On Wine and Mythology in Sotto Voce, Or Why Dionysus Is the Hot God of Wine
When I first started writing Sotto Voce, it was inspired by two things: a hot guy in a topless pickup truck and the Greek and Roman gods of wine. Oddly, the two converged.
Long before I had even outlined the book, I had written a short story in a fan community about a wine critic who decided to crash a secret harvest celebration by winemakers, a bacchanalia. According to legend, bacchanalia were Roman festivals of Bacchus, the god of wine, freedom, intoxication and ecstasy. They were based on the Greek Dionysia—festivals honoring the Greek god of wine Dionysus and celebrating the harvest—and were held in strict privacy, and initiates were bound to secrecy. What little is known of the Bacchanalia is often depicted as torrid, debauched, drunken rites.
In this story, the wine critic is spotted by a toga’d winemaker playing Bacchus for the secret party—a hot, toga’d winemaker playing Bacchus.
And that’s where, I realized later, the wheels fell off the story. Because Bacchus, as a Sonoma winemaker once told me, is “not the guy you want to be. Bacchus is old, and the mileage is showing. He’s let himself go. Dionysus is young and hot.”
Technically, many will argue that they are one and the same, that Bacchus is the Roman name for the Greek God of the grape harvest, Dionysus. I think the better interpretation is that Bacchus is Dionysus after 50 years of hard partying.
Source: Wine Appellation America
That’s right. Every time you see depictions of that cherubic, balding guy hoisting a glass of wine, you’re celebrating the wrong God of Wine. It’s young, hot Dionysus you should be celebrating.
I got a chance to remedy that in Sotto Voce, to briefly revisit that moment when the lovers, Greg and Tom, attend a private bacchanalia party to celebrate the end of the harvest in Napa and Sonoma. This time, the winemaker Greg turns down the opportunity to play Bacchus.
“I would have liked to have seen you in a toga,” Tom, the wine critic, tells him. “But I think you’re more of a Dionysus.”
And as for the guy in the topless pickup truck? What’s his role in all of this?
Well, the mystery man in the International Scout—who I don’t know, but occasionally see around the neighborhood—is the original visual inspiration for Greg Kennedy.
His code name?
New York-based wine critic Thomas Baldwin can make or break careers with his column for Taste Magazine. But when his publisher orders him to spend a year profiling rising stars of California’s wine country and organizing a competition between the big name wineries of Napa and the smaller artisan wineries of Sonoma, his world gets turned upside-down by an enigmatic young winemaker who puts art before business.
Sotto Voce is the story of love and wine, and how both require patience, passion, an acceptance of change—and an understanding that sometimes, you have to let nature take its course.
Tom set down the drink and found his way to Greg, locking eyes with him until they stood face to face. Without a word, he took Greg’s hand, entwined their fingers and led him down the hall and away from the noisy crowd.
“We might need another bottle or two,” Greg said, his voice shaky.
A hint of a smile crested Tom’s face. He nodded, just slightly, just enough for Greg to see. He backed down the hall, leading Greg by his fingertips. They reached the cellar door, and Tom rotated, turning Greg like a partner in a waltz so that he stood alongside the door.
Greg tried to lean into him, as if to embrace him, but Tom stepped back slightly and shook his head as if to say not here.
Greg reached into his pocket, pulled out the cellar key and opened the door. Then he reversed roles, taking Tom’s hand to lead him down the narrow staircase.
He flicked a wall switch to light the stairs, casting the rest of the space in soft shades of amber. Each step down revealed more of the stone-walled room, more utilitarian than decorative and lined, floor-to-ceiling, with racked bottles of wine. An alcove built into one wall doubled as a bar, and in the center stood a wine barrel table and two chairs.
Tom took both of Greg’s hands in his and guided him across the room in their own private dance until Greg’s back rested against the wall. He stopped, eased in close and let his face bloom into a full smile.
“I just wanted to stop by and say congratulations,” he said. And then he leaned forward, tilted his head and pressed their lips together.
Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and editor. She was born and raised in Southern California, where she lives with two sheep dogs and grows, ferments and drinks Syrah and Zinfandel in the foothills outside Los Angeles.
Sotto Voce is her first novel.
Connect with Erin at erin-finnegan.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/ErinGoFinnegan, on Goodreads at Goodreads.com/ErinFinnegan and on Twitter at @eringofinnegan.
Erin will be awarding a Multi-format Sotto Voce eBook to 10 randomly drawn winners and a Grand Prize of a $25 B&N gift card will be awarded to one randomly drawn winner, all via rafflecopter during the tour.
Follow the tour.The tour dates can be found here: