- October 16, 2019
A fun thing happened this Summer. In the course of two weeks, we heard from a dozen different patrons who all wrote with the same question: did we know that John Lescroart, the celebrated mystery writer, had woven Hafner Chardonnay or Hafner Cabernet into his books?
Yes! We did!
We are honored that John and his wife are longtime patrons of Hafner Vineyard, as are their parents and their adult children. John and his wife have been frequent visitors to the winery over the years, and when I received these emails from our patrons, I shared them with John. It seems lots of people find crime mysteries to be the perfect Summer read. And clearly John is very popular among Hafner patrons.
I asked John why and how he wove his favorite wine into his plots, plus a few other questions. We thought you might enjoy the Q & A...and in fact, several of the questions were suggested by the patrons who wrote me in the first place.
Scott: What led you to introduce Hafner wine into a particular scene in your books?
John: One of the things that makes a scene come alive is its wholeness, all the parts fitting together to convey a believable reality. To get this effect, I include as many specific real-life elements as I can without weighing down the plot. In San Francisco, this tends to include the weather, the restaurants my characters frequent, and of course the food they are eating and the wine they drink, which is quite likely to be a Hafner.
Scott: What does it say about the character if he or she is enjoying Hafner wine?
John: If I want to imbue a sympathetic character with a certain degree of sophistication that falls far short of snobbery, having that person enjoying a glass of Hafner is a wonderful shorthand for somebody with whom I'd like to hang out.
Scott: Your books are filled with memorable scenes in San Francisco’s restaurants and bars. How do you do all the investigative/exploratory work to capture those details of the local food scene including great meals at Tadich Grill and John’s Grill?
John: Well, ask any writer and he or she will tell you that going to fine San Francisco restaurants is certainly one of the very difficult things about the job. That first-hand exploratory work -- dining at John's, Sam's, Tadich Grill -- whew, it can be grueling! But...I like to be sure that I get the details right in my books, and so I must soldier on!
Scott: How do you map out the plots on which your novels are based?
John: The plotting of my books is a bit of a process. The story usually gestates as a theme first -- the battered women syndrome, mercy killing, racial conflict, sexual abuse, revenge, and so on. Some time after I've lived with one of these concepts, an opening scene occurs to me, and I write it down and see if it sings. If it does, I start doing some research to see where things might go in "real life." (Often, this research takes me back to those restaurants we've mentioned earlier, perhaps with a glass or two of Hafner in a supporting role.) Finally, I get to feeling that I have enough general information to start the actual writing process, then I go into "production mode" and try to write several pages every day, following the prose where it may lead me.
Scott: Who is (or was) Johnny Capo? Tell us about your earlier career as a musician and how music is still an important part of your life.
John: I started singing and playing guitar during college at UC Berkeley, and kept at it through my twenties. Eventually, I gathered a group of talented folks together and they became the real good band. Early on, I made the decision to become Johnny Capo -- because let's face it, Lescroart is one clunker of a hard name to remember and/or pronounce (it's Less-kwah, by the way). The band and I stayed together for about three years, playing venues all over the Bay Area . . . maybe even at a bar or steak house near many of your patrons -- Chuck's Cellar, The Miramar Beach Inn, the Palo Alto Winery, etc. I still play music and write lots of songs. You can check out my CD's -- As The Crow Flies and Whiskey & Roses -- at my website.
Scott: What was it about Peter Ash in “Fatal” that led him to drink Chardonnay versus Dismas Hardy in “The Rule of Law” who drank Hafner Cabernet?
John: Now we're getting into the really difficult psychological questions and insights. I guess I'm stuck with having to conclude that whether you're a good guy or a bad guy, you're probably going to like one or another of Hafner's wines.
Scott: Was there a memorable Lescroart family occasion that was improved by Hafner wine?
John: It's possibly more fair to say that there hasn't been a family occasion that has not been improved by Hafner wine in the past twenty-five or more years. Cabernet, Chardonnays, Rosé, Next Red. You name it, I've got it in my wine cellar and we break it out with astonishing regularity.
Scott: What propelled you to use Hafner wine as a device in the first place?
John: Actually, this was cool. I was "walking the walk," doing real research in San Francisco, and I was halfway up Nob Hill when I stopped into a small restaurant the name of which I've forgotten in the mists of time, but I remember checking the menu and seeing Hafner Cabernet on the wine list, which at the time was the only wine that I both recognized and could afford. It was fantastic and I knew that if I liked it so much, Dismas Hardy would share my enthusiasm. And sure enough, he did!
Scott: Finally, one patron asked: why does John take so long to write his stories? I usually can’t wait to see his next novel after I finish the last one!
John: Novels, for me, are a bit like wine -- on average, I get about one harvest per year. I've published twenty-nine novels so far, and each one has taken about a year to write. The recent exception is that I took a voluntary sabbatical last year after I finished THE RULE OF LAW. But never fear, I'm about a quarter of the way through the next Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky novel, and if all goes well, EXONERATION should see its way to publication in 2020 or 2021. I'm thrilled to hear that my readers just can't wait for the next one, so I can only offer this consolation -- go on back and read them over again!
Well, there you have it. Grab a John Lescroat mystery and a glass of Hafner and you’ll have many enjoyable hours ahead of you! Our deep thanks to John and to those patrons who tipped us off to this!
Note: Healdsburg is fortunate to have a great independent bookseller with a full shelf of John Lescroat mysteries. Thank you Adele at Levin & Company for being a part of our blog!