First broadcast: 1973
“If Columbo was a less classy programme, this episode would probably be called 'The Grapes of Wrath' or something.“
It's a happy Sunday and winemaker Adrian Carsini is at his vineyard with four fellow wine connoisseurs. Leaving the room under the guise of getting a new bottle of wine that is breathing in his office, he listens in on the intercom as his tasters discuss and agree making Adrian the wine industry's Man of the Year.
Whilst out of the room he bumps into his secretary, Joan, who is making some last minute preparations for their trip to wine auctions in New York. She informs Adrian that his younger half-brother, Ric, is in the building.
Playboy, adventurer, scuba-diving and fun-loving Ric was given ownership of the vineyard land on the death of their father, whilst Adrian was given the money and the business.
Infuriated by what Ric sees as Adrian's squandering of the money on collecting expensive wines, Ric informs Adrian that he is getting married, wants some money and so will be selling the land to a rival, bargain basement vineyard. Adrian is incensed, proclaiming that it is Ric who has been wasting money all his life.
The argument climaxes with Adrian attacking Ric with a vase from the desk, knocking Ric unconscious.
After celebrating his man of the year nomination and seeing his guests leave, Adrian hides Ric's body in the wine cellar and ties him up. Turning off the air conditioning and humidifier, Adrian leaves the building, hides Ric's car and heads off to New York where he spends a fortune in wine auctions. On his return a week later he finds Ric now dead, dresses him in scuba gear and drives Ric's car up to a secluded point and throws Ric's body in the sea.
Whilst he's away, Ric's fiancée Karen heads to the police station late at night and finds Lieutenant Columbo and reports Ric missing. The body is washed ashore shortly after...
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
Columbo often proclaims that it's the little things that get to him on an investigation - the little things that niggle away and make him want to dig further. That little thing that sets him off in this case is Ric's convertible parked on the cliffs with the hood down. Whilst most are assuming it was a tragic diving accident, Columbo has one his doubts and on hearing how long Ric has been dead, starts thinking.
Death is supposed at Tuesday, but he recalls Tuesday having some bad weather - if the car had been out, it wouldn't have been as spotless as they found it. Later he finds out that Ric hadn't eaten for two days...
Meanwhile he takes his time to find out more about Adrian Carsini and wine. Carsini takes Columbo under his wing and tries to teach him a little about the fine grape, and shows him the wine cellar where his fine wines are stored - taking great interest in the cooling and humidity systems.
Columbo also remembers that whilst the weather had been particularly hot shortly a few days after the bad weather, and realises that his the air-conditioning system had been out of action, wine in the cellar would have gone off. Under the rouse of being shown that no one could get stuck in the wine cellar, he steals a fine bottle of port
Meanwhile Joan has become suspicious of Carsini's behaviour and proclaims to Columbo that she saw Ric leave the vineyard on the Sunday, and uses the cover up to try and emotionally blackmail Adrian into being her husband.
Under the guise of apologising to Carsini for his behaviour, Columbo invites Carsini and Joan to a swanky restaurant of Carsini's choosing. Columbo goes on to impress Carsini by suggesting fine wines for each course, culminating with a rare and expensive bottle of port.
On tasting the port, Carsini loudly proclaims that it has been ruined by exposure to heat. After leaving the restaurant in a loud scene, Carsini heads to the vineyard and realises that whilst he was in New York, his expensive wines had been spoiled.
Columbo catches Carsini throwing bottles of wine off the cliffs and reveals that the port came from Carsini's own cellar. Carsini realises he has been snared. He is one of the few people in the country who could have noticed the port had been spoiled and Columbo has ensured that his own knowledge has caught him out.
Convolutedness of the murder
Unlike most Columbo murders, this one was not planned. A strike to the head by a blunt instrument is not particularly convoluted. That said, death is actually by suffocation caused by the body being placed in the wine cellar. Although that's still not hugely convoluted.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Another rarity in Columbo. Carsini remains calm and seems to like Columbo. Indeed there is some admiration felt on both sides. Columbo's humour and style seem to gel with Carsini, although less can be said about that by Carsini's secretary who doesn't seem to get on with the master detective quite so well.
The smug-richness factor
You might be sensing a theme. Carsini's not a smug rich git, although does spend a fortune on wine. That said, he is a bit of a wine snob.
Quality of sub-plot
The sub-plot consists of little more than Carsini's secretary being secretly in love with him. Not much of a sub-plot as they go.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
Mrs Columbo gets few mentions, bar a suggestion she might be at the meal in the restaurant subject to them getting a babysitter.
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Was anyone given sedatives?
People were given wine - does that count? I mean, it does make you sleepy if you have enough of it...
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
Although they're not specifically mentioned, Columbo's statement that Mrs C couldn't get a babysitter suggests they have children, and relatively young ones too. There can be few episodes - if any - where children are mentioned, and none are certainly ever seen. In one later episode, RIP Mrs Columbo, he even proclaims he has none. None are seen at any wedding Columbo attends (which must be, what, all one of them?) and none are mentioned when the pair go on holiday on a cruise and to Mexico. Still, that doesn't mean there aren't any, just that mentioning them is rare.
And of course the babysitting excuse was probably just an easy one to make Mrs Columbo's absence excusable.
Appearances by the Regular Cast
If I was to say Italian maître-d, what would you say? I'd say Vitto Scotti and I'd hope you would too.
If Columbo was a less classy programme, this episode would probably be called "The Grapes of Wrath" or something. But it isn't so it wasn't.
Despite breaking most of the Columbo rules about rich, obnoxious murderers who hate the detective, this is a fine watch. It's a good example of a simple episode which has a lot of fun on the way.