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A short and inspirational history of Zinfandel

BloodVine_Cover_Final-4_featuredsizeIt’s my turn to share some behind the scenes secrets about how I built the Blood Vine world.

It all began with a glass of Zin, which has been my favorite wine ever since I started drinking (No need to say when that was, exactly) because of its peppery fruit and high alcohol content.  But I came to love it even more the day I wandered into a tiny tasting room at a Sonoma County winery called Sunce, which is owned by a Croatian family. There I learned about the mysterious origins of this beloved California grape.

Wineglass in hand, I read a framed news article on the wall at winery.  It reported that after years of trying to identify the varietal, someone used DNA to trace the roots of Zinfandel all the way to the picturesque country of Croatia.  The whole story captured my imagination and I must not have had too much to drink, because years later I remembered this curious nugget of history when I began to imagine Blood Vine.  

There really is something magical about wine–symbolically and historically, it’s a part of our collective unconscious.  How fruit becomes a complex, delicious, cheering, intoxicant seems downright mystical (although the science fascinates me too).  And it’s a little embarrassing to admit I wrote an entire novel in which wine is connected to blood without thinking about the Christian symbolism, even though its part of my job as an Episcopal priest to “turn” wine into blood on Sunday morning. I guess that just proves my point about the “unconscious.” 🙂 200px-Crljenak-kastelanski

In my research, I learned wine has been cultivated in Croatia since the Roman Empire.  (Even more interesting—people have been making wine in the Caucasus since 6000 BCE!  I geek out over that kind of deep history, and yes, it finds its way into my stories.)  The true ancestor of Zinfandel is Crljenak Kaštelanski.  Only a dozen of these vines were found. The rest had died off in a parasitic epidemic in the nineteenth century.  If it weren’t for those straggling survivors, the DNA detectives might never have solved the mystery.

And this is where my historical liberties begin.  My vampires hail from the beautiful island of Šolta, where another ancient grape, Dobričić, has its origins.  But like me, Andre Maras prefers Zin.  His family was driven from their homeland by vampire Hunters, and exile is a death sentence for them because they have blood bonds to their native soil.

This idea is like a cone of chocolate-vanilla swirl: I twisted the traditional vampire mythology with something I learned reading Homer in seminary—that the ancient Greeks understood nostalgia to be among the most powerful emotions.  That idea sparkled (unlike my vampires) with paranormal potential, and so I imagined a world where my exiled vampires suffer from a nostalgic wasting disease that can be fatal.

The Maras vampires arrived in California during the gold rush with root balls from their Zinfandel vines bundled in sackcloth.  The varietal did truly arrive in the U.S. at that time, but not, as far as I know, on a ship with vampire refugees.  Soon thereafter, Andre Maras purchased his estate in Sonoma County and named it the Kaštel Estate Winery, an homage to the Croatian name for the Zinfandel grape.

Here are a few of my favorites Zins—big, bloody wines that make me swoon almost as much as Andre does.

I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever had one detail or fact inspire a story?  If you got to have a drink with your favorite vampire, what would it be? Do you have a favorite wine or winery? 

Blood Vine Blurb

When public relations pro Zoey Porter arrives at an enchanting California winery, she discovers her sexy new client is the almost one-night stand she can’t forget. After her husband’s suicide, Zoey has vowed never to risk her heart again. But can she walk away from the intriguing winemaker a second time?

Driven from Croatia by his ancient foes, vampire Andre Maras has finally made a blood-like wine to cure his fellow refugees. Now he needs Zoey’s PR expertise to reach them. After his wife’s death, Andre has a vow of his own—never to risk another painful blood bond. And one taste of the tempting Zoey would bind him to her eternally.


The view from the parlor at sunset stunned Zoey. A wall of French doors opened onto a narrow balcony and displayed a pink sky, flush against the verdant grapevines that trailed over gentle hills. The landscape was more than enough ornament for the room and Zoey was glad Andre had left the ivory colored walls bare.

He sat chatting with Pedro, and they both stood as she walked in. She had to look a long way up to meet his eyes.  Pedro poured wine into three glasses.

“I should admit I don’t have much of a palate,” she said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll guide you.”  Pedro handed her a glass.

As she lifted it to her nose, Andre watched her. “Hhhmm. It smells so earthy. It’s very unusual.”

“Yes, the grapes are from our family vines on Šolta, before they were burned,” Andre said.

“A fire?”  How tragic, to lose so much heritage.

Andre sipped his wine before he said, “Yes, that’s why I—why my family came to the U.S.”

“When was the fire?” she asked.

“Eighteen forty-seven,” Andre replied. Her next question had formed on her lips when he added, “It is a very long story. Another time?”


“This wine was produced from the Šoltan vines planted when this estate was founded, and recently spliced onto the vines on my new land.”

“But,” Zoey checked to be certain she understood, “it’s the Zinfandel grape whose name I have no hope of saying in Croatian?”

“Yes, that one.” Andre nodded. “The vineyards we acquired several years ago bear a startling similarity to our vineyards in Šolta and the resulting wine tastes just like the ones we used to make.”

“Were you actually able to taste wines made by your family so long ago?”

He tilted his head. “Able to taste them?  Oh, I see. Yes, I was fortunate enough to taste wine made from that vineyard.”

Why did she feel like he was evading her question?

She brought her glass to her mouth and glanced up to find him watching. She lowered her lids and concentrated. When the wine hit her tongue, she opened them wide again.

She ran her tongue along the back of her teeth, searching out words for the astonishing mixture of flavors in her mouth. “It’s as thick as blood…and it tastes like sunshine, raisins and peppery licorice.”

The flecks in his green eyes glittered. “Yes, Zoey, it does.” For the first time, he didn’t call her Ms. Porter. “Your palate is perfect.”

He looked delighted with her. She glanced away, her head suddenly light, as if she hadn’t eaten all day. Darting her eyes back to him, his face had gone neutral. She wanted the delight back.

Blood Vine on Amazon | Blood Vine on Barnes and Noble | Blood Vine on Goodreads 

Blood Entangled, the sequel to Blood Vine, will release in July!

8 thoughts on “A short and inspirational history of Zinfandel

  1. Our family has a wine press that has been handed down through the generations and we have made our own wine. The kids love the process of squeezing the grapes with the press. My husband even designed labels for the bottles, for each year. Unfortunately, I don’t drink alcohol, so my husband shares the wine with other family members and friends.

  2. What a fascinating path you followed to write your wonderful book. There’s a little vineyard about an hour and a half outside of Washington, D.C. that we love, Linden Vineyards in Marshall, VA.

  3. Amber, such a cool post and what an intriguing idea! I love how anything can spark the imagination. Have you ever read FEVRE DREAM by George R.R. Martin? It’s about vampires in antebellum Mississippi, and there’s a blood/wine concoction in there that frees the vampires from killing humans. Love that your vampires transplanted the native vines to their new home.

    • Lexi–really, he wrote that? Awesome. I will put it on my TBR! Is it as epic at GOT? I confess I decided to only watch those, after I heard in a radio interview that even he can’t keep track of all his characters! I did also like the way vampires could drink wine in A Discovery of Witches. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I love the scene where the heroine carefully plans a vampire friendly meal for her date with Matthew.

      • Yes, he wrote it! It came out back in the 80’s, and was the first thing I’d ever read by him, and I loved it. There’s a cranky old steamboat captain who befriends the vamp hero. Great character. When GOT debuted on HBO, I mentioned it to my hubby and said, “Have you ever heard of this show? Everybody’s talking about it.” He said, “Yeah, that’s George R. R. Martin.” I said, “I’ve never read anything by him,” and he said, “Duh. You read FEVRE DREAM.” I said, “Oh, THAT George R. R Martin. I love him!” Asked hubby if he’d read GOT, and he rolled his eyes and said, “They’re all in the garage on the shelf. I read them when the books first came out.” I hauled boogie out there, snatched them up, and was hooked!

  4. Great post, Amber and I love your three questions. 1st one: my inspiration for a story often comes from a question, such as “what would happen if…fill-in-idea-here.”

    2nd: a drink with my fav. vampire. Oh, so many favorites… from TV — Eric – vodka, definitely vodka. Spike – whiskey for sure. From print — Jean-Claude – red wine (de la France, bien sur). Kos – Zinfandel from Kastel :). And Alexander – sake, without question.

    3rd: favorite winery. So many good ones, I don’t actually have one favorite – you really can’t go wrong in Sonoma or Napa. 🙂

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