Tasting wine and writing mystery novels

We asked a few questions to Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, the authors of the Winemaker Detective series, a long-running series of made-for-TV detective novels focused on the world of winemaking and wine tasting. Each book in the series is as much a wine novel as it is a whodunit. As they say, each book in the series is, in fact, both a mystery novel and a wine tasting, the discovery of a region, a wine and the people who make it. 

Tell us something about the two characters central to this mystery series?

Before we even outlined Treachery in Bordeaux, the first whodunit in the series, we sketched the characters who would drive the plot. We began with Benjamin Cooker, a winemaker by profession, of British descent who had been living in the Médoc region in France for many years. He has an international reputation and his skills are recognized the world over. His sidekick Virgile went to winemaking school in Bordeaux. He has youth and a Cartesian mind, with a strong connection to his country roots. They are a tandem that combines two generations and two ways of approaching wine, working in a world where Mother Nature dictates fate and where myths still have a strong hold.

Where do you find your inspiration for Treachery in Bordeaux and the series as a whole?

Exploring the universe of wine is a little like taking a long journey. The more you taste, the more you go out and discover wine regions, the more there is to marvel at. Exploring the diversity of wines found in France is a humbling experience. We draw our inspiration from immersing ourselves in this world. With each novel, we visit a climate, a type of winemaker, and new natural environment. It’s an adventure, and we discovered that the world of wine has ways of doing things that are not always very orthodox. When we began the Winemaker Detective series, we had no idea how complex this world would be nor the failings we would find behind the scenes of the fine châteaux, which hide very human weaknesses.

What do you think will surprise your readers the most?

Readers of the series discover how winemaking is an art in itself. Winemakers are like goldsmiths. Mother Nature is often harsh on them and every year is a new adventure. Each book in the series is, in fact, a wine tasting. As you read, you take a sip, and then a second one, until you are completely immersed in the drink and the people who made that particular wine.

What are you trying to share with your readers?

Clearly, it is our love for wine. Our love for this France, that is far from the beaten path, where people are struggling to make exceptional vintages, despite the blows dealt by fate, hail or drought. Each book is written to honor winemakers and set in a place that is constantly changing. The world of Bordeaux is light years away from that of Burgundy. Who could possible put Alsatian wines in the same category as Loire Valley wines? This mystery series is an initiation, and we hope the stories will stay with readers for a long time.

How did this made-for-TV mystery series change your life?

The series’ success and its adaptation to French TV has, of course, changed our lives. Our love for wine remains intact, and our curiosity still insatiable. We now want to explore wines the world over, from Tuscany to Napa Valley to Argentina. A lifetime will not be enough to get through this entire journey.

What are you working on now?

We are currently working on the next two books (books 21 and 22 in the series), which will be set in Côtes-du-Rhône and in the Graves in Bordeaux. We are closely following the next season of the television series that is being shot.

Do you have a few words to say about the hero’s future for readers who are only at the first book in the series?

Benjamin Cooker and his sidekick Virgile are doing very well. Their bond gets stronger with each new adventure, and their business is booming. Our hero’s Cooker Guide is a bestseller. And Benjamin has just bought a little château near Cahors, although his offices remain in Bordeaux. Also, women are playing a larger role in our mysteries, because the winemaking world in France is opening up more to women and recognizing their tasting abilities and the high standards they demand when in comes to wine growing and making. So, many surprises lay ahead.