Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wine Movies you may (not) want to see!

Contains Spoilers!

I've been on a wine-movie kick lately, but it's been a challenge for me. The problems I have are:

A) there are too few wine movies, and
B) most of them aren't available on Netflix streaming.

This means that I have to search for them, put them in my que, and then wait. I hate waiting. What can I say, this is the digital age. I want it now, not in three days. Fortunately, I'm blessed in that I own quite a few movies. I have a few I can watch whenever I want... Like Ratatouille.

Okay, it's not technically a "wine" themed movie; not in so many words. But it's a food movie and wine plays an integral part in several major scenes. Also, it's just great entertainment. The story is clever and well-developed and the animation is nothing short of brilliant. What's not to like? I blogged about this movie a while back, just because it's sooooo cool.

Then we have Bottle Shock, which I don't own but is available currently on Netflix:

I really like this somewhat bizarre movie. It does a great job of capturing the eclectic nature of Northern California, which may have been true in the 70's but still persists to this day. The father is a conservative ex-lawyer who dreams of nothing more than his own successful winery in a time and place that makes his dream appear somewhat ludicrous to his peers. His son is an unaspiring pot-smoking dropout with no goals or discipline, but an inescapable love for his father and a deep desire to see him succeed.

Alan Rickman brilliantly plays a European wine snob (he's English, not French!) who sets up a blind tasting competition between French and Californian wines... and here's the clincher: It really happened! This movie is based on a true story, and these people are real! 

Does that mean the real people resemble the characters in the movie? I have no idea. I've read criticisms that the movie is highly fictionalized, but also read that it was very true to history. I suppose I could drive over to Calistoga and visit the winery Chateau Montelena to get the truth (it's about twenty minutes from my house), but then they'd expect me to buy something and this writer cannot yet afford to buy wine by the case. Maybe someday...

Blood into Wine:

This documentary is about rock star Maynard James Keenan (singer from Tool) and his venture into wine-making. Wow, where do i even start? Most rock-star winemakers are tools who buy premade wines with custom labels and then market it to a bunch of fans desperate for validation -even if it comes in the form of a bottle of shitty wine that will make their friends puke all night. Not Maynard. This guy not only makes and bottles his own wine, he moves to Arizona and founds his own one-of-a-kind vineyard!

Now, I get why he chose Arizona. It's the soil, the weather, the sun... the terrior. I get it. But if I had this guy's fame and fortune, I would've chosen something a little closer to home... Like my dream of a few acres in the Sonoma Dry Creek, Chalk Hill, or Alexander Valley appellations. But nonetheless I applaud his bravado and avant-garde thinking. The truth is, wine can be grown just about anywhere if you're careful, you do your research, and you're not too picky about varietals. 


Another documentary, this time one that takes a look at the politics of wine, both in the U.S.A. and in the old world as well. If you're really into this sort of thing, it's not bad. There are some cool characters, but a lot of people come off looking like genuine jerks as well. I really don't know much about any of these characters, other than it's a documentary and they are, in fact, real people. Like most real people, they're not always at their best in front of the camera and it's hard to tell if these people are really so out of touch with reality that common courtesy escapes them, or if the film was edited to make them look worse than they really are. Is it worth 2 1/2 hours of your time? Well, I watched the whole thing, but my wife fell asleep. Granted, I'm a winemaker and she is not.

French Kiss:

This film... it's a romance about a tragically co-dependent Meg Ryan who pursues her cheating fiance to France, and finds herself falling for a thief instead. Wine plays a minor role in this film because the thief is an aspiring winemaker from a French wine-making family who wants to start his own vineyard. I like the spice-set the thief put together to teach himself and others to recognize flavors and scents in wine, but the premise that he steals an American vine and smuggles it to France so he can crossbreed it with French grapes is somewhat ludicrous.

A Good Year:

Stars Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott.  Again, wine plays a minor role in this film about an English banker who inherits his uncle's ch√Ęteau in France. Not a bad movie, but definitely not an action thriller. Don't look at this as a follow-up to Gladiator. Expect romance and drama; you'll be fine.

Sideways: What the hell do I say about this movie? It won tons of awards and changed the way people in America think about wine. And the first time I saw it, I hated it. For starters, the main character and his sidekick were both jerks, and that's putting it delicately. They're shallow sociopaths who don't think twice about lying, cheating, or stealing from people they supposedly care about. In one definitive scene, the main character (a man in his thirties) steals money from his mother's sock drawer. A few minutes later, his best friend announces his goal of cheating on his fiance while they're on vacation. Suffice it to say, if I met either of these guys in real life I'd be tempted to punch them in the nose rather than share a bottle of wine with them. And it breaks my heart to think that this movie single-highhandedly nearly destroyed the wine market for Merlot because the protagonist hates Merlot (and yet seems to love wines blended with Merlot). 

I'm not saying Merlot is the best thing ever, but it's a good wine when done right, with soft tannins and lush, layered flavors. There is a reason Merlot is blended with just about every red out there. It gives body to weak wines and softens the tannins and acidity of Cabernet (which is just too easy to grow for this fictional connoisseur).

Eventually, the characters do find some -limited- growth and redeem themselves, in their own limited ways. After cheating on his fiance multiple times, Jack finally realizes that without her he's nothing and finds a rare moment of humility. Miles, the protagonist of the story, risks his neck and sacrifices his already blurred moral values to protect his good friend. A small thing in a character so flawed, to be sure, but it gives us something to believe in.

One of the things I missed -or forgot- about Sideways, was the subplot about the main character being an author. How did I miss that? Or, alternatively, How did I forget? It must be the fact that I hated the characters so much in the first viewing that I really wanted to distance myself from them in every way possible. "Miles" was a spineless wimp with major character defects, not the least of which were his snobbish, pretentious, and half-educated opinions on wine. On top of that, he was perfectly willing to lie about his friend's illicit affairs and steal thousands of dollars from his own mother. So what if he was an aspiring writer? I wanted nothing to do with him.

Well, it is an interesting twist in retrospect. The guy's an English teacher who writes a book and then can't find a publisher. He does have an agent, and she tactfully informs him that publishers aren't interested because they don't know how to market his book and the industry is falling apart because it's "all about the marketing." If there's anything worth taking from this movie, it's not what they say about wine but what they say about the publishing industry back in 2004.Maybe I should've paid more attention to this movie back then and saved myself a few years of futile submissions, painful rejections, and unbounded neglect.