Revealed: The Winemaker Detective and Winemaking

When you sip a glass of wine, how often do you think about the lives, tradition, craftsmanship,  and dumb luck involved in getting that beverage into your glass? Every year Mother Nature holds a new adventure for winemakers who, like goldsmiths, craft each harvest into a moment of pleasure captured in a glass.

The tough life of a writer of wine mysteries: Induction ceremony to become members of the Gaillac Wine Brotherhood of the Dive Bouteille.

The tough life of a writer of wine mysteries: Induction ceremony to become members of the Gaillac Wine Brotherhood of the Dive Bouteille.

Readers of the Winemaker Detective series discover much about winemaking as an art. 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 climb into the glass and become completely immersed in the drink, surrounded by the land where it was made, and the people who made it. 

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, with stories we hope will stay with readers for a long time. 

Noël Balen, Jean-Pierre Alaux, and Anne Trager at the Lisle Noir crime fiction festival.

Noël Balen, Jean-Pierre Alaux, and Anne Trager at the Lisle Noir crime fiction festival.

Clearly, the authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen love wine. They love the 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. We asked Jean-Pierre and Noël a couple of questions.

Where do you find your inspiration for 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.

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 traditions and myths still have a strong hold.

CLICK TO DISCOVER OR BUY THE WHOLE WINEMAKER DETECTIVE SERIES

CLICK TO DISCOVER OR BUY THE WHOLE WINEMAKER DETECTIVE SERIES

Bastille Day Special — Authentic, Exciting Books Set in France

How are you celebrating the storming of the Bastille? I’d say the French national holiday calls for something French. So, if you can’t actually go to France for the parade on the Champs-Elysée or attend the dances and festivities traditionally held at fire stations across the country, you can pick up a book from Le French Book and be transported to France.

Here is our reading list for Bastille Day, with some deep discounts on these books set in France (mostly, at least), by French authors, translated for you. 

PARIS ART

  • The Collector by Anne-Laure Thièblemont (http://amzn.to/29xyd2A), a captivating dive into the little-known world of Paris art specialists and counterfeiters. After a father she never knew died, Marion Spicer finds herself facing the merciless microcosm of Paris art auctions and galleries, with its sharks, schemes, fences, traps, scams and attacks—a world where people will kill for a love of beauty. 

PARIS SUSPENSE

  • The Paris Lawyer by Sylvie Granotier (http://amzn.to/2a4Is0e), psychological suspense in the French capital. An ambitious rookie lawyer in Paris catches a case that sparks a determined search for the truth in her own life.

DARKNESS IN THE CITY OF LIGHT

Paris, the French capital, the City of Light, and the perfect setting for crime, and an actual character in Frédérique Molay’s award-winning Paris Homicide series.

  • The 7th Woman (http://amzn.to/29sRoj5) launches the series and gives the city a whole new dimension, with “ratcheting tension” and suspense. Terror stalks Paris. Will the team of elite crime fighters prevail?

FRENCH SPIES NOT FRENCH FRIES

  • The Rare Earth Exchange by Bernard Besson (http://amzn.to/29xKDaU), a chilling financial espionage novel and an unsettling look at a post-Panama Papers world. A team of freelance operatives gets caught up in a web of corruption and cyberterrorism in a struggle to control rare minerals key to today’s technology. “As subtle as a chess game, and as explosive as today's headlines.”

FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE AND GOURMET ATTITUDE

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen’s Winemaker Detective series (http://amzn.to/29xAkUh) is a celebration of France combining enticing mysteries, mouthwatering accounts of food and wine along with authentic descriptions of French countryside. A vacation with quirky characters and winetasting, British-like mysteries with a French flair.

  • The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus (http://amzn.to/29xAYkr) is a fine introduction to this series, with three titles in one. 
  • Late Harvest Havoc (http://amzn.to/29AJKBu). Disaster strikes the vineyards in Alsace. Vintners are tense and old grudges surface. The Winemaker Detective's reputation is on the line as he must find the cause before the late harvest starts.
  • Tainted Tokay (http://amzn.to/29Ktgtc). The Winemaker Detective encounters deceit and deception in Old World Europe. 

EUROPEAN ACTION AND ADVENTURE

The Consortium thriller series (http://amzn.to/29DR9Be) by David Khara offers a roller-coaster ride that dips into the history of World War II, then races through a modern-day loop-to-loop of action and humor. What impact could the folly of World War II—death camps, medical manipulation and chemical warfare—still have today?

  • The Bleiberg Project
  • The Shiro Project
  • The Morgenstern Project

 

  • Shadow Ritual (http://amzn.to/29xAvPx) by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne. The series has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. Douglas Preston calls it “Phenomenal.” Shadow Ritual has ritual murders, ancient enemies and a powerful secret, making an electrifying thriller about the rise of extremism. 

AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FRENCH FLAVOR

  • White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume (http://amzn.to/29xAIC0). In addition to a starred Publishers Weekly review, Craig Johnson (of Longmire fame) called this “the real deal.” White Leopard is African noir with a renegade PI. An ordinary case turns out to be not so ordinary. The drug mule gets her throat slit. The French lawyer is too beautiful and too well-informed. The cocaine is too plentiful. The reader travels down the roads of Mali in the protagonist’s desperate search for truth.

12 Facts You Can Steal: Bordeaux, Cork Taint, Transylvania, Tokay and more

cozy culinary mystery about wine and winetasting

As readers know, the Winemaker Detective series offers an immersive experience in both French countryside and winemaking, with some gentle mystery on the side. In the most recent addition to the series—Tainted Tokay—Benjamin Cooker travels abroad to Hungary while his trusty assistant Virgile stays at home. In this one, I learned a number of fun facts, as usual. Here are twelve of them.

  1. Some Bordeaux wine estates have cupolas—those are dome-like structures on the top of a building. These were once used to watch for thieves during the grape harvest.
  2. In the city of Bordeaux, the cupolas served to spot the arrival of merchant ships.
  3. The Prince of Transylvania gave King Louis XIV of France a bottle of Tokay wine from the Tokaj region in Hungary, which gave the wine the reputation of being the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings.
  4. Since 2007, only wines from the Tokaj region of Hungary can legally be called Tokay.
  5. TCA, or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is responsible for cork taint.
  6. Pastry chefs who make Vienna’s favorite Sachertorte here go through more than a million eggs every year, plus eighty tons of sugar, seventy-five tons of chocolate, thirty-seven tons of apricot jam, twenty-five tons of butter, and no less than thirty tons of flour. (Benjamin Cooker tells the full story of the Sachertorte, with princes, apprentices, rivalries, litigation, and a supreme court ruling in Tainted Tokay).
  7. In the 1980s, some Austrian winemakers laced their wines with antifreeze to make them sweeter and more full-bodied. The fallout plummeted the whole Austrian wine industry.
  8. At Saint Stephen’s Basilica in Vienna, which is dedicated to the first king of Hungary, there is a relic of the saint’s hand, which is paraded around town once a year.
  9. In the Tokaj region of Hungary, the region’s seasonal wetness and the foggy weather create prime conditions for noble rot. The infected grapes, if picked at just the right moment, produce an especially fine and concentrated sweet wine.
  10. Winds from the great plains of Russia contribute to raisinating the grapes, that is drying them up like raisins, concentrating the sugar content. In northeastern Hungary, the interplay of moisture and sunshine stoked by the winds of the Ural Mountains produce the only grape of its kind in the world, as well as the most expensive. Its name is aszú, meaning desiccated.
  11. Tokay has more residual sugar than any other wine. The great Yquem vintages have 100 to 150 grams per liter, while the sweetest Tokaji—the eszencia—has more than 450 grams per liter. Some exceptional vintages can have as much as 900 grams per liter.
  12. Tokaj has a network of cellars carved out of solid rock between the years 1400 and 1600, where the wine ages.