As Hollywood award season begins, we can’t help but ruminate on which of our favorite films might be deserving of top honors. The list is long, but here’s our first go at the 3 top wine movies everyone needs to see.
“In the past 10 years, prices of the top Bordeaux wines have risen by more than 1000 percent,” says Red Obsession’s gladiator-turned-narrator Russell Crowe. The top wine companies now have investment teams, and wine has morphed into an investment commodity like never before.
There are a significant amount of wine buyers who view wine in much the same way as an IPO offering or acquiring rental property, and they’re snapping up cases of Margaux, Lafite and their neighbors by the dozens, not because they’re wine lovers but because they’re banking on the continual rise of the region and that those newly bought bottles will increase exponentially in cost as they sit in cellars and mature.
China is home to the vast majority of these new Bordeaux investors as the country continues to experience an historically unprecedented rate of economic growth rate. The upper echelon of Chinese society seem to have a bit of wine fever, and the only cure is more – and more and more – Bordeaux.”
It’s a case of classic supply and demand, exacerbated by the buyers’ desire to have the ultimate in both quality and quantity. The problem is that there is a finite supply of wine that can be created; the vines can only produce so many grapes, and Bordeaux is planted to capacity. While it’s hard to blame the chateaux for taking advantage of their popularity by boosting prices, for every investor who claims financial gain there are consumers who are very definitely losing out.
More than ever before, Bordeaux is becoming the wine of the rich, as the average drinker is outpriced, outbid, and completely outmatched in terms of not just pricing but also availability and access. In many markets, including the United States, the public doesn’t stand a chance against investors who snap up the majority of new vintages before the wine is even ready to be bottled.
When is a hefty return on investment too much of a price to pay? The movie examines that question, as well as the social, cultural, and psychological reasons behind a phenomenon that could change the world of wine forever.
If ever there was a cinematic love letter to Burgundy, this is it. It starts a bit slow and perhaps a bit suspect, with importer Martine Saunier heading off to visit a few of the more well known producers in Côtes de Nuit, but it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t a movie made for movies’ sake. This is a labor of love, just like the winemaking process that features so prominently.
The film is divided in to four sections, each showcasing a season of the oft-frightening 2011 vintage and what it means (and may come to mean) for the people who make what is arguably the most terroir-driven wine in the world. Perhaps the most fascinating moments take place when harvest rolls around – fitting, as so many people believe that wine is made in the vineyard, before it ever touches a sorting table or stainless steel vat. There are trials and tribulations, including a race against weather and grape rot, but there is also joy and happiness in spades.
To see the dedication and reverence the people of Burgundy have for the vines, these living, breathing things that they make time to visit, and talk to, and in many cases tend to and prune by hand… it’s moving to unexpected degrees. When “Queen of Burgundy” Lalou Bize-Leroy wanders amongst vats of juice that will become some of the world’s most respected and highest priced wines we should feel some sense of commercialism; instead, her pride has us smiling liking we’re perusing pictures of her grandchildren.
When Thibauld Morey turns on classical music to serenade not only himself but also the rows of barrels aging in his cellar, it should feel a tad cheesy but it doesn’t. Why? This film humanizes the people and a place that the average wine lover will encounter only threw a glass or two of its finest export. There is a sincerity here, as well as a sense of place that is true and unique in every sense of the world.
A quick warning: be careful watching this film, as it is all but a foregone conclusion that you’ll wish you were a part of these families in the same way that they’re a part of the land. To sit at their dinner table, to snag wine from the dark and dusty family cellar, even to share in the panic and picking as hail approaches across the hills dotting the horizon – this is Burgundy, and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
As of this writing, there are 230 people in the entire world that can call themselves Master Sommeliers, and it took each and every one of them a whole world of hurt to get there. SOMM follows the journey of four such masochists, each of whom has dedicated their existence to accomplishing what so few others have.
We peek in on Dustin Wilson, Brian McClintic, DLynn Proctor, and Ian Cauble a few weeks before they’re due to take the MS exam, put on by the Court of Master Sommeliers. They’re tired and more than a bit weary, but there’s also a strange light in their eyes – a glimmer one could imagine was also seen in the eyes of many of history’s crazed geniuses who mumbled to themselves as they invented some grand new thing. True, these sommeliers aren’t inventing anything new, but they are mastering a breadth of knowledge that is staggering to the point of being literally unbelievable.
These candidates have already come quite far, having taken three other tests (the Introductory, Certified, and Advanced Levels) and been chosen from a number of applicants to win the privilege to sit for a theory test, practical demonstration (where they’re judged by a table of sitting Master Sommeliers), and blind tasting.
On one hand it’s hard not to admire such determination and dedication; on the other (as many publications have somewhat ignorantly printed) hand – who cares? The thing is, this isn’t a movie for wine lovers, this is a movie for anyone who appreciates bearing witness to someone striving to be the best at whatever it is that they love.
There are moments when the camaraderie and locker room-esque banter starts to make one’s eyes slowly begin an involuntary roll, but not without a humoring smile and a bit of a knowing nod. This is stress and fear of failure personified. There are also sad moments, as we realize that despite all the things this foursome has already accomplished (each is already well known and respected in the hospitality industry) they still feel like it’s just not enough. This is cork dork in all its glory and you can’t help but feel invested in the outcome, even if you’re not sure why you should.
It’s worth noting that the makers of SOMM have another wine film in post-production called Into the Bottle that documents the path wine takes from vineyard to consumer. If the trailer and teaser photos are anything to go by, it may be on a new list of our top wine movies soon.