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Frances L. Dinkelspiel

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Frances L. Dinkelspiel (born Nov. 30, 1959) is an American journalist and author of Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) and Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California. (St. Martin’s Press, 2015.) Dinkelspiel is also the co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside, a news site focused on Berkeley, CA.


Dinkelspiel attended Stanford University (B.A. 1982) and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (M.S. 1986). She worked for the Syracuse Newspapers in upstate New York from 1987 to 1991 and the San Jose Mercury News[1] in California from 1991 to 1999. Dinkelspiel is a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast and her freelance work has appeared in the New York Times[2], the Wall Street Journal[3], People magazine[4], the Los Angeles Times[5], the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco magazine, and elsewhere.

In 2010, Dinkelspiel, along with the journalists, Lance Knobel and Tracey Taylor, started Berkeleyside, an online news site about Berkeley, CA. In 2018, Berkeleyside became the first media organization to raise $1 million from its readers through a Direct Public Offering.[6]

Dinkelspiel has taught at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and has been a faculty member at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley writing conference. Dinkelspiel has given lectures about journalism,[7] Isaias Hellman, the history of the Jewish involvement in the creation of California, the history of wine in California, about fraud and crime in the wine industry to many libraries, universities, and community organizations.[8]

The site has twice been named “Best Community News Site,” by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2016, Dinkelspiel shared and award from SPJ for best explanatory journalism with her colleague Emilie Raguso. In 2017, the San Francisco Press Club honored Berkeleyside for overall excellence in online news,and Dinkelspiel for her continuing coverage of a “The fall of Premier Cru.”

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2018, Dinkelspiel received a first place award from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the long form journalism category for her oral history about Feb.1, 2017, the night left-wing protesters started a riot in Berkeley over the appearance of the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.[9] In 2016, Dinkelspiel and her Berkeleyside colleague, Emilie Raguso, received a first place award from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the explanatory journalism category for a series they did on homelessness in Berkeley.[10] In 2017, Dinkelspiel’s extensive reporting on the wine Ponzi scheme John Fox ran through his Berkeley wine store, Premier Cru, was selected by the San Francisco Press Club as the winner in the series or continuing coverage category.[11]

Dinkelspiel and Raguso also received third-place recognition in the investigative category for their 2016 coverage of homelessness in Berkeley.

In 2017, Whittier, Ca and Benicia, CA selected “Tangled Vines” as their one city, one book selection.[12] In 2018, Claremont, CA selected the book for the same recognition.[13]

In 2018, Diablo Magazine named Dinkelspiel “A Game-Changing Woman.”[14]


In 2008, St, Martin’s Press published Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, a biography of Dinkelspiel’s great great grandfather, [[Isaias W. Hellman][15]], who emigrated from Germany to California in 1859 and became one of the most prominent financiers on the West Coast, eventually owning Wells Fargo Bank.[16] The book also explored the role Jews played in the development of California.[17] The book was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association selected Towers of Gold as its best regional book of 2008. The San Francisco Chronicle named it to its list of best books of the year. Towers of Gold was also a finalist in nonfiction for the Northern California Book Awards.[18]

In 2015, St, Martin’s Press published Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California.[19] It told the tale of a 2005 arson fire that destroyed 4.5 million of fine California wine worth $250 million. Among the bottles destroyed were 175 made by Dinkelspiel’s great great grandfather in southern California in 1875. The book also documents the era in which Southern California rather than the Napa or Sonoma valleys dominated the state's wine trade.[20]

Tangled Vines was a New York Times bestseller and a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. The New York Times praised the storytelling as "clear and absorbing."[21] The Wall Street Journal named it “one of the best books for wine lovers, Food and Wine magazine called it a “notable” release,[22] the Washington Post recommended it,[23] and the San Jose Mercury News named it one of its best top five wine reads.[24][25]

Television appearances[edit]

Dinkelspiel appeared with the actress Helen Hunt in the NBC show “Who Do You Think You Are?” She also appeared in the documentary, American Jerusalem, and the television show, American Greed, where she talked about John Fox, the subject of a series she wrote for Berkeleyside.[26][27]

Personal life and early years[edit]

Dinkelspiel was born in San Francisco, CA and is a fifth-generation Californian[28][29]. She attended Katherine Delmar Burke’s School, Marin Country Day School, and The Urban School of San Francisco. She graduated from Stanford University[30] in 1982 with a B.A. in history. She obtained a M.S. degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1986.



  2. FRANCES DINKELSPIEL (29 March 2012). "Berkeley Police Chief at Center of Free Speech Battle". Retrieved 29 January 2019 – via
  3. Dinkelspiel, Frances (28 January 2012). "What They're Drinking at Davos" – via
  4. "Unleashed Fury".
  5. Dinkelspiel, Frances (1 November 2009). "'My Father's Bonus March' by Adam Langer" – via LA Times.
  6. "Berkeleyside raises $1 million in direct public offering". 12 April 2018.
  7. "HarvEst Distinguished Women Lecture Series- Featuring Frances Dinkelspiel".
  8. "Montclair library to host bestselling author Dinkelspiel". 27 April 2016.
  10. staff, Berkeleyside (25 October 2016). "Berkeleyside wins journalism award for comprehensive homelessness coverage".
  11. staff, Berkeleyside (17 November 2017). "Berkeleyside wins 'Overall Excellence' award from San Francisco Press Club; writers also recognized".
  12. "The city of Whittier has named Tangled Vines as its pick for Whittier Reads 2017 - Frances Dinkelspiel". 2017-04-07.
  13. "Whittier Reads 2017 Sponsorships - Whittier Public Library Foundation".
  14. "The Game Changing Women".
  15. "Review: 'Towers of Gold' restores an entrepreneurial giant to his proper place in California history". 8 January 2009.
  18. Richard Rayner (21 December 2008). "Notable Bay Area books of 2008".
  20. Masters, Nathan; Dinkelspiel, Frances (23 February 2016). "When L.A. Was a City of Vines: Q&A With 'Tangled Vines' Author Frances Dinkelspiel". KCET.
  21. Asimov, Eric (3 December 2015). "Wine" – via
  22. Carson Demmond (December 18, 2015). "Best Wine Books of 2015 (and Who to Give Them To)".
  23. Dave McIntyre (December 12, 2015). "What to give a wine lover for the holidays: Books over bottles". Washington Post. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  24. "The Best Books for Wine Lovers".
  25. "5 best wine reads for gifting and winter reading". 25 November 2015.
  26. ""Who Do You Think You Are?": Helen Hunt - Family Tree". 26 March 2012.
  27. staff, Berkeleyside (4 August 2017). "TV show 'American Greed' to feature saga of Berkeley wine Ponzi schemer John Fox".
  28. "Frances Dinkelspiel - The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life".
  29. Hamlin, Jesse (30 November 2008). "Frances Dinkelspiel, author of 'Towers of Gold'". SFGate.
  30. "Preserving Stanford's heritage". Stanford 125. 7 October 2016.

External links[edit]

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