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Sour grapes, headhunters, and The Drifters

Ken Jones aims to entertain

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Author Ken Jones recently released his second book, The Wrath of Grapes: How Not to Start a Winery discussing the challenges of opening a small winery. He will attend a book signing at Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay on August 2.

GRAPE ATTACK! :  Author Ken Jones on his ranch with the vines that inspired him to write his most recent book. - IMAGE COURTESY OF KEN JONES
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF KEN JONES
  • GRAPE ATTACK! : Author Ken Jones on his ranch with the vines that inspired him to write his most recent book.
New Times What inspired you to write this book and what is it about?

Ken Jones I started planting grapes in 1995. I am a writer and it was just a natural thing to capture the experience. The subject, I think, would probably be dreams and following dreams and just trying to find a way to lead a satisfying life. It’s non-fiction. I say on the back cover that it’s Under the Tuscan Sun meets Sideways.

New Times How long did the writing process take?

Jones I have another book that I wrote that was published in 2001 called Waldo. When I was on the The Rick Martel Show I mentioned that I might have another book. I guess I’ve been writing that book for eight years. The official publication date is October of this year. It was completed in May. That’s when it was sent to the printer.

New Times Was it self-published?

Jones I prefer to use the term small-press. I am the publisher. It’s not a vanity press. I hire my own editors.

New Times What is your background as a writer?

Jones I graduated from college and ended up in a dead-end job and then one day I made a list of things I wanted to do. Being a graduate of biology I’m really interested in nature. So at the top of my list I wanted to visit Africa. I quit my job and went to Africa. Then I got drafted and if I had known then what I know now I might never have come. But I was a patriot. I came back and played soldier for two years. On the weekends I started traveling and writing for Westways. I started getting in print when I was still in the army. I was a magazine editor and journalist for a number of years.

New Times Can you credit any writers who have particularly influenced your style?

Jones Even in conversation, if you go to a foreign country where people are speaking in broken English, you will find yourself gravitating towards that broken style. I think there is that environmental influence for all writers. One person that a lot of people have compared my writing to is Pat Conroy. At the time I hadn’t read his work but he’s a terrific writer and that’s a very nice compliment. It could be that the same influences that went into his style went into mine.

New Times This is a book about the obstacles you overcame in order to open your own winery. What was the inspiration that forced you to persist?

Jones I was taking classes at UCLA and one of them was a wine-tasting class. The first half hour the professor told us that if you wanted to make a small fortune on a winery you have to start with a large fortune. That was when I first got my ranch in the early ’90s. I really wasn’t going to open a winery. Then when I planted my grapes I remembered that first comment that you have to have a large investment to start out with, which I never did have. The book The Wrath of Grapes is a reluctant resignation, an ‘I’m going to open a winery.’ It was not a decision made far in advance. It was an evolution. As I planted more grapes it unfolded that this was what I was going to do.

ALCOHOL AND LITERATURE :  The Wrath of Grapes: How Not to Start a Winery is available at Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay. - IMAGE COURTESY OF KEN JONES
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF KEN JONES
  • ALCOHOL AND LITERATURE : The Wrath of Grapes: How Not to Start a Winery is available at Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay.
New Times Where is your winery located?

Jones In the San Antonio Valley near Hunter Liggett and the name of my winery is Italian. I got the translation from Antonio [Varia] at Buona Tavola. It’s Volo Del Corvo, which is ‘flight of the crow’ or as the crow flies. I had a dream. It was a very vivid dream about a big black bird and it was pitch black and shiny. The next day when I was out running with my dog there was this big black crow perched near where we were so I thought I’d better find out more about the symbolism of the crow.

New Times Will people who read your book learn how to open their own winery?

Jones It isn’t a step by step. It isn’t a cookbook. The book talks about making my first wine and getting my equipment. The comment on my cover from Margrit Mondavi says that it’s educational as well as informative.

New Times According to the biography on your press release you’re wanted for speeding in New Zealand and you served as the inspiration for the character of Joe in The Drifters. How much of this is embellished?

Jones A month after I got back from New Zealand I got mail from the New Zealand police. They have a photo of the car I was driving speeding. When I got this letter I wrote back saying I had no way of knowing whether that was me. When I’m in another country I am very careful to obey their laws. They wanted $135 from me. I’m not prone to sending $135 to someone’s post request. I told them that I would send them the money minus the cost of repairing my tire on their bad roads. They sent another letter saying they wanted another $30 in court fees. I talked to a lawyer and he said ‘you can’t go back there but they’re not going to come after you for a speeding ticket.’

On my way to Africa I stopped in Europe and went to Pamplona. I’m sitting in a restaurant the night before the running of the bulls. In those days I was a Hemingway fan. I was 23. We were talking about the book Iberia and the woman at the table next to us said, ‘Do you know if James has arrived yet’ and I said, ‘James who’ and she said, ‘James Michener.’ It turns out she was one of the women mentioned in the book Iberia. And she said, ‘If you’d like to join us we’re going to be at the restaurant where Hemingway wrote.’ There was James Michener sitting at this table! Unbeknownst to me he was writing a book called The Drifters. And in his book he has a character from California who, in order to avoid the draft, goes to Africa. 

INFOBOX: Get your read on

Ken Jones will be signing copies of his recently released book The Wrath of Grapes: How Not to Start a Winery at Coalesce Bookstore on August 2 from 1 to 3 p.m. The bookstore is located at 845 Main Street in Morro Bay. For more information call 772-2880. Following the signing Morro Bay Wine Sellers, 601 Embarcadero Street, will host a wine tasting at 6 p.m. The book is available for $11.95 at Coalesce Bookstore and www.volodelcorvo.com/.


Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach hears the call of the wild but requires a plane ticket to respond. Send frequent flier miles to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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