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The show revolved around Angela Channing, a corrupt, tyrannical, matriarch who ruled the Falcon Crest vineyards with an iron fist. Angela's honorable nephew, Chase Gioberti, was new to the area and had just inherited a portion of the Falcon Crest vineyards and winery from his late father, Jason Gioberti (Angela's brother, who died shortly after a fall in the winery during the premiere episode). The rivalry between Angela and Chase (whom Angela saw as an interloper) set the tone for much of the series. Aiding her at the mansion, was Chao-Li, a faithful Chinese chauffer and head of the house, who was always up and for Angela, every step of the way, when nobody else believed or trusted her.
Angela's family consisted of her daughters Julia and Emma, and her lazy playboy son Lance, who aided her in her battles against Chase and later Richard Channing. Julia worked as chief winemaker, though often felt oppressed by her domineering mother. Emma did not work in the family business and was emotionally troubled but kind natured. Lance was Julia's playboy son from her failed marriage to Tony Cumson. Lance loved money and yearned for power but lacked Angela's discipline and determination, which was proven after she persuaded him to work in the vineyards. Her ever-tightening grip on him eventually sent him to work for his grandfather's newspaper, The San Francisco Globe. To aid Angela in her quest for more power was her crooked lawyer Phillip Erikson, who would later become her husband.
Chase's family consisted of sympathetic wife Maggie, and his two grown children Cole and Vickie. Maggie was a freelance writer who later worked at The New Globe newspaper. Cole worked with Chase at the winery, whereas Vickie was rebellious,and basically never really got a job nor went to college. Eventually realizing that she would not gain control over Chase's land anytime soon, Angela hoped to enlarge her empire by forcing Lance into an arranged marriage with winery heiress Melissa Agretti, the daughter of Carlo Agretti who owned the much-coveted Agretti Vineyards. However, much like Angela, Melissa was also a selfish schemer and would cause trouble for many residents of the Tuscany Valley. Cole was also romantically interested in Melissa and the two had a brief affair before Melissa spurned him for Lance, even though she was carrying Cole's child when they got married.
But none could truly rival Angela until the conniving Richard Channing arrived in the show's second season. He was believed to be the illegitimate son of Angela's ex-husband Douglas Channing and inherited most of his father's shares in the family newspaper after Douglas died, which placed him in a position of considerable power. Richard later got into the wine business and made several attempts to wrest control of Falcon Crest from both Angela and Chase. A shocking revealation at the end of the sixth season brought Richard face-to-face with his real mother in the second episode of the seventh season. Douglas Channing and his mistress Jacqueline Perrault had kidnapped him, faked a death certificate and took him away from their most hated enemy, Angela Channing.