WESTFIELD - Everyone in the Nippy Valley has a taste for cabernet, but only one has a taste for murder.
The Ripley Free Library presented the murder mystery "Life is a Cabernet, Old Chum," directed by Theresa Testrake, Saturday evening, Oct. 13. More than 35 "sleuths" gathered at the Noble Winery overlooking Lake Erie in Westfield to enjoy a glass of wine and hors d'oeuvres as they sifted the clues to determine who killed Nippy Valley wine-maker Malcolm Melee.
The mystery began as Nippy Valley Sheriff Lawrence Law, played by Abram Rowe, shared the details with the audience and asked their help in finding the killer. A cast of shady characters were then introduced. They were: the tea-drinking manager of the gift shop Sue Veneer, played by Dorothy Swan; the jealous, competing wine-maker Carter Cabot, played by Pete Ryan; Malcolm's tearful daughter Renee Melee, played by Jeanette Almekinder; Melee's French vintner Pierre LaPaine, played by Jim Zarpentine; the nervous wine critic Nina Grigio, played by Julie Reyda; the upbeat bed and breakfast owner Ben Breakfast, played by Mike Rowe; the tight-lipped lawyer Leelah Eagle, played by Pam Zarpentine; and the avaricious entrepreneur Stan Milton, played by Roger Testrake.
Photo by David Prenatt
Suspects of the “Life is a Cabernet, Old Chum” murder mystery held at Noble Winery in Westfield on Saturday, Oct. 13 gathered for questioning. Pictured from left to right are: Stan Milton, played by Roger Testrake; Carter Cabot, played by Pete Ryan; Sue Veneer, played by Dorothy Swan; Lawrence Law, played by Abram Rowe, standing; Ben Breakfast, played by Mike Rowe; Renee Melee, played by Jeanette Almekinder; Pierre LaPaine, played by Jim Zarpentine; Nina Grigio, played by Julie Reyda; and Leelah Eagle, played by Pam Zarpentine.
The victim had hosted a celebration of the winery's 10th anniversary which all of the suspects attended. His body was found the next morning at the foot of the stairs to the wine cellar, the victim of an apparent fall. However, a horizontal bruise along his right ankle and scraps of broken rawhide on the cellar floor led the sheriff to believe someone had tripped him up on purpose.
As the evening progressed, the audience learned each character had motive and means. Sue Veneer not only ran the gift shop, but was the daughter of the former owners of the winery before Malcolm Melee bought it 10 years before. The winery had been in her family for more than 100 years, and she knew all about tying knots.
"Things at the winery were always seeming to change," she said after the murder.
Carter Cabot just couldn't understand why Melee's wines were preferred to his when even the wine critic privately said his were better. He also had been in negotiations with Stan Milton to have Cabot wines exclusively offered in "Milt-Mart" discount stores.
"I won't miss Malcolm. He was cutthroat," Cabot said. "Cabot wines are superior to Pierre's 'I-can't-believe-it's-not-vinegar' wines."
Renee Melee had been estranged from her father since she was 16 and her mother was killed in a car accident. Her father, who was in Europe, remained there to close a business deal rather than return home immediately. Yet she recently returned home to work for him.
"I was just getting to know my father. He was tough, but mellowing," she said between sobs. "I don't know why anyone was in the wine cellar. If I inherit the winery, I might just have to sell it."
Pierre LaPaine brought his recipe for cabernet from Bordeaux, France where his family had been in the wine business since the middle ages. It turns out, however, that Malcolm Melee's wife was his aunt, but Malcolm did not inform the family of her death.
"I was responsible for a great-tasting wine," LaPaine said.
Nina Grigio had extolled Melee wines making them renowned world-wide. But before working for "Wine Line" magazine, she worked for Malcolm's magazine and left under suspicious circumstances.
"If it wasn't for me, Melee wine would never have gotten the recognition it did," she said
Ben Breakfast was an expert bowman and specialized in making his bows with rawhide strips. He seems lighthearted, but had an ongoing relationship with Melee's daughter for years. "Malcolm controlled everything in Nippy Valley," he said.
Leelah Eagle was Melee's lawyer. But it turned out she was also representing Stan Milton, who saw the winery as the perfect location for a new discount store.
"No comment," she said. "It's privileged information.
And finally there was Stan Milton who had been trying to get Melee to sell his land. He even went so far as to tour Melee wines in disguise to try to find out more information.
"It bothers me that some people think they can do whatever they want," he said.
At the end of the night, however, only one person was responsible for Melee's death. The killer was revealed to be none other than Sue Veneer, who was working for Stan Milton to spy on Malcolm to obtain information that would make him sell. She used her knowledge about rawhide and knots to set a trap Melee was sure to fall for while she was safe in bed.
"Life is a Cabernet, Old Chum" was the seventh dinner/murder mystery presented by the Ripley Free Library. All proceeds from the event will go to support the library's operations.