Movies of the Vine – Nine Films About Wine
Recently I just rented, and then bought, the movie Bottle Shock on DVD. I first watched the movie with absolute skepticism, because, while it was the story of the Paris wine tasting, it was not based on George Tabor’s wonderful book. At first, it seemed to me like someone rushed this film into production just to beat the film version of Tabor’s book to the theaters.
But happily, as is usually the case (my wife might tell you), I was wrong. Bottle Shock is the story of the Barretts pere’ & fils and their struggles to establish a quality, modern winery in a region that was then most famous for the jug style wines epitomized by Ernest & Julio Gallo and many others in the valley who made dark red sweet wines for wide consumption in that period.
The movie was fun, exciting, humorous, and above all, made me want to 1. go to Napa (even though I own my own vineyard) and 2. drink several bottles of wine
Then I got to thinking, what are some other good wine movies?
Well, of course, there’s Sideways. I love Sideways. Let’s be honest, it’s a buddy movie that uses the Santa Barbara region as a backdrop, but the region, like in Bottle Shock, is a character in the film. I love the funny dialogue and hilarious comedy of it. I suspend the disbelief that it is misogynistic, and prefer blithely, to think of it as two infantile men grasping for youth and the confidence that one owns before the veil is lifted. And of course, I love the talk about wine. It too makes me want to go to Santa Barbara and then drink wine.
OK, now, here’s a slightly different split. I draw dead-even on the next two movies: Mondo Vino and Autumn Tale, two small independent films. Mondo Vino gets the edge because I love wine consultant Michele Roland spouting “Aerate, aerate, aerate!” throughout the movie. I love the story of the small village fighting the big American monolith theme, though I thought the citizens’ victory a pirique one at best.
Filmed by award-winning director Jonathan Nossiter, Mondovino sparked much controversy in its theatrical run among wine producers, distributors and consumers as it shed light on the esoteric world of wine. Juxtaposing artesian wine growers with multi-national conglomerates, and peasants with billionaires, the film gives voice to those who create, critique and are involved in the commerce of wine, offering up a surprisingly prismatic, varied and sometimes controversial glimpse into something everyone enjoys but few people know much about.
However, others saw it differently, such as W. Blake Gray of the San Francisco Chronicle, “This plodding, anti-American wine documentary excited French audiences and angered some interview subjects who felt misled. If you're not a total wine geek, it's long and boring.” Geek. Guilty as charged.
Autumn Tale is different, as it is a fictional movie with a storyline. I love it because I love the main character, who insists that the magic of her small production wine comes form the fact that she lets the vines grow wild each year. The story line is only OK, but I do love the location and the themes. Both movies make me want to travel to France to see the vineyards, and of course they make me want to drink wine.
There is a very forgettable movie, that I know others love, which is A Walk in the Clouds starring Keaneau Reeves. I found the story line too far fetched for me to suspend my disbelief, but my wife and mother both liked it, and both rented it for me so I would see the “beautiful scenery.” Napa never looked so gorgeous, so sumptuous. Indeed, mid-way through the film, I did want to flee - to California to see some beautiful vineyards, and I definitely wanted to drink a bottle of wine.
The film received generally negative reviews. On the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes the film has a 25% approval rating, and the consensus describes it as "a sappy romantic comedy lacking in charm and humor".
"This Earth Is Mine" (1959). This classic starred Rock Hudson, Jean Simmons, and Dorothy McGuire. The movie was filmed on what is now Rubicon Estate. The winery workers appeared in the film as extras. According to W. Blake Gray of the San Francisco Chronicle, “This film is even more winecentric than "Sideways," and just as accurate. Its portrayal of the issues that divided Napa Valley in the 1930s still seems prescient today. Also, some of the gender-preference innuendo in Hudson's dialogue is pretty interesting now…A Douglas Sirk-style twisted melodrama set at the end of Prohibition, "This Earth Is Mine" has never been released on video or DVD, although it can be seen on bootleg copies or TV movie channels. This CinemaScope film is crying out for a big-screen revival at a San Francisco movie house like the Castro or the Balboa.
Hudson's mother, played by Anna Lee, says at one point: "Andre is thinking of selling Stags Leap. Cutting it up into little parcels. Selling it off to all the riffraff that come flooding in here because the price of grapes is high."
"They Knew What They Wanted" (1940). According to W. Blake Gray, “A must-see for Napa Valley historians. Unattractive Italian vineyard owner Charles Laughton uses Anglo farmhand William Gargan to entice waitress Carole Lombard to Napa to marry him. It's an invaluable film record of Italian-American wine culture, and also has great exteriors…the seriously dated ‘happy ending’ is just too bizarre today.”
The Wine Nine
A Walk in the Clouds
This Earth Is Mine
They Knew What They Wanted
The Unholy Wife