Book Review: Root Cause by Steven Laine

Wine connoisseur Steven Laine has curated his knowledge of wine through working as the Beverage Manager for multiple international luxury hotels.  He surrounds himself with friends bearing the titles Master of Wine and Master Sommelier.  He has turned his expert-level knowledge into a gripping mystery – Root Cause.  The story brings back the historical Phylloxera scare from the 19th century to modern day.  Every page is laced with wine knowledge, while the characters scramble to find out who maliciously reintroduced the bug to vineyards all over the world – before wine is lost forever. Many thanks to Turner Publishing for sending me a copy of this brilliant read.


Can you imagine a world without wine?

I can barely imagine a week without wine, let alone living in a world where it no longer exists.  This nightmare was almost reality for Europe in the 1800’s.  Phylloxera, a miniscule insect that attacks grape vines, nearly destroyed all of Europe’s vineyards.  France was deeply impacted (imagine – no more Bordeaux! Champagne! Sancerre!?!).  Luckily, someone figured out in the nick of time that grafting (i.e. transplanting) roots from American vines to European vines stopped the bug from attacking.  Since Phylloxera is native to the US, the vines were immune. 

Thankfully this “wine plague” is a thing of the past for us.  What we can’t imagine, Laine writes about in Root Cause. A new GMO species of Phylloxera has been found attacking the vineyards of Italy, South America, California, and even New Zealand and Australia.  All of the world’s vineyards are threatened – and this resurgence was no act of nature. Laine’s characters Corvina Guerra, a “flying winemaker”, and Bryan Lawless, a rebel wine expert shunned by the Masters of Wine community for a previous indiscretion, travel the world on the hunt for the ecoterrorist that is threatening the future of wine. 

Laine takes you on a trip around the world with his characters – China, Chile, Italy, France, you name it – without the jetlag. His book takes you to events that any oenophile (wine lover) would kill to attend – a vertical tasting of Château Lafite wine?  That’s a million dollar experience.

What I love about Root Cause

A compelling mystery in and of itself, Laine’s use of wine knowledge makes Root Cause particularly unique.  Never have I read a novel where the author is specific about what wine a character orders at a bar, and then proceeds to have the character’s stream of thoughts describe detailed tasting notes on said wine.   What is typically extraneous detail in a typical mystery novel is fascinating and fun for any wine-loving reader.   

Anyone knowledgeable about wine will enjoy this book – and positively GASP (as I did) when a character drops a £5,000 bottle of wine at an auction.  I laughed out loud in understanding as Master Somms and Masters of Wine ended up on their hands and knees, tasting the wine directly off the floor.  Not your traditional drama for a mystery novel, but definitely the sort of thing to keep a wine-lover on the edge of their seat.

Even if you don’t self-identify as a wine snob, Laine incorporates wine knowledge throughout the book in such a way that educates the reader through fictional events.  If you’re seeking to learn more about wine without diving deep into something encyclopedic like Karen McNeil’s The Wine Bible, pick up Root Cause and learn about wine along an international journey to solve a mystery. 

To get your copy, you can order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indie Bound.


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