BOOKS: PRIME VINTAGE

A ROBUST NOVEL OF LOVE AND LOSS IN WINE COUNTRY

If most Americans would stick to beer and whiskey, the grape farmers in Bill Barich's first novel, Carson Valley (Pantheon; 337 pages; $25), would not have to work as hard as they do. Slaking the thirst of the growing number of wine drinkers takes time and muscle. So where does Arthur Atwater, manager of Victor Torelli's vineyard, find the energy to have a grand cru romance with Anna, the boss's daughter? From the same source of instinctive vitality that drives every other plant and creature in California's wantonly fertile Sonoma County.

Barich, a journalist who has written memorably about horse racing...

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