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Veni Vidi Vin (A Sonoma Wine Country Cozy Mystery, #3)

Veni Vidi Vin (A Sonoma Wine Country Cozy Mystery, #3)

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Veni Vidi Vin (A Sonoma Wine Country Cozy Mystery, #3)

273 pagine
3 ore
Feb 16, 2016


When Emma Corsi's best friend Jack Russo decides to expand Ristorante Massimo into a luxury restaurant and hotel, someone sabotages half a million dollars of his best French wine. Was it environmentalists worried about Blissburg's development run amuck, the 98% worried about affordable housing, the French worried about the competition, or a disgruntled architect worried about a project gone south?

Emma Corsi needs to solve the mystery fast to save Jack's reputation and their budding romance.

Feb 16, 2016

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Veni Vidi Vin (A Sonoma Wine Country Cozy Mystery, #3) - A.J. Carton

Veni Vidi Vin

A Sonoma Wine Country

Cozy Mystery

A. J. Carton


For A & B

Table of Contents

1.  Monday Night – Veni Vidi Vinegar

2.  Tuesday Early Morning – Ha Ha on You!

3.  Tuesday Still Early – French Connection

4.  Tuesday Mid-Morning – Foodies Go Home!

5.  Tuesday Morning – Hand Milled What?

6.  Tuesday Mid-Day – Standing on Principle

7.  Tuesday Afternoon – Not on Public Property

8.  Tuesday Night – Snow Job

9. Wednesday A.M. – You Are What You Eat

10. Wednesday Noon – Just Call Me Al

11. Wednesday Afternoon – New at City Hall

12. Wednesday – Working Mom

13. Thursday Noon – The Normans Are Coming

14. Thursday Afternoon – Matters of Honor

15. Thursday Late Afternoon – Laying a Trap

16. Thursday Night – Greek to Me

17. Friday Morning – Party Planner

18. Friday Afternoon – Just the Facts

19. Late Friday Afternoon – He Said/She Said

20. Saturday Lunch – Rich Man/Poor Man

21. Sunday Morning – Crushed

22. Sunday Night – Home Cooking

23. Monday Morning – Sell Out/Buy In?

24. Monday Afternoon – The Ring Cycle

25. Monday Night – Listen Up

26. Tuesday Morning – Centuries Not Years

27. Wednesday Noon – Putting a Face on It

28. Wednesday Afternoon – Let It Rain

29. Saturday Night – Diner sur l’herbe


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Other Books by A. J. Carton

Updates about Future Books


Fiction Disclaimer

1. Monday Night - Veni Vidi Vinegar

Emma Corsi had to admit it. Hammersmith Asquith-Jones's PowerPoint show had all of them snowed. Even Emma's cynical smirk dissolved into an audible, jaw dropping gasp when the first image of Red House Studio's bold concept for the renovation of Ristorante Massimo! appeared on the 85 inch screen. The projector screen Emma had driven all the way to Santa Rosa to buy earlier that afternoon.

To be sure, the first time Emma met Hammersmith Asquith-Jones, principal architect of the internationally famous London-based design firm, she'd been impressed. Ham, as everyone called him, stood well over six and a half feet tall. Emma couldn't help noticing that, much like a well designed building, the fifty year old's perfect proportions elegantly masked his unusual height. He had a matinée idol's face with piercing blue eyes framed by short-cut brown hair and the ramrod straight posture of a Navy Seal - though his loose fitting surfer shirt and perfect fit jeans disguised that as well.

Now, thanks to Ham's lively imagination and obvious talent Ristorante Massimo! (the former '50s pizza parlor turned one of Sonoma County's chicest restaurants) had been entirely reborn. The plain, one story building magically transformed into what Ham called a starched white dinner napkin carelessly dropped on a rustically landscaped lawn.

The tucks and folds disguise four cantilevered outdoor dining areas overlooking the edible gardens, Ham explained in a BBC accent that, for some reason, grated on Emma's ears. He pointed his red laser dot to what looked like a gentle ripple in the structure's sleek, matte-finished titanium surface, then moved on to a blowup showing a raised deck hidden behind the titanium fold - set with ten elegantly laid tables and sleek "aluminium" chairs.

He continued, Three additional 'napkins' scattered over the newly acquired adjacent parcel house the twelve bedroom luxury inn (connected to the dining room via a copper clad pergola perforated with the shapes of local produce); offices including a small assembly facility; and, of course, Ham arched one brow, "a state of the art wine cellar for Massimo!'s unrivaled collection."  

Ham gestured towards a blond woman seated beside him. She reminded Emma of a young, darker complexioned Catherine Deneuve. Heli Heikke from Arcadian Landscapes has proposed a back-to-nature Rousseauian garden that, as Heli so deliciously puts it, Ham made quotation marks with his fingers and flashed a self-congratulatory smile in Heli's direction, 'sets the flowers and trees free.'

Everybody laughed delightedly and Emma swore that Jack Russo - one of Massimo!'s owners and her very best friend in the whole world - almost fell out of his chair trying to catch Heli's eye with a thumbs up accompanied by a benevolent smile.

Ham finished the PowerPoint show by pressing his open palm humbly to his chest. In sum, he chuckled self-indulgently, "we offer you le dejeuner sur l'herbe the way it might look after Edouard Manet's family hastily departed, leaving a few white linen napkins behind on the lawn. We hope you like it."

Jack Russo raised his bushy black eyebrows and nodded enthusiastically before bursting into applause. Pushing seventy, the short, combative Sicilian-American venture capitalist had only recently entered the highly competitive northern California food business. With his dark eyes and olive skin he was a striking contrast to his unlikely new friend - the much taller, grey haired, pale-eyed, chalky complexioned Emma Corsi.

Once the noise died down, Heli Heikki stood up to address the small audience. It was made up of Emma, grandmother, local food writer and cook; Jack Russo, venture capitalist and co-owner of Ristorante Massimo!; Massimo Santagrata co-owner and celebrity chef; John Kim, the restaurant's newly hired sommelier; Peppino Pieri consulting vintner from the nearby Buchanan Winery; Piers Larkin, Emma's son-in-law and Ristorante Massimo!'s lawyer; Julie Larkin, Emma's daughter and public relations representative for the expanded new restaurant; and Julie's new assistant, Lexie Buchanan, wife of the owner of Buchanan Enterprises.

Like Ham, Heli was tall, Emma noted when the young landscape architect rose to speak. The thirty-something, who commuted from Paris, had arrived in Blissburg that morning. But Emma noted that the strikingly beautiful girl's deeply suntanned face didn't look a bit tired. Her golden hair descended over her right shoulder gathered in a thick loose ponytail. Everything about the young Finnish transplant to Paris was bold: from her tight black leather jeans to the oversized blue denim work shirt she wore tightly cinched under a turquoise studded silver belt to her pointed, jewel-studded, four-inch stiletto-heeled boots.

Nothing Rousseauian there, Emma noted. Then again no one was hiring Heli for sartorial consistency.

The girl spoke in heavily accented English about rejecting neoclassicism in favor of "Rouseauian capriccio" in the Blissburg "champain". Her solutions included the free-formed tonsure, of evergreens; a quincunx of fruit trees, a small "parterre of flower beds and - at least Emma thought she said - a ha-ha for the introduction of local sheep into the landscape for use on table for consumption as well as for to become an 'eyecatcher' in garden," the girl explained.

They'll probably need a permit for the sheep, Emma mused admitting to herself that she had not understood most of what the young woman had said.

Heli finished by joining her open palms together in a silent namaste. Every man in the room burst into enthusiastic applause.

Ham next introduced the final act in the presentation. The executive architect - a principal from a well-known local firm called Space 4 Space + Space. Bruce Quaid was the oldest of the three architects Jack had hired to design the renovation and expansion of their restaurant and new luxury inn. Unlike Ham and Heli, Quaid was barely 5' 5" tall.

Perhaps to make up for this shortcoming, he wore pointed green lizard and tan cowboy boots with two-inch high heels and his white hair swept back off his forehead in a wavy pompadour that almost made him 5'8". Bruce Quaid was not fit like Ham. Emma noted a sizable paunch protruding under his oversized black linen dress shirt that he purposely did not tuck in. But standing next to Ham at the microphone, Quaid carried himself like a fit man, shoulders squared and chin tilted at forty-five degrees - as though staring at treetops instead of the stray wisps of hair peeking out of the wide-open collar of Ham's Hawaiian surfer shirt.

Like many older architects Emma had met over the years, Quaid wore what she called Corb glasses. Quaid's version was large and round, of course, with thick neon green plastic frames instead of Le Corbusier's black. Emma never understood the glasses conceit - in Quaid's case making him look more like a very surprised toad than the revered Swiss-French architect.

As soon as Quaid began speaking it was clear that, despite his glasses, he was the unsexy member of the team. He discussed vehicular drop offs, access, prep and delivery, pre-function, back of house, access, and egress using that peculiar architect-speak that Emma guessed few in the room understood. Least of all Massimo Santagrata for whom English was already a challenging second language.

When Quaid finished speaking, Ham took the microphone again. Finally, after fifteen minutes of questions and answers that felt more like a group hug, Emma looked at her watch.

Good thing we planned some food, she thought. It was almost 7:00 p.m. Monday night. The restaurant was closed, but everyone needed to eat before they returned home or to their hotels.

Massimo had stood up to address the crowd looking uncharacteristically subdued.

"Ciao everyone," the young chef began in his peculiar mix of Italian and English. He had raised his hands, palms to the ceiling, in welcome. Dressed in his starched white chef's tunic, he reminded Emma of a tall, tanned, curly haired Jesus about to pass around fishes and loaves.

"Eat was a fantastico presentation. An I hope the new Massimo! ees gonna be, he kissed his fingertips and tossed the kiss in the air, as meraviglioso, as marvelous as we have just heard. Almost like a miracle! He turned to his partner, Right Jack? And the gardens, he raised his shoulders and glanced sideways at Heli, what can I say? Bravissima! But now ees time to eat and to celebrate with the food that we hope will bring us, he raised his hands again fingers crossed, good luck. With a glass of wine that Jack and I have selected just now for our new state of the art, he wagged his hand up and down sideways, wine cellar."

With that, Massimo disappeared into the kitchen. Emma followed him, along with Lexie and Julie while the others congratulated each other in the main dining room.

Wow, what do you think, Massimo? Julie asked, helping the chef assemble a platter of prosciutto di Parma wrapped around slices of fresh, ripe nectarines.

"What can I say? Eats stupendo. Eef eat works," he added with a skeptical shrug.

Emma waved her hand dismissively, I think it's over the top - like everything Jack does. Personally, I'd say the architecture is kind of gimmicky - I mean, Manet's dropped napkins? Give me a break!

Lexie Buchanan agreed. The petite, fit, thirty-something masseuse turned trophy wife was clearly unimpressed. That bull about 'free the trees!' The Heli-copter looked about as free as a hog in sausage casing wearing those skin-tight leather jeans.

Well I loved it! Julie disagreed. "The buildings, alone, will put Massimo! on the international destination map. Forget the food." She glanced at Massimo then caught herself. Popping a piece of prosciutto and nectarine into her mouth and pretending to swoon she added, "Of course, the food here has already put Massimo! on the map. And after Massimo and Jack's trip to Burgundy! Their wine cellar will be the best in California. Too bad you couldn't go on that tasting trip, Mom."

Emma nodded, pulling a large ceramic dish of Massimo's homemade mushroom lasagne out of the oven and placing it on the counter next to a serving platter of sliced roast veal. It was awfully nice of Jack to invite me; but with that cookbook deadline a month away, I couldn't go. As it is, I barely got the revisions to the publisher in time. There'll be another trip, she added. "Apparently Jack hit it off with the Domaine de la Vivante-Pompadour's owner. Massimo! will be among the first restaurants in northern California to serve their Burgundy. Of course, tasting that wine in the vineyard must have been special, right Massimo?"

The young man shrugged noncommittally.

Julie replied instead. "I'll bet! Vivante-Pompadour, Laid Mouton. What do those bottles sell for?"

Some of them go for thousands of dollars, depending on the year. Emma snorted, "I probably couldn't tell the difference between a glass of Domaine de la Vivante-Pompadour and a $10 Burgundy from Trader Joe's. But Jack swears a topnotch wine list is essential for a Michelin star."

I bet I could tell the difference, Lexie answered picking up the platter of veal. Lexie's husband, Barry Buchanan, owned one of California's highest grossing wineries. If Barry would serve anything besides our own Lexie Reserve, that is.

"I'll probably never get the chance to taste a Laid Mouton or a Vivante-Pompadour, Julie sighed. Ever since Ollie was born I get headaches from red wine. So much for DVP," she added picking up a cheese tray with the prosciutto platter and heading into the dining room. 

"So much the better," Emma called after her grabbing two potholders and following her daughter with the lasagne. I can think of a million things I'd rather do with a thousand dollars than buy a bottle of wine - like feed the hungry.

A few minutes later all the dinner food had been served. That's when Jack appeared holding two bottles of wine. When he set them down on the table next to some sparkling clean glass goblets, everyone standing in the buffet line stared at the labels and gasped. The printing on the bottles read "Domaine de la Vivante-Pompadour."

Massimo opened a bottle and poured an inch of wine in each glass. Then he passed the goblets around, everyone gripping the long thin stems as though holding the Holy Grail. Everyone except Julie, who shook her head, and Peppino Pieri who sneered at the wine and turned away.

Emma glanced at Peppino and back at Jack standing next to her. What's that about? she asked.

Jack shook his head. Peppino's mad that we're serving French wine. He thinks we should only serve wine from local vineyards at the restaurant.

No love lost there, Emma agreed. She'd heard Peppino's rants about the arrogant Francesi.

Well this is business, Jack shot back, not politics. And not petty old world prejudices, either. This wine is the best in the world and I'll serve it in my restaurant.

He had raised his glass to make a toast.

To fine wine, great food and world class architecture, he said.

The perfect trifecta, Ham laughed.

Then nine glasses tipped back, coating their sides with the thick, deep red nectar of the gods...

Or was it?

"Che schifo! Disgusting!" Massimo spat his mouthful of wine onto the restaurant floor.

Yuck! Emma cried, watching Jack and Piers swallow and shudder.

Lexie had run into the kitchen to spit her wine out in the sink.

Ham had gulped down his. He looked mildly perplexed. Bruce Quaid and Heli yelled for water. Only John Kim, the new sommelier, seemed unconcerned while scribbling notes into his iPad.

It's vinegar, Massimo shouted angrily.

Or poison. That was Jack. We've been had!

Maybe it needs to breathe, Ham suggested invoking the British stiff upper lip.

John shook his head. "No. It's bad. Maybe it turned in that French canicule."

Let's hope that only one bottle is spoiled, Emma added.

All the while Jack and Massimo eyed each other nervously. Both no doubt wondering how many $3000 bottles of wine they would need to open to answer that question.

Jack picked up the second bottle of wine. He pulled out the cork and tasted it.

Pah, another mouthful of wine hit the floor. This one is even worse than the last.

"Maladetta! Massimo shouted. A curse on Burgundy. I knew I should never have trusted a Frenchman."

Amid all the shock and confusion, Emma noted that only one person seemed unperturbed.

Alone, back at the buffet table filling his plate with food, Emma had caught sight of the old Tuscan vintner, Peppino Pieri. She couldn't help noticing that he was smiling smugly to himself.

2. Tuesday Early Morning - Ha Ha on You!


The next morning, Jack woke Emma up with a 6:00 a.m. call. Half an hour later, they met for breakfast at Claud's. Over lattes and bowls of steel cut oatmeal, they talked about the spoiled wine.

How much of the wine is bad? Emma asked.

Jack shook his head. Underneath his still thick mane of salt and pepper hair, her friend looked tired. That's the problem, he said. We don't know. And how do we find out? We can't just open all the bottles and test them.

Emma winced. Is your wine insured? She hadn't even thought of that before.

Jack nodded. Yes. And believe me, I was awake all night worrying about it. I got up at 2:00 a.m. and read the policy. It might as well be written in Greek. So I called Piers.

At 2:00 a.m.? Emma cut in.

That's what I pay him for, Jack scowled. Bottom line, Piers says it depends on what happened. If it's water damage, we're insured. Earthquakes too. But spoilage? Depends on what caused it. And how do we prove that?

How much money are you talking about, Jack? Emma asked after a pause.

He exhaled slowly before answering. Half a million - if everything's gone.

Emma did not succeed in stifling a gasp.

Jack's face iced over - he hadn't played defenseman on the 60s Winter Olympics hockey team for nothing. We're building a world class wine cellar for a world class restaurant, Emma; not wine on tap for a pizza parlor.

I know the difference, Emma glared back at him. She thought but didn't add - and I've known the difference way longer than you have.

Jack wore his blue-collar background on his sleeve, but Emma knew he was still sensitive about his hardscrabble roots buried in 1950s Providence, Rhode Island. Roots that ran back to poverty-stricken Sicily.

Emma's pale blue eyes and fair skin marked her as a northerner. Her family of musicians came from Modena, the heart of Italy's haute cuisine. After the 1906 earthquake, her grandmother had opened a northern Italian restaurant in San Francisco catering to artists and Italian conoscenti. In fact, her grandmother's renowned recipes were the source of Emma's second career as a Sonoma food writer and cook.

Jack must have caught Emma's glare. His tone softened. I know you know the difference. Better than I do. The point is, top-notch vineyards in Burgundy don't just sell a few bottles of wine at a time. We had to invest a lot of money. He shrugged. Besides, you know me. I don't do anything half way.

Emma also knew Jack was proud of that fact. That he was driven. And that whatever he undertook to do, he was determined to be the best at it. Jack Russo wasn't just the first in his family ever to go to college - he went to Harvard. He didn't just play hockey - he was an Olympic champion. He didn't just go into business - he became a venture capitalist worth hundreds of millions of dollars - more than enough to blow $500,000 on a ruined shipment of wine.

It's still a lot of money, Emma defended herself. It would feed a lot of poor people at the Food Bank - pay a lot of salaries for people to do an honest day's work.

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