Adam McHugh’s memoir Blood from a Stone | Credit: Courtesy

How does someone go from the heart-wrenching role of listening to dying people for a living to finding redemption and salvation through a new career in the wine industry? This unlikely saga is the journey readers will experience in Blood from a Stone. The just-published memoir by Santa Ynez–based writer Adam McHugh educates about the history of wine while illuminating the unique turns in one man’s tumultuous life. 

Earlier this year, McHugh reached out to me with a draft in hopes of getting an endorsement. I wasn’t sure what to expect — though we roll in very similar circles, I only know of McHugh through social media posts and the articles he pens for Edible Santa Barbara — but I found the  book quite fascinating. 

“For an avowed introvert, Adam McHugh lets it all hang out in Blood from a Stone, a very personal, soul-searching tale about a dying career, difficult divorce, and, ultimately, inspiring rebirth thanks to Santa Barbara County wine country,” is what I wrote for the book jacket. “Along the way, McHugh educates the reader in an engaging, accessible manner about the great sagas of wine, both those from Old World antiquity and more recent stories from the Santa Ynez Valley. This book should entertain wine neophytes and experts alike, or just anyone who’s pulling for the underdog.”

The book ends toward the end of December 2019, when McHugh’s life was on the upswing as a professional wine tour guide and educator. He decides to leave out the pandemic, explaining, “I felt like we were all pretty tired of that.” Today, he lives on a horse property along the stagecoach route in Santa Ynez with his wife, who teaches at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta. 

We touched base again recently to discuss the book, and what follows is a streamlined version of our conversation.  

How long has writing been part of your life? 

It was part of my academic training, and I always enjoyed it a little more than everything else I did in school. I had teachers that encouraged me. As a pastor, I started writing sermons a lot and enjoyed that a lot more than the other functions I maintained. 

I would lose my sense of time when I was doing it, and I would lose track of where I was or what time of day it was. I’d get so enveloped in the process of writing. It’s still excruciating, just torture, and yet at the same time I can’t stop doing it. It took me four years to write Blood from a Stone. I look at it as the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.

Are you still involved in any ministry? 

Honestly, I have left that all behind me completely. It’s been eight years since I fully immersed myself in the world of wine. I’m perfectly happy with being on the fringes of religion at this point.

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What are your hopes for the book? 

It’s like a golf-ball-sized snowball on the top of a hill. This is my third time publishing a book. In my experience, it’s like an old-time steam engine pulling out of the station. It’s really slow, very organic, very grassroots. 

Do you have another book in the works?

Not right now. Let me have a moment. I spent so much time and energy. It took four years to write and I had to live that life, which was about 10 years, so it’s essentially 15 years of my life that led to this book.

What are you loving about Santa Barbara wine these days? 

This feels like the golden era for wine in Santa Barbara County. Not only are there so many more wineries than there were 20 years ago, but the bar has been raised to such high levels. 

I am very partial to the tiny, family-owned operations like Story of Soil and Dragonette and Future Perfect. Those kinds of places tend to be my bias. 

It just felt like 20 years ago, there were a few good wines and maybe a nice restaurant or two. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find a wine you don’t like. And the culinary scene has finally been raised to match the quality of the wine. It’s an embarrassment of riches at this point.

Adam McHugh | Credit: Courtesy

Have your family and friends been surprised by these changes in your life? 

The reason I got into wine in the first place is because I grew up in a house with a big wine cellar up in Seattle. I always knew wine would be part of my life. I did not know I would end up doing it for a living. They’re all honestly quite a bit happier for me compared to working in hospice in the middle of the night. My parents always thought that was weird, which it was. I think people are definitely celebrating this new era in my life.

Do you find a commonality between your hospice work and wine industry? 

The line I use when people think it’s such an incredible change is, “I used to listen to medicated people for a living and now I still listen to medicated people for a living.”

In the book, it was really the religious part of wine — the pilgrimages, the history of the church, the monks of Burgundy preserving great vineyards in the Middle Ages — that made me see the consistency of it all with my background as a minister. It actually felt like a very natural step for me to take in some way. Though, of course, there was a lot of loss and grief that I had to go through with letting go of my identity as a minister. I’m really a different person that I used to be.


Adam McHugh will sign copies of Blood from a Stone on November 2, 5-7 p.m., at Future Perfect tasting room in Los Olivos and on December 10, 3-5 p.m. at the Book Loft in Solvang. Follow him on Instagram at @adammchughwine. 

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