Humorous Fiction, Romantic Comedy
Date Published: September 15, 2020
Publisher: Hurn Publications
Forty-eight-year-old Corbett Thomas, a one-hit wonder of the 90s, now
works as the lead sommelier at Napa Valley’s hippest restaurant. Set
to become one of the few Master Sommeliers in the world, Corbett
self-destructs during his final exam, ruining his last chance at capturing
the stardom and adoration he got a taste for in his youth.
When billionaire game designer, Brogan Prescott, asks Corbett to consult on
a major vineyard acquisition, Corbett sees it as a shot at redemption, until
he learns of Brogan’s ridiculous vision of a virtual-reality, Woke Ant
Colony Winery. Disgusted, Corbett decides to buy the vineyard himself and
preserve its magic and history. Cashless, clueless, and with his reputation
in tatters, Corbett enlists the help of his bass-player-turned-lawyer Seamus
O’Flaherty, who may have finally lost his stomach for Corbett’s
bad ideas; his uber-rational daughter Remy, who wants Corbett to uncork some
family secrets he’d rather leave in the cellar; and Sydney Cameron,
whose sudden appearance in Corbett’s life may repair his heart or
shatter it forever.
With their help-and sometimes despite it-Corbett discovers what Brogan has
known all along: a four-billion-dollar gold deposit lies beneath the
vineyard. If Brogan acquires the property, the ensuing gold rush will
destroy Napa Valley.
But if Corbett can get out of his own way long enough to purchase the
vineyard first, he’ll be faced with the hardest decision of his life:
take the fame and fortune he desperately craves, or save the soul of the
valley he loves so much.
Let’s get one thing clear – I won that bet fair and square, even
though I cheated.
I blame the whole thing on Rick Dornin, who was being particularly douchey
that night. I used to be able to choose whichever party I wanted to serve
without question. That is, until Dornin arrived at Appellation with his
anal-retentive online calendar and industrial-grade Napoleon complex.
Yes, that Appellation. The most coveted dining experience in all of Napa
Valley, and one of only nine restaurants in America awarded three Michelin
stars. It took a DNA sample and a copy of your credit report to get a table,
and then you’d better be ready to cash in your 401(k) when the bill
The evening started out normally enough. I arrived at the restaurant an
hour before my shift to check reservations, talk to Chef Dan about the
evening’s specials, and think of pairings for the prix fixe. Dornin
was in his office—a modified broom closet next to the staff bathroom
that looked like a hoarder’s den with one, tiny deer trail leading to
his desk. In fact, he was always in his office, even when service was
slammed, which drove me batshit crazy. I don’t care if you’re
General Manager or General Patton—when it’s time to schlep a
plate or buff a glass, you step up and do it.
Anyway, I poked my head through the doorway and said, “Hey,
Rick,” trying to keep things light and cheery. “What do you know
about this Harrison party at eight?”
“Whales,” he replied, not bothering to look up from his
purchase orders. “Big whales, like Moby Dick whales.”
“Sweet!” Visions of stockbrokers trying to one-up each other
with bottles of Screaming Eagle at five thousand bucks a pop danced in my
head. Tips so big they come in a brown paper bag.
“Yes.” Dornin finally looked up at me and grinned like he
learned how to do it from an infomercial. “They’ll be in the
Veraison Room. With Andrew.”
“What?” I lunged into the tiny office, nearly tripping over a
carton of water glasses. “You can’t give it to
“I can give it to whoever I want.” He went back to his purchase
orders, feigning a nonchalance that made me want to smack him. “If I
want to move Felipe off of bussing and let him pop some corks, I could do
Time for a different tack—one that wouldn’t involve me going
full-on Hannibal Lecter. “I’m just saying that a party like that
comes to a restaurant like this to experience the highest level of service
in the world. I’m the guy they’re coming for, not Andrew. I sit
for my Master Somm next week, and—”
“You know what you are, Corbett? You’re an overpaid
bartender.” Dornin had thin lips and an Adam’s apple the size of
Detroit, and it bugged me. “You trained for twenty years to learn how
to pull a cork from a bottle and tell people that red wine goes with steak.
Whoop-tee-freaking-do. You’ll work the floor tonight, and you can have
the Jansen party on the terrace at seven-thirty.”
My left eyebrow started twitching, which happens when I get stressed out.
Apparently, no one can see it, but to me, it feels like a two-year-old is
digging tiny fingers into my face and stretching it like saltwater taffy. I
considered trying the No One Has Experience At Up-Selling Like I Do
approach, but this was the third time in as many weeks I’d had such a
run-in with Dornin.
I was done.
It was time to talk to Chef Dan.
Most people remember Chef Daniel Foyer from his five seasons on Elite Chef,
The Food Channel’s number one show from 1998 to 2002. With a chin so
chiseled it could slice a burnt chuck steak and blue eyes that screamed,
“Come taste this gazpacho in my bedroom,” he was the prototype
celebrity chef. But Father Time had been most inhospitable to Chef Dan, and
for the past couple of years the poor soul tried to counteract a rapid aging
process by dunking his scalp and Sam Elliott-sized mustache in a
fifty-gallon drum of jet-black hair dye. The net effect was so incongruous
with the rest of his wrinkled face that I could barely look at him without
drowning in the shore break of cognitive dissonance.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the guy. He was a loyal and trusted
friend, and straight-up the most amazing culinary artist of my generation.
But if I’d had any money, I would have bought stock in Just For Men
and eventually retire on my Chef Dan profits alone.
About the Author
John Taylor has been writing about wine since 2012, but his meanderings on
life began way before that. Born and raised in San Diego, California, John
moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to pursue dreams of screenwriting and
filmmaking. He attended the University of Southern California, where he
majored in Shattered Dreams and False Hopes, with a minor in Getting Gut
Punched By Reality. After being handed a degree in Journalism in 1987 as a
consolation prize, John dove into a career in music. Because getting
gut-punched just isn’t painful enough.
By 1996, John and his band, The Uninvited, had produced four independent
albums and became one of the most popular acts in the western United States.
This lead to a deal on Atlantic Records, which released the band’s
self-titled debut album in 1997. The band had two Top 100 hits, and toured
nationally with Dave Matthews, Blues Traveller, Third Eye Blind and many
other acts. Their music appeared in the TV shows Beverly Hills 90210 and
Party of Five, and in the motion pictures The Commandments and North Beach.
The band can also be heard in several HBO Documentaries, video games and on
that annoying “One Hit Wonders of The 90’s” station your
co-worker always plays on Spotify.
In 2001, John’s vast experience in shattered dreams was once again
called into play as the band hung up their touring shoes for good. After a
brief but horrifying career in real estate, John got wise and made a career
out of his favorite hobby – wine – and has held various sales
& marketing positions in Napa Valley since 2011. John’s writing
career started in earnest at this point, with blogs, essays and short
stories appearing in various publications. John is the author of three
novels, including the aptly-titled Pairs With: Life, which will be released
by Hurn Publications in September 2020.