caring of the soil and the vines that imbue a special quality to the wine. It is about the winemaker who cares enough to let the soil and climate shine through in his or her winemaking and cellar techniques. Mostly, terroir wines are ones where sustainable farming is the creed. That means dry farming and no use of chemical pesticides or herbicides. This is a growing trend throughout the wine world, and I know that many Napa Valley wineries are in this category and others are making an effort to go in this direction.

      image of oliver mangy

      Olivier Magny

      I have made a list of the Napa Valley wineries that practice some type of organic farming. The list continues to grow and ranges from wineries that do some organic farming to ones that are certified biodynamic. There is also the program established by the Napa Valley Vintners Association that grants “Napa Green Certified Land” and “Napa Green Certified Winery” to wineries that meet the qualifying standards. See Napa Green. There are some 400 wineries in the Napa Valley so you can see that there is a long road ahead.

      organicWe visit the Napa Valley often and we have noticed in recent years signs of change. We see more cover crops in winter and spring, grazing animals, organic vegetable gardens and more dry farming. We see many, many wineries with solar panels. Although solar panels have no effect on the grapes, they are an important aspect in the sustainability of a winery.

      We also observe that the whole idea of organics and sustainability carries through to the tasting room. In general, the focus is different with less of a sales push and more towards a human aspect. It’s more about how their wines are good because they have been attentive to the soil. They care that we are getting a bottle of wine that shows the character of their vineyards. I love finding wineries like these. They are so much more enjoyable than listening to a long spiel about each wine and asking me if I can detect a bit of anise character in the nose.

      As for Olivier Magny, he pitches “buy only the wines that are made with terroir in mind.” He states that there are many excellent wines under $20 in this category. That is one area where it is hard to find Napa Valley wines in this price range, especially in the red wines. Nonetheless, if you heed the Magny code, choose your Napa Valley wines wisely and support the wineries that are environmentally friendly. It is the right thing to do.


        American Wine: Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy at the Commonwealth Club

        It was just a short time ago that all the good wine made in the U.S. came from California, Oregon, Washington and the Finger Lakes area of New York. That has changed dramatically with every state in the Union producing wine. There are now 7000 wineries in the U.S. In a new wine book, “American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States,” Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy have collaborated to give a complete picture of wine across the country.

        On Monday evening, March 18, we attended a meeting of the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco at which Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy discussed their book and answered questions from the audience.

        image American wine authors

        American Wine at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco

        Jancis Robinson has been listed as the most powerful woman in wine and is a wine writer and wine critic based in London. Linda Murphy is the former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine section and writes about wine from her home in the heart of wine country in Sonoma County. Leslie Sbracco, wine writer and television host of “Check, Please,” moderated this lively and informative event.

        Most of the discussion came from questions posed by the audience. I’ve paraphrased the most important and relevant topics mentioned by the two speakers.

        From Jancis Robinson

        • California is the only wine region where big wines are popular. Fresher and lighter is the norm in the rest of the world, including Australia. There is a worldwide shift to fresher and lighter.
        • Global warming is most evident in the Australian wine industry with lack of water and heat waves. Global warming is showing up in many other geographic areas in various forms.
        • The older the vines, the more interesting the wines. In areas of France they are ripping out vines. In California there are many vineyards that are over 100 years old.
        • When asked what wines in other states surprised Jancis, she responded that she liked the sparkling wine made by the New Mexico winery Gruet. She thought the wine to be very similar to French Champagne.

        From Linda Murphy

        • The three-tier system in the United States makes it harder for small wineries to compete. It is difficult to change because of the lobbyists, they are very influential.
        • Sustainable farming is the right thing to do. It is getting to the point that wineries stick out if they are not sustainable. We see fewer pesticides and more cover crops these days.
        • Wine making is improving throughout America. Take New Jersey. There are 50 wineries there and ten are very good. The others are trying hard to improve.
        • Wherever there is good wine made, good food follows.
        • Texas is producing many great wines in the high plains areas. Tempranillo is just one example.
        • When asked where she found a surprise wine: Near Traverse City, New Jersey, there is a long peninsula that stretches up to the north. The Riesling wines there are fantastic.

        The Commonwealth Club will post a podcast of this event within a few days. Check for it
        at Click on the menu item “Multimedia.”

        The book “American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States” is $50 and is available at Amazon for a significant discount.


          Holidays Wine Gifts – A Very Cool Wine Book to Consider

          It is the time of the year when you begin to think about developing your gift list for family and friends. Here is idea for someone who enjoys wine and is perhaps not easy to please. It is a wine book: “The Art and Design of Contemporary Wine Labels.” I know it sounds a bit boring but once you open the book to any page describing a label, it is very fun and interesting. I received a complimentary copy of this book. It is a beautiful looking book but one I certainly did not think I would find that enjoyable. But it was quite the opposite, and I use the word “fun” to describe the book because that is just the kind of experience when one discovers the history and the making of a particular wine label.

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