Death of Wine Snob (Part 2)

This is the second installment of the short story about the murder of a wine expert. Part one can be read here.

…this was a robbery by someone with good taste in wine.

My first stop was the office of the local paper, the Newberg Journal Republic. They had just remodeled and the place smelled like new carpet and burnt coffee. Schantz was in, and the receptionist ushered me into his office at once.

“Detective, have a seat. Thanks for coming in,” he said when I entered.

He was fiftyish, big and burly with greying dark hair and dark eyes. He was usually the pushy, arrogant newsman that often plagued my existence. Today he was subdued and looked worried.

“Boyd. You heard about Peter Joseph?” I said.

“I heard he had been murdered. I am stunned. He was a good friend. “

He was quiet for a moment, and then the reporter emerged from his gloom, “I have a reporter up there, but what can you tell me?”

“Not much Boyd. He was likely murdered. Off the record, it looks like it may have been related to his job. Do you have any ideas about who he might have aggravated enough to kill him.”

“Man. That’s a hard one,” said Boyd. “There were so many. A lot of passion and tradition is wrapped up in winemaking. Peter tended to be an iconoclast. In some ways, he was traditional in the way he evaluated wines, but in other ways, he was also open to using new approaches like data analysis. Big data techniques he called it. He did an article where he used some weather data analysis to predict that the Yamhill County 2017 Pinot’s would have an off year. This was before any of it was bottled. It turned out he was right, and a lot of winemakers still have not forgiven him.”

“Anyone, in particular, come to mind?”

“No, not really. I mean to give you an example. I was at dinner with Peter at the Chehelem Tasting Room on Saturday.”

“That the place downtown that just opened?” I asked.

“Yes—well one of them. So, we were sitting there enjoying some finger food and a nice Pinot from the Harkness Winery, and Werner Dobson comes over with his winemaker in tow and sits down at our table without so much as a howdy, and he begins to berate Peter about an article he is writing on Werner’s winery. It got kind of loud and awkward. It was pretty typical. I can think of a half dozen times I have been out to taste wines with him where he would get into it with someone, and he wasn’t the one who would start the arguments. Peter was pretty laid back and mild-mannered, but stubborn in his opinions.”

“Who’s Werner Dobson?”

“He’s a heavy hitter in the industry around here. He came up from California, five-six years ago and bought a winery, and re-named it Timber Ridge Winery. He has bought a lot of vineyards since and hired some good people. His stuff has a pretty good reputation.”

“Any idea what his beef was on Saturday?” I asked.

“Yeah. Peter told me about it since it was newspaper business. He had been out to Werner’s winery taking a tour and tasting some of the new wines coming out this year for an article he was writing. From what I gathered, he had called Werner on Friday and gave him a heads up that the article would not be flattering.”

“How big of a problem would that be for Werner?”

Boyd stopped to think for a moment, shrugged, and said, “Probably be a bit of a hit on his reputation, but every winery has bad years, so it wouldn’t be that big of an issue. Also, there are plenty of wine hacks who would tout his wine in return for a paid junket. It would mainly affect local opinion in the industry.”

“Huh…were there any other witnesses to this exchange?”

“Just about everyone in the shop at the time, but most of them were pretending to ignore it. The only other one there, by our table, was Werner’s winemaker, Dave Cooper. He was standing there, near Werner, the whole time.”

“How did the argument end?”

“The manager came out and told them they would have to quiet down. Werner got up and walked out in a huff leaving Cooper to bring up the rear. They got in one of the company’s Maseratis, parked out front, and drove off. “

“One last question. Do you know anything about a $35,000 bottle of wine that Peter bought at an auction? “

“Sure. Everyone knows about that. He used his savings to buy it as an investment. It’s a famous Australian wine. Apparently, only 12 bottles of the vintage still exist. He did an article about it.”

“Anything or anyone else you can think of that might help?”

“Just the consequences of Peter’s article.”


“The one guy that might have been most affected is Dave Cooper. Werner is not known for his patience with employees. If the wine was poor, he might pin the blame on Cooper. Loss of the job and the fancy car might be a motive.”

Interesting, I thought and then said, “Thanks Boyd. Let me know if you think of anything else that might help.”

When I got back to my car, I called Truman to get a report. She still had more neighborhood to canvas and had not come up with anything. I asked her to go back to the crime scene and do a quick check on the wine inventory, to see if the pricey bottle was still there, and to call me back as soon as she knew. I also told her to remind the crime scene people to dust the pantry for fingerprints. I hung up and called the dispatcher and got contact information and addresses for Werner, and his sidekick, Dave Cooper. I was starting to like them both for the murder but Cooper intrigued me more than his boss.

I left a message at the winery for Werner, and he called me back and agreed to meet me at the winery offices. I got a text from Truman as I drove to the winery. Three of the most expensive wines were missing from the pantry. Apparently, this was a robbery by someone with good taste in wine.

Link to Part 3

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