For author and painter Sheila Banning, the threads of her novel, "Terroir" began while she was writing a collection of short stories with themes of love, loss and redemption.
“At the same time, I had several friends who were big Pinot Noir aficionados,” said Banning who lives in Northern California. “I noticed that the way people talked about pinot grapes and the wine made from them was anthropomorphic --fragile, temperamental, easy to make a mediocre pinot noir but rare to make an exceptional one, and everything gelled around that parallel of making wine and shaping a life in the face of crisis and even death.”
The title "Terroir" refers to the French word used to describe vineyards from the same region that share, among other things, the same types of soil, topography and climate and local conditions needed to make a distinctive wines. Banning’s book tells the story of Suzanne Mathews, vintner of a cult Pinot Noir made in the Santa Cruz Mountains, as she is about to harvest the defining vintage of her career. But all that changes when her husband asks for a divorce and her sister is diagnosed with a terminal illness and only has weeks to live.
“Although 'Terroir' is about living well and dying well, you will close the book feeling, if not inspired, at least uplifted,” said Banning. “And when I get around to writing the screenplay, the role of the sister with terminal cancer is for Susan Sarandon.”
Though Pinot Noir is one of Banning’s favorite wines, she also did extensive research into the technical and scientific aspects of wine making as well as the variations on Pinot Noir produced by Santa Cruz Mountain wineries.
“As research goes,” she said, “tasting a lot of wine was not a grueling task.”
Banning, who is at work on the second book in a YA detective series about the Carter Brothers who she describes as the Hardy Boys meet Sherlock and Watson in the 21st Century, paints botanical water colors of fruit and flowers.
“If you consider that the paintings are built with layers of pigment washes, highlight and shadow to create a sense of depth, and precise detail added with a dry brush for realism,” she said, explaining how her paintings and writing are in ways similar. “That's a pretty good analogy how what I'd like my writing to be.”