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New book documents 'the largest wine arson in the world'

New book documents 'the largest wine arson in the world'


Ten years ago, on Oct. 12, 2005, a fire in a Vallejo warehouse destroyed an estimated $250 million in wine.

Mark Anderson, a Marin County civic leader and a man once considered to be an expert in wines, was ultimately convicted of arson, along with 17 other crimes. His motives, according to court documents, were to cover up his business failures and the collapse of his wine enterprise.

Now a new book by Frances Dinkelspiel titled “Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California” has just been released documenting Anderson’s crime.

The author will promote her book at 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, at the Farmstead Restaurant. The book is published by St. Martin’s Press and is available at Copperfield Books.

There’s more to Dinkelspiel’s narrative than just Mark Anderson, which makes this tale of crime richer and deeper. It’s also a story that sends vinicultural tendrils back into the early turbulent days of the California wine industry.

Dinkelspiel readily acknowledges in the introduction of the book to a dual set of motivations in seeking out Anderson in jail. On the one hand, she wants to obtain material about the heinous crime for a New York Times article. But on the other hand, she also wants to “understand a chapter from my family’s past.”

That past has taken her back to a vineyard 40 miles east of Los Angeles, in Rancho Cucamonga, where her great-great-grandfather made Port and Angelica wine in 1875. Anderson’s crime — destroying 4.5 million bottles of wine — happened to also destroy 175 remaining bottles of those 125-year-old vintages.

“I found myself on a quest of sorts, one to comprehend why someone would knowingly ruin that much wine,” Dinkelspiel writes. But also “… to better understand the drive it took to make a good bottle of wine. … Was it only liquid? Was it heritage? Was it a link to anything that mattered?”

In “Tangled Vines” Dinkelspiel chronicles the many steps of Anderson’s demise over many years of jailhouse correspondence. She relates how, as Anderson’s grasp on his past life of luxury began slipping away, he grew increasingly desperate to cover his initial crimes of deceit with other crimes of fraud. Ultimately those devious steps led him along a path to the arson that was to become “the largest wine arson in the world.”

Ted Hall of Long Meadow Ranch — who lost two vintages of cabernet and an entire library of vintages — was quoted at Anderson’s sentencing, “This was a crime against families: those that owned the businesses and many everyday working men and women who helped produce these irreplaceable wines. It has taken us years to recover from the fire. … We nearly lost a lifetime of work. May his sentence reflect the havoc he wreaked and may it be long to reflect the lasting damage he has done to our lives.”

Anderson received a sentence of 27 years and an order to pay $70.3 million in restitution. He remains in prison today.

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Tom Stockwell is currently a staff writer for the St. Helena Star. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and has been a working journalist for a variety of technical publications as well as a consultant for numerous wineries in the Napa Valley.

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