Registered Dietitian Nutritionist's Book Club Review: Tangled Vines


Registered Dietitian Nutritionist's Book Club Review: Tangled Vines

07, December 2016 10:35 AM

Tangled Vines cover In November, our Silicon Valley District Dietetic Association Book Club reviewed Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California by Frances Dinkelspiel. A bit of a diversion from some of our more nutrition focused selections, this book outlines the interesting history of the California wine industry --  a narrative that spans the introduction of wine cultivation by the Franciscan fathers in 1769, planting vines for sacramental wine as they built the missions, to the world-renowned wines produced in California today.

In the early days of the California wine economy, greed spurred more than a few opportunists to fight over fertile land suited for growing grapes, resulting in five murders linked to one of the first vineyards in the state. Closer to present day, the author tells the sordid tale of Mark Anderson, an arsonist who destroyed 4.5 million bottles of California's finest wines stored at Wine Central warehouse in Vallejo, California in 2005. Vintage wines made by the author's great grandfather in 1875 were lost in this fire. The book includes other juicy vignettes of wine embezzlement and fraud.  

As native Californians, we found the book very interesting since it provides a look at California history through the lens of the wine industry: 

  • Large vineyards were first established in southern California and wine making flourished in the region until a disease in 1883 wiped them out.
  • In 1869, Leland Stanford (founder of Stanford University) purchased a  55,000-acre winery, the largest in the world at the time, but struggled financially and the wine wasn't particularly good. His wife sold the vineyard after his death. 
  • The California Wine Association monopolized the wine economy in the 1880s and 1890s, controlling approximately 80 percent of state wine production and sales, until it was put out of business by prohibition.
  • The 1906 Earthquake destroyed 12 - 15 million gallons of wine, making it the most destructive natural disaster ever to impact the industry.
  • The emergence of premium California wine production began in the 1960s when wine industry pioneers like Robert Mondavi promoted a lifestyle that included fine wine and good food.

Wine and Nutrition

You may be wondering, what does this book have to do with food and nutrition? Alcohol is a significant part of human food and nutrition since all food and beverage choices matter. While definitely not an essential part of human nutrition (most nutrition guidelines state if you don't drink, don't start) alcoholic beverages when consumed in moderation can be an enjoyable part of a healthy eating pattern for adults. Moderate drinking is considered up to two drinks/day for a man and one drink/day for a woman.

Most people think of California for its large cities, beaches and mountains. But you may not know that California is the leading US state in cash farm receipts, and a leading producer of wine in the nation.1 The top crops in California are milk, almonds, grapes, cattle, lettuce, strawberries eggs and walnuts. All of this is overseen by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. USDA's MyPlate, MyState provides fascinating information and resources on healthy eating patterns and local agriculture in your own state.

Bottom line


People who are interested in wine and history will very much enjoy this book. It is well written and researched. The author provided a bit more detail than we were interested in regarding her family story, but that is a small negative. We recommend this book and feel confident that if these topics interest you, you will find this book a very satisfying read.


Maureen Bligh, MA, RDN
Director, Resource Development and Marketing

Kristal Shelden, MPH, RDN
Project Manager, Nutrition Sciences


Maureen and Kristal are registered dietitian nutritionists and members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.



1. Wine Institute (2015). California Wine Facts & Figures. Retrieved 11.18.2016 from



Tags: Dietitians Book Review healthy eating patterns Maureen Bligh registered dietitian book club

No Comments

Add Comment

Past Blogs

Member of: