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Talley Vineyards

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
March 23, 2018 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

The Influence of Wine Movies

Wine movies have become a powerful force in the wine industry over the past several years. It's amazing that an industry so ripe with tradition can be altered simply by the release of a movie. I have thought a lot about this and am taking this opportunity to do a little analysis on some influential wine movies.

Being part of the central coast wine industry and specializing in Pinot Noir, I have to start with Sideways, Alexander Payne’s revolutionary film about a couple of guys cruising through Santa Barbara wine country on a pre-wedding bestie trip. We quickly find out that Miles (Paul Giamatti) prefers Pinot Noir over essentially everything, especially the bastard grape Merlot. Sideways immediately became an Oscar darling and a huge success with movie goers and the movie’s popularity drastically changed consumer wine consumption. Pinot Noir sales increase 16% while Merlot sales decreased 2%, the price and volume of Pinot Noir increased exponentially, and some estimates show Merlot farmers lost as much as $400 million in value. How does a movie change consumer preferences so much?  Clearly, we should get Paul Giamatti to push more products. Talley wines, perhaps? I really did enjoy this movie despite the ridiculous economic effects.

Somm is another movie that had some interesting effects on the domestic wine culture. This documentary follows several advanced sommeliers studying to become master sommeliers, an exam renowned for being the most difficult in the world. Throughout the movie you see the trials and tribulations of these somms in their everyday life of study. I don’t want to spoil the movie by listing who passes and who doesn’t; what really matters is that a lot of people who watched that movie now know what a sommelier is, even if they can't pronounce it. My family members from Los Banos were talking to me about sommeliers I know and how cool it all is. Los Banos isn't exactly known for its sommeliers! Sommeliers are now more influential because they are out of the shadows and in the normal citizen’s vocabulary, causing more people to trust sommeliers’ wine choices. I'm sure it's mostly because they know a lot about wine, but also because customers secretly think somms are super cool. 

I'm going to go into the mud a little bit here with the movie Bottle Shock. This movie really didn’t move the needle when it came to economics or consumer knowledge, but it did lie to all of us with the claim that the famous chardonnay got cloudy because it was racked too cleanly.  Yeah, that doesn’t happen, all Hollywood lies.  In the wine industry, bottle shock is when a wine is moved a lot during bottling; the flavors tend to take a backseat for a little bit because of all of this movement.  Essentially, the wine is in a funk as if it had a long weekend, but it doesn't get cloudy and then clear again as it did in the movie.  The only thing good about this movie is Chris Pine and his dreamy eyes.

One of my favorite wine movies of all time is another documentary, Sour Grapes, which documents the greatest wine fraud of all time, committed by Rudy Kurniawan.  Essentially Rudy bought a lot of a wine at auction, made fake versions, and then sold both the real and the fakes privately and at auction. Wine collectors would see him buy a 1978 Domaine Romanee-Conti, valued at over $20,000 per bottle, at an auction.  He would blend other wines and make fraudulent wine labels, allowing him to resell cases instead of just the one bottle he purchased.  He made millions before the FBI finally caught on to his scheme. The greatest moment in the movie is the reveal to the rich egomaniacs who think they are drinking a rare Cote Rotie from the Rhone region of France when it is actually a domestic knockoff. The look on their faces is priceless! I don’t know how much the movie changed the wine industry, but the story of Rudy's fraud certainly rocked the wine auction industry. Auction houses have been sued, had to hire wine fraud experts, and had to dole out millions to make amends. It's too bad, but for the better in the grand scheme of things as many wine auction houses were riding a little too loose with millions of dollars in wine. 

While there are a ton of other wine movies (I mean I didn’t even mention the Keanu Reeves or Russell Crowe wine movies!) these are my picks for influential wine movies.  If you haven't seen any of these movies, do yourself a favor, get to watching and you will not regret it.  Maybe Bottle Shock, but like I said, at least Chris Pine is in it.      




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