More is less in this vineyard of excess. Documentarian Jonathan Nossiter
would have been well advised not to use every frame of his extensive
interview footage from seven countries as though they were perfect grapes.
Nassiter, described as a trained sommelier, wine writer and oenophile proves
it by his obvious access to some of the biggest names in the international
wine industry as well as to the virtually unknown proprieters of tiny
boutique domains and appellations. In tracking these folks down for
interviews, Nossiter builds on a thesis that the world of wine is undergoing
crucial changes. Tradition, he will suggest, is colliding with commerce,
though it might be more to the point that traditional commerce has been
overtaken by the modern commerce of the conglomerate.
In any event, the issue is articulated by a somewhat unknown cast of
characters who, though rarely in the public eye, have no problem
pontificating on winemaking, wine marketing, competitive forces and
influences and the power of a good rating for Nassiter's camera.
The cast includes Michel Rolland, a crucial element in the industry as wine
consultant around the wine making globe, the De Montille family headed by
father Hubert, Robert, Michael and Tim Mondavi, the everpresent elephants in
the wine economy closet who have turned into fearsome overlords, the
Frescobaldi family of Florence, Italy, in business with the Mondavis, the
Antinoris, the Etcharts, the co-CEOs of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild in Bordeaux,
and others who are either in business with or intimidated by the Mondavis,
including the boutique landowners hanging onto family honor.
Then, of course, there is the master trendmaker of them all, Robert Parker,
wine critic for his Wine Advocate magazine that has the power, with a 90+
rating to determine the next stars of the vintage or, with lesser scores, to
filter out the posers and losers. He is a figure of greater significance to
these many vineyards and owners than they will admit, and he'll be the first
to tell you so. Critic James Suckling of "Wine Spectator Magazine" also
plays a role in the court of ratings.
But, with all the references to wine style, "terroir" or the importance of
the soil, the culture within each vineyard, there's little on actual
winemaking. When Alix De Montille accuses her father Robert of taking a
harsher approach to his wines than she prefers, she mentions acid content.
But the words "sugar" and "tannin," "skins" and "sulfides," prime balancing
elements that determine a winemaker's decisions and vinicultural methodology
pass no lips here.
Worst of all (after length and omission), is the camerawork. The
professionalism of the subjects is in bothersome contrast to the sheer
amateurism of the jiggly, zoomy, dizzying lenswork -- about the worst I've
seen in a distributed film.
Nossiter seems to be on an intimate level with most of his interview
subjects, which is a highly positive factor. But as though to honor his
relationships, he seem more determined not to betray than to fully reveal or
expose in a documentary. The value of his approach is in introducing us to
people in the business whom we don't usually get to see. They talk mostly
about commercial competition and issues of survival. Soul and dedication are
repeated so much you'd think some of these people perceive doubts about it.
Interesting to a wine lover as the film may be for what it does provide, this
"commerce of wine" roundup is not likely to send anyone home with a greater
appreciation for the miracle of fermentation than that which they already
~~ Jules Brenner