Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Let me start with the reality that my husband and I are a little on the… uh, crazy side. Basically, we make the things most sane people buy. I make our soap, bake our bread, make some of our clothes. Michael roasts our coffee beans, smokes our bacon and makes wine. Really good wine.

May I point out that we are perfectly happy to be living in the 21st Century, are as wired up as most folks, and that the only time we live like we’re in the 19th Century is when the power goes out at the house.

Angelica is basically a version of sherry from the variety known as the mission grape. The padres made it in Los Angeles before the Americans came in and took over. The Americans continued making it for quite a while until disease, the railroads, and skyrocketing property values put the brakes on the Los Angeles wine industry in the 1880s. Yes, L.A. had a wine industry. In fact, there were wineries and European varieties being grown all over the place long before Napa Valley happened.

There were a lot of little things that got Michael making angelica and me putting it in my books. We’d gotten a chance to taste some angelica made from 100-year-old vines when Deborah Hall, of Gypsy Canyon Winery, brought some to a wine blogging conference. A friend of ours, Stuart Byles, wrote a wonderful book on the history of wine in L.A. Michael did his lecture on the zanja (or ditch) system that irrigated most of the farms in the area before William Mullholland did the work that inspired the movie Chinatown.

Michael’s lecture started me working on the story that would become Death of the Zanjero. And somewhere in all of that, Michael not only realized that there were two grape vines growing in the oldest existing structure in Los Angeles, the Avila Adobe, but there were grapes growing on them. Not one to leave things alone, Michael wrote the nice people at the University of California, Davis, to find out what kind of grapes they might be. The nice people at Davis got so excited, they did the DNA on the leaves for free (it normally costs $300), and the vines were mission grapes and genetically identical to another really old vine at the Mission San Gabriel, about 9 miles away. We’re not sure how exactly how old these vines are – they could be as old as 200 years, because that’s when the adobe was built. But it could be they’re only 150 years old. Let’s just say they’re among the oldest vines in the state.

Now, Michael is the archivist for the City of Los Angeles, and being knee deep in L.A. history and all, he’s friends with the main supervisor who oversees the Avila Adobe. So, Michael asked if he could try making wines from the vines and was given permission to harvest the grapes and maintain the vines. Knowing that he was dealing with mission grapes, he got Deborah Hall’s recipe (she is the most gracious woman) and got help from another winemaking friend of ours, Wes Hagen, who is not only the winemaker for J. Wilkes, he’s the only winemaker I know who has groupies. He makes amazing wine and is the most knowledgeable and interesting winemaker I’ve ever had pour for me. How is angelica made? Well, the grapes are crushed and fermented until almost dry, then Michael adds a neutral brandy to it and lets it age for a year or so. When it’s done, it’s not as sick sweet or overly oxidized as most sherries are. Michael’s angelica has a touch of tartness to it that I really like.

During all of this, my novel was coming together. I’d decided to make my main character a widow because that is one of the few ways a woman had autonomy in the 19th Century and a sleuth, amateur and otherwise, needs some autonomy. I didn’t feel comfortable enough with Mexican culture to set the story during that period, and didn’t want to deal with the Civil War, so I set my story in 1870, when Los Angeles was still a backwater and very small, but on the cusp of becoming the major metropolis it is. And since more than one of my writing friends had suggested that I write a mystery involving winemaking, I decided that Maddie Wilcox would own a vineyard and make wine. Which, as it turned out, meant making angelica. And (if I recall correctly) I was writing my first draft of Death of the Zanjero when Michael was finishing with his first angelica. It’s been a few years. I took some time to finish my first draft, then aged it, if you will. Death of the Zanjero was released a year ago and this year, the sequel, Death of the City Marshal. Michael is working on the wine from his fourth harvest from the Avila Adobe vines. We split the finished wine with the Adobe’s fundraising foundation. They give bottles to the big donors. We just drink ours, in between all the other wines Michael makes. Or donate it to worthy causes, for which Michael has made the most amazing label, based on labels from the 19th Century, and naming the wine after Maddie’s vineyard, Rancho de las Flores.

We do not and will not sell any wine. There’s just too much competition out there, not to mention all the regulatory issues. As I noted above, we’re only a little crazy.


Anne Louise Bannon is an author and journalist who wrote her first novel at age 15. She is the co-author of Howdunit: Book of Poisons, with Serita Stevens, as well as author of the Freddie and Kathy mystery series, set in the 1920s, and the Operation Quickline series and Tyger, Tyger. She and her husband live in Southern California with an assortment of critters. Visit her website at AnneLouiseBannon.com

1 comment:

Anne Louise Bannon said...

Thanks, Janet, for the opportunity to share my husband's amazing talent.