Feature: Wine goes global in new film

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  March 9, 2005 at 6:02 PM
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LOS ANGELES, March 9 (UPI) -- The Oscar-nominated "Sideways" may take credit for bringing new aficionados into wine culture, but another film, the documentary "Mondovino," examines a much more powerful trend in wine: the globalization of what filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter calls a "multi-, multi-, multibillion dollar" industry.

Nossiter was more or less ideally positioned to make a film about the wine industry. He not only has extensive credits as a producer and director, he is also a professionally trained sommelier who selected wines for a number of New York restaurants.

The New York-born son of the late Washington Post and New York Times journalist Bernard Nossiter, Jonathan Nossiter was raised globally -- spending time in England, France, Germany, Greece, India and Italy. After working as an assistant to director Adrian Lyne on the Michael Douglas-Glenn Close blockbuster "Fatal Attraction," Nossiter went on to make his own movies.

He wrote and directed the 2000 drama "Signs & Wonders," starring Stellan Skarsgaard and Charlotte Rampling. His 1997 feature "Sunday," starring David Suchet, won best film prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and the Deauville Film Festival.

Nossiter also made the documentaries "Resident Alien" and "Searching for Arthur" -- about the lives and work of writer Quentin Crisp and film director Arthur Penn, respectively.

In "Mondovino" he turns the camera on the business and culture of wine from California to New York and across the Atlantic to European centers where wine is made and marketed to the world.

The movie provides an account of the industry's transformation from a loosely knit collection of players -- ranging from boutique-sized wineries to name brands such as Mondavi and Rothschild -- into a high-stakes, high-pressure global enterprise.

"It's multi-, multi-, multibillion dollar business globally," said Nossiter in an interview with United Press International.

"Mondovino's" look at the marketing of wine suggests that the largest of the wineries are not only dominating the field, but also making it increasingly difficult for smaller, independent wineries -- even those with deep roots in the wine culture -- to retain their independence.

"I was very concerned to see this thing going the way of movies, of politics, pretty much of anything," said Nossiter. "I've had people from dentists to accountants to shopkeepers telling me, 'The story you tell about wine, it's exactly what's happening in my business.'"

Nossiter said a major factor in the growing power of multinational wine producers has been a failure on the part of journalists who specialize in writing about wine to challenge the power of big wine. As a consequence, he said, power over the production and marketing of wine is increasingly becoming concentrated in the hands of fewer players.

"They've had it very cozy up until now," he said, "because there's been a largely complicit wine press who are delighted to play the game. Increasingly, they're able to control; they're able to stay on message. It's exactly like Hollywood. It's exactly like politics in this country and Italy right now."

Although "Sideways" has sparked vigorous sales of Pinot Noir -- owing to the wine's prominent mention in the movie -- Nossiter suggested that it takes some serious effort to gain the kind of knowledge that goes into truly appreciating wine.

"The American citizen, the American consumer is getting ripped off," he said. "Choice is a crock in the wine world. Yes, there is an increasing variety of labels -- but you're being fooled because increasingly you're getting the same product inside, whether it's five bucks or 50 bucks."

By the way, Nossiter is careful to point out that he has nothing against globalization in and of itself.

"I'm a product of globalization," he said. "I think it's naive to be stupidly and aggressively against globalization. The question for me is located elsewhere. It's about concentrated money and power in the hands of a few people, and it's about the uses and abuses of power."

During the three years that he worked on "Mondovino," Nossiter was able to get his camera very close to most of the major figures in the global wine industry. He said part of that was due to the nature of wine itself.

"Wine makes people gregarious -- people in the wine world tend to be generous," he said. "I was able to get access to all of the inside players, all of the power brokers. If I had done a film about pharmaceutical industry, no way I could have gotten close."

"Mondovino" was one of a handful of non-fiction films ever shown at the Cannes Film Festival when it was screened in the festival's main competition last year. When it opened in France, it was a commercial hit -- and also received a Cesar nomination, France's equivalent of an Oscar nomination, for Best Film from the European Union.


(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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