This book has been published by Kindle Press!
Back to top

First pages

Chapter 1

“Don’t look now, but here they come,” Holly muttered.

I didn’t know why my sister said that. Everyone looked when told don’t look now. It was practically impossible not to.

Still drying the wine glass in my hand, I turned just in time to see a large group of late-twenty-somethings filing into the tasting room.

Holly swatted my arm somewhat playfully. “I said not to look,” she said.

I ignored the swat, partly because I was used to being swatted by my younger sister, but mostly because my good mood began evaporating once I saw the group. I had completely forgotten that they were coming today. As much as I loved helping out at my family’s winery on the weekends, every now and then I’d rather be at home watching movies on my couch. This was one of those times.

I plastered a smile on my face and watched the joint bachelor-bachelorette party walk across the tasting room toward us. I leaned into my sister, bumping my arm with hers, and said through my smile, “I’m so glad Jason offered to do the tour today so we don’t have to.” Then I finished drying my glass and placed it on a shelf under the bar.

“Here we go,” Holly said. She pushed her ponytail of unruly black hair over her shoulder and walked toward the far end of the bar where the group had congregated. “Hey guys!” she greeted them. “Welcome to D’Angelo Winery.”

No one paid any attention to her. A couple girls were pointing at the wall of wine barrels decorating one side of the room. Another group of girls stood in a tight circle giggling loudly. Only about half the guys had made it all the way to the bar. The other half was still trailing through the tasting room. One bachelor was standing next to a high top table where an elderly couple was having a glass of wine, apparently striking up a conversation with them.

I took a quick head count as I joined my sister: six guys and eight girls.

Holly didn’t wait for the group to quiet down or turn in her direction. Instead, she forged on as though they were listening. “Angelia, thank you for choosing to spend part of your bachelorette party here.” Then she turned to the guy closest to the bar. “And Shane, thank you for—” she glanced at me before finishing her sentence “—also choosing to have your bachelor party here. Are you all ready for your tour of the winery? Jill over here will let our general manager Jason know you’ve arrived—he’ll be running the tour. While we wait, can I interest you in a glass of Pinot Grigio?”

I smiled at the group, not making eye contact with either Angelia or Shane, and took my cue to go find Jason. As I walked around the bar toward the back of the building where the winery offices were hidden, I heard an older female voice rising over the crowd’s buzzing conversations.

“Ugh, Pinot Grigio tastes like water. Can’t you serve us something better? I like Chardonnay, okay?”

I closed my eyes for a long moment and took a deep breath. Ah, complaining already. This was going to be even less fun than I originally imagined.

As I neared the offices, Holly’s little speech echoed in my head. When she had looked at me in the middle of thanking Shane for having his bachelor party here, I knew what she was really thinking. Thank you for not marrying my sister.

Hear, hear.

Shane’s name couldn’t be mentioned in front of my sisters without someone saying just that. In my family, he was known for making mistakes, but he did make one really good decision about six years ago—and that was breaking up with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but now I couldn’t be more relieved. Neither could my sisters.

Hopefully marrying Angelia was also going to be a good decision for him.

The door to the general manager’s office was opened, and when I rounded the corner, I was surprised to see my older sister sitting at Jason’s desk, furiously typing away on his computer. From the way her head was cocked to one side, I could tell she was holding her cell phone between her shoulder and cheek.

“Hey Stel, where’s your hubby?” I asked. “That joint bachelor-bachelorette party is here. They’re ready for their winery tour.”

Stella turned toward me. Frustration masked her face, the expression out of place against her beautifully-sleek bob, perfectly-understated makeup, and trendy dangling earrings. “He’s on the side of the road with a flat tire. He had a meeting down in Escondido this morning and was supposed to be back by now. Of course, his phone is practically dead, so I’m trying to get a tow truck to him while answering ten emails from a frantic bride who’s having her wedding here next month.” She turned back to the computer and began typing like a mad woman again. “Can you do the tour?”

“Me?” I pointed to myself even though she wasn’t looking. “Are you joking?”

Her typing didn’t slow. “You and Holly. I’ll get someone to cover for you in the tasting room.”

Stella was the winery’s event planner, and part of me wanted to suggest that she take over the tour. The smarter part of me knew that wouldn’t go over well, though—not when her husband was twenty miles away, sitting on the side of the freeway in ninety-degree heat with a flat tire and a dead phone.

She took my silence as compliance and said in a slightly less-intense, sing-songy voice, “Thank you, Jilly-bean. Love you.”

“You better love me,” I said. I trudged back down the hallway, unable to keep myself from cringing at what waited for me in the tasting room.

When I had heard through mutual friends that Shane’s fiancée was having her weekend-long bachelorette party in Otto Viti, I thought it was a little odd. Otto Viti, often called OV for short, wasn’t known as a bachelorette party destination. Decades ago, my grandfather planted one of the first vineyards in Southern California’s Temecula Valley, and while he loved sharing his wine with others, he didn’t like watching partially-inebriated guests drive off to their next wine tasting destination where they likely would become even more inebriated. Some people solved this problem by renting party busses for wine tasting adventures, but my grandfather thought bigger.

With his endless optimism and imagination, he gathered some of his friends who worked in hospitality, and they came up with Otto Viti. Adjacent to my grandfather’s vineyard, they built an enclave showcasing eight tasting rooms of local wineries, specialty shops, unique restaurants, and beautiful little hotels. The name meant “eight vines” in Italian—an homage to the eight tasting rooms serving as the cornerstones of my grandfather’s vision. And while the no-driving concept might seem perfect for bachelorette parties, those kinds of parties normally chose party buses over us. It made sense. We didn’t have any nightlife or excitement. We were quiet and quaint—a popular destination for couples celebrating a tenth or twentieth anniversary, groups of middle-aged women escaping their husbands for the weekend, and actual weddings. Rarely did we see a group of late-twenty-somethings at a bachelorette party.

Then, when I heard that Shane and Angelia were having a joint bachelor-bachelorette party, well, that was even odder. Sure, some people like doing combined parties. But again, in Otto Viti? Then to want a tour of the winery as a whole group? Nothing screamed bachelor party like watching yeast mix with grape juice.

Okay, but still, all that was fine. The group would come, I could serve a couple glasses of wine in the tasting room, Jason would take care of the tour, and then the D’Angelo family could send the party off to explore the rest of OV. Yes, I’d rather be sitting on the couch at home watching movies, but still, it was fine. And then we’d be able to move on to more important things—like getting ready for next weekend’s big harvest festival to celebrate crush season.

But Jason was stuck with a flat tire. And I had to do the tour.

Ugh.

I approached Holly behind the bar just as she was clearing away some empty wine glasses, which told me that the partygoers used the two minutes of my absence to chug their wine rather than sip it.

“Jason has a flat tire. I have—” I stopped and corrected myself, “—I get to give the tour. You get to do it, too.”

Holly’s face broke into a big grin. She leaned into me and let out a low, guttural giggle. “You’ve got to be kidding.” She reached out and squeezed my arm, her eyes smiling. “Just what you hoped for.”

Before I could warn her not to make it any worse with sarcasm, her face softened into concern.

“Is Jason okay?” she asked.

I shrugged. “I guess. Maybe I should have asked. I was too stunned to ask.”

“Hey lady,” someone from the crowd called. I recognized the voice—it belonged to the woman who thought Pinot Grigio tasted like water. “I want to buy a bottle of this wine.”

I looked toward the voice. The woman’s face was free of wrinkles, but her style of clothing betrayed her age. Unlike most of the girls wearing summery dresses or tank tops and skirts, she wore dark pants and a black sweater set. It was an interesting choice for such a hot day, but then again, some of the tasting rooms were a bit chilly. The large buttons on her cardigan matched her heels, purse, and big earrings—all were bedazzled with green jewels. She and Angelia shared the same blue eyes, platinum blonde hair, and high cheekbones. I assumed she was Angelia’s mom. Another wrinkle-free woman stood next to her, this one with auburn hair and a similar sweater set, though hers was purple and without any jeweled buttons. She had to be a friend of Angelia’s mom.

“Sure thing,” Holly said. She turned to the wall of wine behind us and selected a bottle of our most popular Chardonnay. As she put it in a gift bag, she pointed down the bar toward a young man at the end. To me, she said, “Recognize him? It’s Shane’s brother, Toby. His twenty-first birthday was last weekend, so the bridal party decided to celebrate it here along with all the wedding festivities.”

I looked down at Toby standing by himself. I hadn’t seen him in a couple years, but he looked the same. Sandy hair, tall, lanky, with a perpetual expression of slight-embarrassment.

Before Holly walked to the register to ring up the wine, she leaned into me and said, “Great place to celebrate being twenty-one, right? Maybe we can invite him to do sunrise yoga tomorrow morning and then get crazy with some jewelry-making classes in the afternoon. You know, typical Otto Viti shenanigans. I’m sure that’s what he was hoping for.”

“Why would they want to celebrate his birthday here?” I said under my breath with another glance toward him. A girl who must have been one of Angelia’s friends threw her arm around him and laughed in his ear. Then she turned to laugh with a couple other girls. Toby half smiled and kept his eyes on his wine glass.

“That’s what I asked him when I poured his wine,” Holly said. “Apparently it was Angelia’s idea. It was supposed to be a nice gesture.”

“Fail.” I shook my head. “I’m going to say hi.”

Holly turned toward the register, and I walked toward Toby. Behind me I could hear someone saying, “Hey, can we get this show on the road?” It was the woman with auburn hair standing next to Angelia’s mom.

“Absolutely,” Holly called while working the register. “Is everyone done with the wine?”

The group shuffled around. Some people moved away from the bar as others moved toward it to put down their wine glasses.

“Hey Toby,” I said while nearing Shane’s little brother. “I hear it’s your birthday. Happy twenty-first.”

Toby smiled his embarrassed smile and leaned back from the bar slightly. “Hey, Jill. Thanks. Good to see you. How’ve you been? Still teaching?”

I nodded. “Yep. I help out here on the weekends and during the summer, but school’s about to start up—so I’m heading back home tomorrow.”

“Are you still in the Carlsbad school district?”

“Good memory. Carlsbad, yes. What are you up to these days?”

He shrugged and turned his wine glass in circles on the bar, his eyes trained on it. “Not much. Still taking classes at the college. Started back a week ago for fall semester. Oh, and getting ready for Shane’s wedding, of course.”

“Are you the best man?”

He nodded.

And as though right on cue, Shane walked up behind Toby.

“Hey Jill,” he said.

I smiled and hoped it didn’t come across as forced. Shane resembled Toby with his sandy hair and fair skin, though he was at least a couple inches shorter and stockier. He looked exactly as I remembered him, but nothing about him was familiar. Knowing him seemed like a lifetime ago.

“Hey Shane,” I said. “Congratulations. The big day’s coming up soon, isn’t it?”

From the corner of my eye, I could see Holly walking across the tasting room. She turned around and made eye contact with me, motioning toward the door. About half the bachelor-bachelorette party was trailing behind her while the rest stood around the bar, oblivious.

“Oh, looks like it’s time to go,” I said to the brothers. “Ready?”

“Actually,” Shane said, “Can I talk to you first? Just really quick?” He looked at Toby, who nodded and then followed the group wandering outside.

“Sure,” I said. “I just need to send Stella a quick text.”

I pulled my phone from my back pocket and tapped out a message.

Send someone to watch the tasting room. We’re leaving.

A second later she wrote back.

He’s on his way. You can take the group out. Have fun and thanks.

I scanned the room. A couple people stood around the high top tables chatting and sipping wine, but Holly and I had served them before the big party came in. The straggling bachelors had figured out they were supposed to go outside and were almost to the door.

It was probably fine to leave the room for a couple seconds.

“Let’s follow the rest of them and talk as we walk,” I said. “I don’t want you to miss anything.”

As we zigzagged through the tables scattered across the tasting room, I realized this was probably the talk that I didn’t want to have—the one I hoped to avoid. I braced myself.

Chapter 2

I pushed through the door with Shane following me. Immediately, the hot Temecula wind whipped around us. Wisps of long black hair from my ponytail lashed against my cheek, and I pulled them down with one hand while dropping the sunglasses from my head to my eyes with the other hand.

“So, what’s going on?” I asked in the lightest, friendliest tone I could muster. It was my I’m-pretending-nothing’s-wrong voice. My sisters would have seen right through it, but Shane was never a very good listener. He probably bought it.

He cleared his throat. “I know it’s kind of strange that we’re having our bachelor and bachelorette party here. Sorry.”

I shrugged and shoved my hands in my pockets, keeping my eyes on the group in front of us. Two girls staggered off to the left, laughing hysterically. I wondered how many tasting rooms they had visited before showing up at ours.

“It’s not really a bachelor party destination,” I said, “but if you like wine, it’s a great place to be.”

“Well, Angelia likes wine. And her mom has a connection here.”

“Is her mom the one who bought the Chardonnay back there?” I pointed over my shoulder toward the tasting room.

“Yep.”

“She looks just like Angelia.”

“Yep.” Shane cleared his throat again. “You know the store down the street that sells all the chess stuff?”

“Checkmate?”

He nodded. “Marlo—that’s Angelia’s mom—her ex-husband is the guy who makes the chess tables sold there.”

I looked at Shane, trying to connect with what he was saying. It took a moment. “Oh, wait. I know what you mean. The old school desks that no one wants? He’s the one who refurbishes them into chess tables?”

“That’s him,” Shane said.

“Those are beautiful. My grandfather has one. It has the inlaid tile chess board like the others, but the border is a beautiful, custom painting of a vineyard. I just—”

The look on Shane’s face told me he didn’t care, so I stopped rambling.

“So yeah,” Shane said, “that’s the connection. I didn’t recommend this place or anything.”

I smiled at my feet. What were the chances that my ex-fiancé’s new fiancée had a connection to OV? Go figure. “Did Angelia know that my family works here? That my grandfather is basically the founder of Otto Viti?”

“I told her. It didn’t matter.”

“I bet your buddies were thrilled when they found out you were going wine tasting for your bachelor party. Your brother definitely seemed thrilled.”

Shane looked like he almost wanted to laugh, but he didn’t say anything. The group ahead of us had slowed to a stop right outside the winemaking facility, and I could see Holly stepping onto a bench next to the big, barn-style doors and pointing toward the rows of grapevines growing just yards behind the building. Shane and I slowed to a stop as well, still with plenty of distance between us and the group.

“If Angelia’s happy, that’s all that matters,” he said finally. He glanced at the group and then turned to me. “But hey, I just wanted to say something. I know we haven’t talked in, like, years, but I wanted to say I’m sorry. A lot of time has passed, and I realize I didn’t handle things well when we were together.”

I waved away the apology. “Don’t worry about it. Everything worked out for the best. You’re happy, I’m happy—things are better this way.”

He almost smiled, looking slightly embarrassed. The expression made his resemblance to Toby even stronger. “I was a jerk,” he said.

Well, that was true. Six years ago, my parents died in a boating accident. Shane and I were engaged, and of course we postponed the wedding. And then we postponed it some more. And some more. I wasn’t handling my grief well, and Shane was handling my grief even worse. Eventually, he tired of waiting for me to move past my loss and broke up with me.

“Yeah, you were,” I said. “But c’mon. We were too young to be engaged anyway. We were twenty-three, and not emotionally-mature twenty-three-year-olds, either. Don’t worry about it.” I tilted my head toward the group. “Let’s go see what Holly is telling your buddies. I’m sure they’re riveted.”

Shane looked toward the building. “If Angelia’s happy,” he muttered, his words trailing off.

As we approached, I heard a voice rising from the middle of the crowd and interrupting Holly.

“Hey, you didn’t charge me the right amount for the wine I bought back there.” Ah, it was Angelia’s mom. “Did you give me the right bottle? I wanted the Chardonnay. The one that was described on the menu as delivering the aromas of peach and Meyer lemon, with a perfect balance of fruit and acidity and a long finish. Enjoy right away or watch as the flavors continue to evolve for up to five years. $25.99.

“Marlo has an eidetic memory,” her friend interjected. “She can remember anything, even if she only sees it for a second. That’s how she knows exactly what the description said.”

“My receipt doesn’t say $25.99,” Marlo continued, barely waiting for her friend to finish speaking. “I bet this isn’t the right wine. I don’t want some cheap $16.99 bottle.”

Holly smiled, her eyes focused on the two women in the middle of the group. My sister had about ten different smiles, and this one I called the don’t-worry-be-happy smile. She used it when she was marginally invested in what she was doing and just wanted to finish floating through it. “I gave you the friends and family discount,” she said. When Marlo didn’t answer, she gestured toward the building. “Shall we go inside?”

Holly hopped off the bench. As the group started to shuffle forward, Angelia appeared at Shane’s side and took his hand. She pushed her sunglasses to her head, revealing her blue eyes and perfectly-arched eyebrows. She was petite—I’d guess about five-foot-two—and she looked up at Shane for a second before turning her gaze to me.

“Jill!” she said. “So good to see you! I’ve talked quite a bit with your other sister, Stella. Please tell her thank you for arranging this tour for us.”

Before I could reply, the smile dropped from her face, and with an odd, blank stare she pulled Shane to the front of the group. He looked over his shoulder and waved goodbye to me.

“Hey, little wine lady,” someone said from behind. The words were followed by my ponytail being yanked.

Really?

I turned to see that the ponytail yanker was a tall dude wearing a pink polo shirt with a popped collar. I didn’t recognize him as one of Shane’s friends from when we were going out years before. The guy must have been a new friend—a new friend with glazed eyes and a childish way of getting my attention.

“Aren’t you supposed to be teaching us about wine right now?” he asked, his eyelids heavy.

“I sure am. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to join my sister in the front.”

Instead of cutting through the middle and possibly brushing by Angelia or Shane, I took the long way around and joined Holly by the winemaking facility’s doors.

“We call this the barn,” she was saying. “Because, as you can see, it was designed to look like a barn, even though this is where we make wine.”

“Barns are red though,” one girl called out. “This building is gray.”

Holly turned to the security keypad. I got the feeling she wasn’t going to acknowledge the comment.

“I have a question,” a guy said just as Holly raised her hand to input the security code.

She turned toward the voice. “Yes?”

“How’d you learn about wine? I mean, like, what are your qualifications and stuff?”

The guy asking the question wasn’t the ponytail yanker, but I didn’t like him any better with his tone. I was starting to think I didn’t really like Shane’s new friends. I wondered if they were friends that he had made through Angelia.

“Well,” Holly said while turning back to the barn doors. Her fingers flew over the security keypad as she entered the ten-digit code. “I have a Ph.D. in Art History. So the only thing I’m qualified to do is pour wine.” She said it with a light laugh, but I still cringed. The great oak doors slid open, and she motioned for everyone to enter.

As Holly and I waited for the group to filter in past us, I said to her, “You’ve got to stop downplaying your Ph.D. and your wine experience.”

She tilted her head, pursed her lips, and raised her eyebrows. “Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.”

Fair enough.

She pointed to the bench where she had been standing. “I just covered harvesting. Do you want to talk about de-stemming and extracting juice?”

“More than anything. I think they will find the de-stemmer fascinating.”

Holly pursed her lips again, suppressing a chuckle.

“I also explained that we’ve begun harvesting already this year, even though our harvest festival isn’t until next weekend. I tried to explain that we plan festival dates months in advance, before we know exactly when the grapes will be ready. They didn’t seem to latch onto the concept though, so expect questions about that.”

We entered the building, and I attempted to draw the group’s attention to the big machine just inside the barn doors on the left side. As it turned out, the group did not find the de-stemmer fascinating, though that was truly what I expected. Marlo and her friend whispered the entire time I explained the process. Angelia didn’t take her eyes off Shane. Two girls kept tapping Toby on the shoulder with apparently nothing to say.

And Holly was wrong—there weren’t any questions about the harvest festival happening after harvest already began. They cared even less than we expected.

The scene reminded me of when I had to teach tenth grade English a couple years back. This group seemed to have a lot in common with apathetic fifteen-year-olds, though I guessed the amount of wine they consumed before the tour had something to do with that.

Reading the room, I rushed through explaining how we extract juice from grapes. I knew that what came next would be more interesting to them anyway.

I looked over at Holly who was standing next to me. “Want to talk about punching down the cap while I demonstrate?”

She nodded, and we led the group further into the barn toward a big vat of crushed grapes. As Holly started the explanation, I strode to the back wall and grabbed a tool hanging from hooks. It was a long pole with what looked like a big, flat disk on the end.

“Red grapes don’t have red juice,” Holly said. “Red wine’s color comes from the grape skins. Here we have Pinot Noir grapes—our first harvest of the year.” She motioned to the vat. “The grapes have already been through the de-stemmer, and now they’re all crushed up. This is called the must. It’s the grape juice with all the skins and seeds and stems in there. See how there’s all kinds of muck floating at the top? That’s called the cap. All the solids from the must—like the skins and seeds—accumulate on the top and hang out there.”

Holly glanced at me as I approached the vat again. I handed her the pole, and then I hoisted myself onto the side of the vat. It was about four feet high, and its walls were about two inches wide, so I stabilized myself by standing at the corner, one foot on each perpendicular side, toes pointed out diagonally. The group collectively murmured.

“In order to extract as much color from the skin as we can, we do what’s called punching down the cap,” Holly said. She handed the tool back to me. “Basically, we’re just mixing up the must. We do this three or four times a day until it’s to our liking.”

Holding the pole upright, I positioned the disk on top of the wine cap and punched down. As expected, it took some force. I pulled it up, and then punched down another section of the cap.

“That’s crazy,” a girl in the group said. “How are you not falling in?”

I tight-rope walked to another corner and punched down another part of the cap.

“She’s always been really athletic,” Shane said.

“Just practice,” I said under my breath as I punched down again and then moved to another corner of the vat.

“I bet it’s not that hard,” someone said.

I was pretty sure it was Marlo’s friend speaking, but I didn’t look up to check.

“Can we try?” she continued. “Do you take volunteers? Angelia, how about you? Want to try?”

“Sorry, no volunteers,” Holly said. “This does take a lot of practice, and it can actually be a bit dangerous—not just because it’s hard to balance on the edge like Jill is. There’s a lot of chemistry happening here. As the cap gets punched down, carbon dioxide is released into the air. Now, this vat isn’t very big—only eight feet by eight feet. And Jill has been doing this for years, so she knows what to do. But there are plenty of stories about people punching the cap of enormous vats who are overcome by the carbon dioxide, which makes them pass out, fall into the wine, and drown.”

I finished punching down the cap in the last corner and tight-rope walked over to Holly. She took the tool from me, and I jumped down.

Two guys in the back of the group half-heartedly clapped.

“You didn’t get the middle,” one of the clapping guys said.

“I’ll do that later,” I said. I couldn’t reach the middle without laying a plank across the vat to walk on, and it was time to get the group over to the cellar to discuss barreling.

“I’m bored,” one of the girls said. “Do we really have to be on this tour?”

Holly and I looked at each other. The question seemed to be directed at us, as though we were forcing them to be there.

“No,” I answered. “Of course, if you want to move on and check out the rest of Otto Viti, that’s no problem. Angelia? Shane? Are you ready to go?”

The bride and groom looked at each other. Angelia leaned into Shane and whispered loudly, “I thought we were going to get to stomp grapes and stuff. This is pretty boring.”

“Sorry, no grape stomping on tours, unfortunately,” Holly said with her don’t-worry-be-happy smile. “But next weekend is our harvest festival to celebrate crush season, and we’ll be doing some grape stomping if you want to come back then.”

The group started muttering, and slowly, turned around to walk out. No one actually said they were opting to end the tour, but the message was clear.

As Holly and I followed the group and closed the barn doors behind us, my phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and saw a text from Stella.

Is the tour almost over? Can one of you finish it and send the other to save Aldo in the tasting room?

I groaned. Holly leaned over to read the text and huffed. “Why did she have Aldo take over in the tasting room?”

I shook my head and then looked around. Everyone from the bachelor-bachelorette party had scattered, without saying goodbye, so we were free to go.

I typed a response to Stella.

On our way.

Chapter 3

Stella’s text message hadn’t been quite clear. Save Aldo in the tasting room didn’t really capture just what was happening when Holly and I finished power walking back to the winery’s main building.

We could hear it as we approached. Holly gave me a look somewhere between a grin and a grimace.

Inside, our seventy-five-year-old grandfather—the one who thought up the idea of Otto Viti in the first place and planted one of the first vineyards in the Temecula Valley over forty years ago—had garnered a crowd of middle-aged women wearing flamboyant hats around the bar and was leading them in a rousing rendition of Que Sera Sera. The problem with this, though, was that it was only he who knew all the words—everyone else only knew the three or four really popular lines. So, really, he was leading them in a rousing rendition of those three or four lines over and over.

Holly and I joined Aldo behind the bar and did the only thing we could do. We flung our arms around our grandfather’s shoulders and joined in. Aldo paused his singing long enough to kiss each of us on the cheek, and then after a verse or so, Holly and I broke off and leaned over the bar toward a few snazzy ladies and asked if they wanted to try some wine. Slowly, when the rest realized we were going back to tasting wine, the singing faded away and was replaced by spirited conversation and laughter.

“Nonno, I didn’t know Stella was sending you to watch the tasting room while we were gone,” I said to my grandfather.

“Oh, she wasn’t,” he said in his thickly-accented Italian voice. “But I saw Jamie walking over here from his office in the back, and I told him not to worry. I would come instead.”

I grinned. Aldo was short, balding, and weathered from years of working in the sun, but he was a firecracker. He loved people. He loved wine. He loved people drinking his wine. And even though he no longer oversaw wine production at the D’Angelo winery, he was here every day hanging out.

“I’m glad,” I said. “Everything is better when you are here, Nonno.”

And I really meant it. The man never had a bad day, and his happiness was contagious.

There was no time to chat about the strange tour we had just given as Aldo, Holly, and I poured wine and engaged with the guests. At D’Angelo—and at all the tasting rooms in Otto Viti, really—we tried hard to be present with the people who chose to spend time with us. Since we weren’t as busy as some of the big, mass-producing vineyards just a couple miles away where party busses could make it down the street, we could move more slowly. We also had pretty good wine knowledge to share with guests who wanted to talk. Holly and Aldo were the best, and I think I did pretty well. I never had to read the label of a wine bottle to answer a wine taster’s question at least. People who visited us were typically looking for an afternoon or evening of good wine and thoughtful conversation interspersed with fantastic meals and unique shopping, and we just wanted to help make that happen—without being snobby.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Jen is a teacher and writer who loves writing for both children and adults, including the Sarafina Series for school-aged children and the new Otto Viti Mystery Series for adults. She lives with her beautiful family in the San Diego area. In her free time, she enjoys running, practicing yoga, and reading.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I fell in love with cozy mysteries while reading the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. Now I read a lot of cozies. I adore the quirky characters and quaint towns, and I appreciate the clean storytelling and intriguing mysteries. As a writer, I wanted to be part of a genre I admire.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Must be Murder is the first book of the Otto Viti Mysteries. In coming books, Jill has new mysteries to solve, often figuring out "whodunit" before the local detective. Also, big changes are ahead for Jill—both professionally and romantically—and of course everyone in town wants to weigh in.
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
Right now, I'm reading the Booktown Mysteries by Lorna Barrett. I'm also reading the Harry Potter series with my daughters. We read the whole series last year, and I thought we might start a new series this year, but no. We are reading Harry again. I love it!

Next in:
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
The Turncoat
When Hate Is Skin Deep
Imperfect Memories
A perfect memory turns deadly.
SHADOWED BY DEATH: AN...
Even a reluctant assassin is deadly