Carlene O'Neil

Nov 092016

Hi, I’m Penny Lively, owner of Joyeux Winery, located along the central California Coast. I grew up here, and, although I left years ago to become a photojournalist, I’ve been back on the winery for little over a year. This winery is where I belong. I love the setting and the scenery. I’m fascinated with how, given time, a bunch of grapes will yield a drink that carries with it the essence of where those grapes were grown. The process fascinates me, although, if the truth be told, the reality is that I’m fascinated with alcohol in general. The making of it, the history of it, the astounding and varied ways it’s influenced our history and our story as humans.

For example, it seems the long-held belief that man discovered alcohol about 8,000 years ago isn’t exactly correct. This was roughly when humans started planting crops, and it was assumed we didn’t have access to fermented produce until that time. It now appears we had access much earlier, nearly ten million years earlier. Yes, that’s right, ten million.

This ten million year milestone is an important date for humans, because it was about then that humans first climbed out of the trees and started walking upright. This gave our ancestors the ability to wander, looking for food over a broader area. This was without a doubt a good thing, and clearly broadened our food sources. More food and a wider variety of food was a step in the right direction, so to speak.

There is a twist to the story, though, and it leads to the discovery of alcohol. This first source of alcohol was literally right under them, that is, rotting fruit. Basic fermentation was occurring on the ground around the very trees early man was stepping out of. The irony cannot be ignored: Man learned how to walk upright just in time to learn all about falling down drunk.

Now, this bad fruit wasn’t a first choice for primates, man or otherwise, because, well, it was rotting. In lean years, though, every little bit helped, and thanks to some mutant gene, humans were the only primates able to digest alcohol. Our ability to digest this additional food source helped us survive. And you thought it was our opposing thumbs.

Although I haven’t seen any studies, I would think the successful scavengers of this new food source were smart enough to climb back into the trees before eating dinner. Sure, falling out was a possibility, but it was a better option than staying on the ground. Might as well just stick the whole apple in your mouth and curl up on a plate. Scavenging food wasn’t easy, but it was better than being eaten by a tiger.

The intentional consumption of alcohol would have to wait until two things occurred: The cultivation mentioned above, and living in groups. Living in groups made planting and harvesting possible. It was easier than scavenging, and had an additional benefit: those needed surplus crops. For the first time people weren’t immediately eating everything they had on hand. They had extra, but without anyway to preserve this surplus, it often rotted. Turned into something that made you forget about the tiger.

Alcohol can be made with just about any crop, but grapes are easy to ferment because of their high sugar content. Naturally occurring yeast, found everywhere, feeds off the sugar and ethanol is a by-product. A cinch to make and it had the added bonus of making it easier to put up with your new neighbors. Some things never change.


Nov 092016

Hi, I’m Penny Lively, owner of Joyeux Winery. Joyeux is a smaller winery in comparison to several of our neighbors, but enjoys a great reputation. As it happens, I’ve also managed to gain a reputation for my knack for finding bodies. I don’t know if knack is the right word…Connor would call it a gift, but the statement would be said under his breath and likely dripping with sarcasm. Connor’s my winery manager. My manager and nothing more. Yup, nothing more. He’s the best manager on the central California coast and I’m lucky to have him in that capacity, which is why I’ve stifled any urges I might have for him in any other capacity…

Where was I? Right. So after a long career as an investigative photojournalist, I came home to the winery I’d inherited. I’d been worried small town life would be too slow. Instead, I’ve been back less than a year and so far I’ve managed to find more bodies than I did in an entire career investigating situations where one might reasonably expect to find bodies. The local police can’t decide what to do with me, but it’s not like I’m asking for this. Although, I have to admit, once I’m involved I’m not about to walk away. Either the police manage to get it wrong, or someone I care about is a suspect and asks for my help. The first time it happened, my neighbor, Antonia Martinelli, thought someone was sabotaging her winery. She didn’t want to go to the police because she thought one of her children might be involved. Simple, right?  Nobody mentioned murder. They never really do.

Between running the winery and running just ahead of whatever mess I’m no doubt in, I stay pretty busy. Connor does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the winery, so I have free time on my hands. I spend most of it with my camera, a holdover from my last profession. My focus is on the landscape now, and this is a part of the country where it’s easy to find inspiration. The winery is beautiful, vineyards stretched across rolling hills in tones of bronze and umber, and just a short drive from Monterey Bay, Pebble Beach and the fabulous town of Cypress Cove.

That’s another thing; murder just shouldn’t happen somewhere so beautiful. The mean streets of Los Angeles? Sure. The underbelly of Chicago? Who’s surprised? Nobody. Here, when you find a body set against such beauty, it seems so much more shocking, vicious, and wrong. There’s a Latin saying, “It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend; one’s present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason.” After what I’ve just been through I would include finding a body in your neighbor’s crusher. Just saying.