By Heather Heyford
Last spring, I booked an Airbnb at a horse rescue ranch within walking distance of seven vineyards to drink pinot noir do research for The Sweet Spot.
California wine country has always held a special place in my heart. It inspired my first series, The Napa Wine Heiresses. But when I visited Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I fell in love all over again with its lush vineyards, wildflower meadows, and carefully tended farms. The Willamette is America’s hip, new hotspot of pinot noir: a 150-mile stretch packed with more than 700 vineyards whose quality is creating worldwide buzz.
Actually walking through the vineyards, tasting the wines, and talking to the people who live and work there lends an authenticity and character to my books that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
When I arrived at the rescue ranch, I found that the owner’s soft spot for animals extended beyond horses to a whole barnyard full of ducks, donkeys, rabbits, goats, and sheep. The farmhouse itself was an L-shaped ranch surrounded by a wood-planked deck. My hostess lived in the long leg of the L; my suite was in the short leg.
That first night, I unwound from my cross-country flight with a glass of Erath, my feet propped on the railing overlooking the horse paddock, as I watched the sun set through the canopies of white oaks stippled with gossamer balls of mistletoe. When night fell, the swath of stars overhead did nothing to light up my surroundings. With a start, I realized I had landed in a “dark sky” area—a place sought out for stargazing, far from the ambient light of cities. Blindly, I felt my way into the farmhouse. But with no TV, no Internet connection, and no company, it suddenly hit me—what the hell was I doing out here, alone, in the middle of nowhere?
To calm my nerves, I poured another glass of pinot, dumped my accumulation of travel brochures out of my bag, and began narrowing my list of vineyards to visit in the coming week. After scribbling a few notes for my WIP, I crawled into bed with my Kindle.
Hours later, I was jolted awake by a violent clatter. The entire house was shaking. My first thought was, earthquake! But the ruckus seemed to be part of the building, not coming from deep in the earth. It sounded exactly like a bunch of burly men had broken in and were throwing furniture.
It was over in a matter of seconds. Heart pounding, I worked up the courage to tiptoe to the window. But all I could see was my reflection. I cupped my hands against the glass—terrified, but unable to tear myself away—and listened. At first, all I could hear was the blood rushing through my ears. And then, to my inexpressible relief, I saw the owner step outside her door in her mucking out boots and flannel nightgown, wielding a flashlight.
“What was that awful noise?” I hissed through a crack in the door.
She shone her light on a steaming pile on the wood deck, right outside my bedroom. “Horses must have got loose. Congregated on the deck until something spooked them. Did a little dance.” A half-dozen horses weighing a thousand pounds each, dancing on the deck mere feet from where my head lay on my pillow.
I turned and collapsed against the wall, inhaling my first, full breath since all the commotion, already wondering how I could work this into a scene.
Heather Heyford writes contemporary romance novels set in the wine country. After gaining a following in digital, her first mass market paperback series launched in early 2018 with The Sweet Spot, a contemporary love story set in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, from Kensington Publishing. Visit Heather’s website for her latest news.