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Root Cause Origins

I’m often asked where did I get the idea to write my first wine novel, Root Cause?

I think ideas for stories spring from a culmination of experience, reading, fantasies and fears made manifest in one seed of an idea that captures an author’s imagination.

For me, that seed was planted in my head following a conversation I had with Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, California. We met at a wine fair and tasting in London in the mid-2000s and got talking about wine literature. He recommended I read “The Botanist & The Vintner: How Wine Was Saved For The World” written by Christy Campbell. This non-fiction account of Phylloxera’s mid-1800s journey from the US to Europe via Britain and how a botanist and a vintner worked together to stop it, made me think. A lot.

As a lover of wine and a long-time reader of suspense thrillers a tumble of questions pressed unbidden into my mind: what if it happened again? How could it happen? Would it happen by accident or by intent? Why would someone want to destroy the world’s vineyards? How would they be stopped? Who would stop them?

Phylloxera was eventually stopped through the clever use of grafting Phylloxera-resistant American vine rootstock onto European Vitis Vinifera vines resulting in grafted vines which could resist the pest while continuing to produce European grape varietals. Surprisingly, the spread of Phylloxera and grafting also resulted in numerous other benefits to viticulture and viniculture (but more of that in another posting!).

So technically, if a mutated (naturally or otherwise) version of Phylloxera emerged that was not impeded by American rootstock, all of the world’s 85% or so vineyards planted with Vitis Vinifera vines and grafted onto American rootstock would be at risk again from Phylloxera. Aside from grafting used to prevent Phylloxera, there is currently no other effective means of stopping or killing the aphid short of flooding the vineyards for an extended period of time. This isn’t practical, or many times even possible, for topographical reasons.

From that initial idea and the questions that followed came the story idea for Root Cause. The next part was coming up with a character whom had the resources and motivation to chase down the mystery of Phylloxera’s spread around the world. A flying winemaker with aspirations of settling down to take over her parent’s winery and vineyards seemed a natural choice as she was used to traveling the world at a moment’s notice, meeting new people and had a passion for wine.

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