In this novel, a winemaker attempts to stop a strange pest from destroying the world’s grapevines.
Corvina Guerra would love to settle down in one place to be a proper winemaker at a well-run vineyard. Instead, she works as a flying winemaker (a consultant) for Universal Wines, a massive distributor that collaborates with vineyards across the globe. While back in her native Italy helping out a struggling friend of her father’s, she discovers something troubling in the soil beneath his grapevines: “She could see small areas of dead tissue along the vine. The tiny bug attacked the vine by biting at the roots. Its saliva caused uncontrolled cell growth creating knots where bacteria could enter the plant, travel up and kill the rest of the vine.” The culprit is phylloxera, an American species of louse with the potential to destroy the entire wine crop of Europe. Universal Wines makes Corvina the point person on the phylloxera—or “Philomena,” as the media dub it—problem. With the help of Bryan Lawless, a handsome but opinionated master of wine, and Malcolm Goldberg, a curious reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, Corvina sets out to discover the reasons behind the sudden reappearance of the pest as well as the potential neurotoxin that could eradicate it. It turns out that the Philomena strand of phylloxera has been genetically engineered to be even deadlier to grapevines. But who would do such a thing? And how far are they willing to go to make sure the scheme stays covered up? Laine’s (Iconoclast, 2012, etc.) prose is sharp and exact. His characters’ dialogue captures the minutiae of wine culture while keeping the plot moving at a speedy clip: “The bartender with the eyebrow piercing is underpouring each glass of wine, stretching each bottle to six glasses instead of five,” the observant Lawless tells one baffled restaurateur. “I’ve been watching her three straight shifts.” The milieu is intriguing and the mystery is a lot of fun, even if its direction is a tad predictable. The author has crafted a medium-stakes tale perfect for an escapist read.
An entertaining, wine-soaked mystery.