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Mondovino-A review

August 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Mondovino

I honestly haven’t seen many wine movies(there aren’t many made) but the other day at Blockbuster I saw Mondovino on the shelf and thought that a wine movie might be interesting.

I hadn’t heard about it before my wife and I sat down to watch it and we didn’t realize it was documentary style until we took it out of the box. It’s a rather complicated documentary and the film makers intentionally leave out any real understandable storyline which to both of us made the work as a whole feel rather incomplete and after it was over left us wondering…….. What was the point?

Ok, so I probably don’t have a career coming as the next Syskel or Roper or Ebert….but I did enjoy parts of the movie.

I’m going to start by saying that every documentary filmaker or commentator has their point of view and his certainly comes through at points. To me, it seems that he is trying to make the point that large scale wineries/corporations like Mondavi, a few French examples such as Mas De Daumas Gassac, wine consultant Michel Rolland and wine critic Robert Parker are taking away from the artistry gained from small wineries and giving more and more power to larger companies.

I take issue with the premise on a couple of levels. One of his most clear examples is Opus One winery in Napa which is a joint venture between Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild. My wife was surprised when I told her that Opus One had been around since the late 70’s. If deals like this would have meant the end of the wine industry in both Burgundy and Napa…..why haven’t we seen many more(any more?) examples of this in the 30 years since? Opus One still only makes 1 wine- a Napa blend which has been highly rated by both critics and the general public in most releases.

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Secondly he seems to take issue with Robert Parker and his influence on the wine industry and the taste of consumers. I understand that this is going to be a major concern with wineries, but I have to admit that almost every wine drinker I know from the serious to the casual, seem to have similar tastes to Parker. If he were constantly rating wines highly that the wine consuming public didn’t like, then he would lose his following rather quickly and people would pay more attention to other publications which the filmaker seems to leave out for the most part, with a small reference of Wine Spectator and their 2M+ yearly readers.

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Lastly there is the issue of Michel Rolland and the images of his lab in Bordeaux. The film repatedly shows him telling his clients to micro-oxygenate the barells.

From Wikipedia: Since the film, Rolland has said that he is “not a fan of micro-oxygenation. The film suggests I am. Some of my clients inquire about it. It can help in special conditions — if the tannins are fierce or hard, micro-oxygenation can make them softer and rounder. In certain countries with certain terroir, like Chile or Argentina, I may use it.” Wine Spectator’s James Suckling notes in an article about Rolland that “He is not a proponent of micro-oxidation in wine-making as some suggest, and never has been”.

Ok so outside of some artistic license that the film maker seems to have taken I will say that I took some things away from a few of the people shown in the movie:

Michel Rolland- Seems like a likeable guy who knows everyone who is anyone in the industry. His reputation and sense of humor come through quite a bit…frankly speaking he seems like an interesting guy who would be a good choice to meet for a glass of wine….or a beer.

Mondavi- I don’t subscribe to the view that Mondavi is the Wal-Mart of the wine industry. Frankly speaking I think they still make some very good wine and we need to be realistic about a company which was sold for over 1B dollars and the type of access a documentary filmaker is likely to receive. I’d assume that a press atache or PR person would be present for an interview with the family, especially if they don’t know the journalist. That being said….. is it still a family run business? Probably not, but that is ok too. Most vineyards(yes even in Napa and France) are family owned despite the size. They aren’t shown in a good light in the film, but I would hope that people would remember that they are only making business decisions(the film maker seems to want them to no longer look for profit, they are a publically traded company and need growth/profit for their shareholders) as well as their many charitable and civic projects throughout Northern California. To me, the Mondavi story is an interesting one in that one man and his family took a small winery and made it into a huge multinational corporation in about 40 years. That type of success I’m sure we’d all like to have a small part of.

Small French wineries- They definitely come off as the sympathic characters in the story, but I do want to take a couple of minutes and explain what terroir actually is, since they brought it up in every conversation throughout the film. Terroir is not simply the area where the grapes are grown, but is meant to take into account the culture of the people growing the wine as well as the history behind the bottle. To me, I love history…..but how do I taste that in the bottle? How can culture come through a bottle? I appreciate being able to cellar a wine for 15 years and then drink it…..but how many people across the world really have an adequate cellar space to do something like that? How many people have the disposable income?

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the so-called Americanisation of wine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All those small wineries in France are still operating and we now could buy a bottle of their wine because of globalization. They haven’t been put out of the industry and frankly speaking having independent reviews of wine is a good thing. We need more critics, more wine blogs and more reviews….not less. I’m not willing to say that simply because old world wine regions have been around for a long time that they make the best wine anywhere in the world forever. Yes I like some of the complexity that comes with old vines…..but isn’t comparing and judging wine a good thing for the industry long term?

I think watching the movie made me think of today in some ways. Rampant globalization isn’t good for the wine industry if it means that small family producers are driven out of business….but I don’t see that happening. This afternoon my business partner is attending a family winemaker conference in San Francisco. I’m sure many of these producers have these same concerns of their French counterparts in the film. If they make outstanding wine, we’re very excited to work with them to get their products out to the general public. With more wine being consumed every day across the world these issues will continue to manifest themself, at Uncorked Ventures we love working with small producers that produce outstanding wine….we’ll always continue to do so, after all we’re a family business as well.

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