Wine Book Reviews

Root Cause by Steven Laine. Wine Book Review.

Root Cause by Steven Laine is a globetrotting ‘beach-read’ thriller set within the world of wine.

Corvina Guerra, a flying winemaker for one of the world’s biggest wine brands, discovers the devastating aphid Phylloxera in an Italian vineyard. Even worse, this strain is resistant to the grafted rootstock that saved European wine production in the 1800s. Corvina partners with Bryan Lawless, a disgraced Master of Wine candidate, to find the ‘root cause’ of this outbreak. They will quickly discover that this is an malevolent attack and the entire world’s wine production is at stake!

This is a truly global adventure with sequences in California, France, Italy, South Africa, Hong Kong, Chile, London, Canada, and more. The action is fast paced and suspenseful, but always stays light and fun.

Steven Laine has also seeded this novel with large amounts of wine knowledge that will excite any reader with a casual interest in wine. For sommeliers and wine experts, you aren’t going to learn anything new here, but you’ll likely have a great time reading it.

I rate this book 88 points on the 100 Point Wine Rating Scale popularized by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and others.

The best things about Root Cause:

The dialogue is always snappy and speaks in the voices of the characters. I could see this turned into a 10 episode Netflix show with little change to the dialogue.

The use of the world of wine. There are so many cool little sequences in different wine-producing countries and different aspects of the wine business. I was originally worried that it would focus on only Italy and California, but Laine really makes good use of the whole planet.

The least effective parts of the book:

There are so many situations and wine regions referenced that I never felt that any of them got their descriptive due.

Part of the attraction of the wine business is the bucolic landscapes, luxury restaurants, delicious food, and old-world villages.

I was really hoping for some lush sensory sequences akin to what one finds in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels or Peter Mayle’s novel of Provence, France. When that world-building occurred, it was often rushed past for the next plot sequence. I’d recommend removing about 40 pages of plot and replacing it with 25 pages of immersive description.

In conclusion:

This is a fun read and expect anyone with at least a passing interest in wine to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to reading Steven Laine’s next novel about wine.

FTC Disclosure:

  • I received a free copy of this book in return for posting an honest review.

  • In my job at Cutting Edge Selections, we currently sell in Ohio and Kentucky some of the wineries referenced in the novel.

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A Rite of Paso: Paso Robles Wine Country. By Chris Kassel. Wine Book Review


You wouldn’t imagine that America’s most interesting wine writer would come from Detroit, but there is truly nobody who writes wine like Chris Kassel. It takes, perhaps, the perspective of a sober alcoholic living a continent away from the infantilizing comfort of ‘wine country’ to understand the beauty of this particular beverage.

Kassel begins his intriguing 2013 study of Paso Robles Wine Country “A Rite of Paso” with a cross-country train ride that slams us quickly into his fraught history with this beverage.

“A train because it’s symbolic, of course; California because on a westbound carrier, it’s the end of the line. Plus, it’s where the wine is, and if I should not - cannot - drink any more of it, I have spent my entire adult life writing about wine, millions of words in dozens of outlets, and writing about wine and wine’s inhabitants is still my comfort zone, even when the comfort zone of a low-grade buzz is no longer an option.”

Chris Kassel innately understands that wine is inherently something beyond the pleasant buzz in the head. It also is something beyond the mere organoleptic game of a blind-tasting sommelier or the Pinterestingly staged images of organic food, wood furniture tasting bars, and ‘wine country casual’ lifestyles. And he isn’t interested in reviewing wines and telling you what to drink.

A Rite of Paso peels away all of that and focusses on a world of real people - often flawed but never boring - who happen to be in Paso Robles Wine Country.

Chris Kassel is actually engaging in Journalism. Writing like this shines a bright light of how much wine writing is merely sales and marketing copy. Those things have their place, but we need much more writing like A Rite of Paso.

Obviously, I enjoyed A Rite of Paso: Paso Robles Wine Country tremendously and I recommend you buy a copy. Click here to buy the book from Amazon.

I’ll finish out this review with a couple of quotes from the book that will give you an insight into the style of the writing.

On Pest Control

“Steve Thompson has been known to sit in the canyon opposite his vineyard, drink a bottle of wine and unleash live-fire hell upon the ground squirrels. He’s also developed a sort of John Wayne vs the Injuns technique while driving his red Polaris wherein he steers with one hand and fires his shotgun with the other. In either case, on a particularly productive whack-a-squirrel day, he may send three hundred rodents into oblivion.”

On the Tarantulas that are a core part of the vineyards of Paso Robles

“About five years ago, I saw a spider a quarter of this size on my washing machine at 4:00AM, and considered that my options were either to fetch my .22 from the gun chest and shoot it or wake up my sleeping teenager to kill it for me. In the end, what the hell? I figured the gunshot would have woken him up anyway.”

And Pinot Noir

“Diaphanous and dainty from vineyard to vat, pinot noir was born with a thin skin, making it hypersensitive to weather and prone to viruses like leaf roll and bunch rot. It’s recalcitrant in handling and as difficult to vinify as it is to farm; it has, as a result, often been described in feminine terms, including ‘voluptuous,’ ‘high-maintenance,’ ‘delicate and driven to drama,’ ‘seductive, wily and sexy.’ Of course, as the French - who have been growing pinot noir since Jesus had milk teeth - well know, the better it is, the harder it is to describe. One thing is for sure: If pinot noir is a woman, it is Carla Bruni compared to cabernet sauvignon’s Kim Kardashia

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