I love movies. I love them almost as much as I love wine. And with this being Oscar weekend, I thought I’d list a few that I enjoyed this past week ~ two documentaries and three dramatic. I paired one of the movies with a rich and beautiful 09 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Zinfandel. I’d never tried it before and gave it two thumbs up.
So, for your consideration, and in no particular order:
Blood Into Wine (2010) ~ 90% documentary and 10% great marketing, Blood Into Wine stylishly illustrates Maynard James Keenan and winemaker Eric Glomski’s journey and struggles in the world of making Arizona wine. Keenan, drummer and frontman to some great bands such as Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, discusses how something ‘clicked’ for him about wine, leading him on a journey of ‘self-discovery’ and compelled him, ‘to know more…and see how far I can take this as an artist.” For Eric Glomski, a background in river ecology and early experiments with apple wine, made it clear how winemaking “helps us understand our relationship with the earth. And how wine is an expression of home.” The doc explains the growing seasons, the trials and tribulations of being a frontier winemaker in a rough northern Arizona terrain. From the political issues of water rights, to Javelina stripping one-third of their Sangiovese crop, to winter frost (which happens in higher elevation AZ vineyards), winemaking in Arizona is not for poseurs. For the entry-level wine drinker, it educates about the process and history of winemaking in a way that is entertaining and cool. Keenan is a rare celebrity winemaker who knows what he’s talking about, admits that he’s still learning and, literally, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. His story about his mother and the pride he has for Caduceus Cellars‘ ’07 Nagual de Judith Cab Sav (named in her honor) is very touching. While it occasionally had the subtle feel of a marketing video, that’s okay. I have no problem with promoting awareness and generating buzz for a burgeoning wine region.
Mondovino (2004) ~ This documentary by Jonathan Nossiter examines the conflict between big wine, in this case Mondavi, and the smaller European winemaking families trying to preserve their land and culture. It’s a whirlwind flight from Brazil, into the vineyards of Burgundy, and Sardinia, on to the gilded drawing rooms of Italy, and finally the sprawling colossus of the Mondavi vineyards in Napa. Early on, Nossiter introduces you to Michel Rolland, a wine consultant, who advises an international array of wineries in making their wines to suit a more “uniform, Mondavi style.” He uses the term ‘micro-oxygenation’ which such frequency and at almost every vinery he visits, you’d think it was his middle name. When asked about ‘diversity’ in winemaking, he replies, “That’s why there are so many bad wines.” Ouch. It goes on to illustrate the power of the Mondavi marketing machine and how the smaller ‘generation’ winemakers must, in essence, conform or be cast out. I think the point Nossiter is trying to make is that in order for the smaller wineries to compete at all in an ever expanding market, they have to allow Mondavi and it’s marketing power to take over, which means selling out their own expression, or terroir, to a standardized style of wine. It’s referred to as ‘globalization’ of wine and the narrative raises some very interesting points, to be sure. If there’s no diversity or personal expression/signature in wine, what’s the point?
A Good Year (2006) ~ Hmmm, my best nutshell description: icy Master of the Universe-inherits vineyard-meets and falls for sexy French chick-life dramatically changes. Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a British financier who, in the midst of his chaotic life, finds out he is the only living relative of his beloved, yet forgotten, Uncle Henry (Albert Finney). He becomes the default owner of his uncle’s French Chateau and adjoining vineyard. At the start, he sees it as just a piece of real estate, to be cashed in and sold off. What he doesn’t expect is that his life will be transformed (voila!) in a mere 7 days. Told partially through flashbacks to sunnier days of fun and wine with Uncle Henry, it’s nicely romantic but predictable ~ there’s even a mention of… Mondavi (ha). Still, it’s good to see Russell Crowe in something a little lighter and no phones were thrown. There’s a quick, ironic scene where Max makes a Lance Armstrong reference, which is funny, but now for a very different reason.The loose ends tie up a little too neatly but the beautiful shots of the Chateau and vineyard make up for that. The point is more than hit home that, try as you might, you can’t ever really outrun the ties that truly bind; for memories, love and wine will inevitably stand the test of time. Oh, the sexy French chick? Marion Cotillard.
Sideways (2004) ~ Starring the great Paul Giamatti, it’s probably one of the most famous movies about wine so I don’t think I need to go into a plot synopsis. Suffice to say, it probably cast the most light on the whole Merlot vs. Pinot debate. My favorite scene is when Virginia Madsen’s character, Maya, waxes poetic on what she loves about wine; how wine continues to evolve over time, gaining complexity and how it is, actually, alive. Much like love. Amid the comedy and chaos of the movie, this is the scene that distills what it is to be a true lover of wine.
Bottle Shock (2008) ~ If you can get past the really bad wig that Chris Pine has to wear, Bottle Shock is an interesting look at the fledgling California wine industry in the mid-’70’s. Loosely based on a true story, it follows two tales. The first is the struggle between a failing California winemaker Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) and his slacker son, Bo (Pine) to produce the perfect wine. The second, British wine educator Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), living in Paris, trying to find a bold way to promote his (at the time) unremarkable business. On the advice of an American friend, Spurrier creates an international wine competition to find the best of California to compete with the French. It illustrates the beginning of the globalization of wine and how a snubbed wine region can rise to the occasion and triumph. The message: sometimes you can make something too perfect; and that letting go is when perfection can truly be achieved. Woah. I think I need a drink.
This week, I watched some great wine movies, and enjoyed a new favorite wine. I’m ready for the big night with a chilled bottle of Chandon.
For those of you who, like me, are still waiting for that lost invite to the Governor’s Ball, I hope you enjoy the show.