This documentary by Jonathan Nossiter shows that globalisation is not even put off by such an ancient cultural product as wine. By interviewing different winegrowers and distributers as well as critics and other people related to the wine making process - each of them with a different point of view, a different philosophy about how wine should taste be cultivated and distributed - the filmmaker draws a interesting picture of the modern wine business.
At the beginning of the film the roles are well divided. In the right corner we have decent and humble winegrowers who cultivated wine on their small terroirs1 for centuries whereas in the other corner we have the huge global player, Mondavi, from the United States, the winemaking machinery with fancy laboratories and vast yards to cultivate elusive wines adjusted to the common taste.
But the film shows more than that. Step by step it discovers the processes and the functioning of the market sometimes revealing interesting details. Isn’t it strange that one of the most famous wine consultants (Michael Rolland) and perhaps the most influential wine critic (Robert Parker) are good friends as they state? And isn’t it even more striking that it is said that one devastating critic of Mr. Parker can ruin and entire wine enterprise not to mention small vineyards in family business?
The process seems to be simple. Michael Rolland consults and advises wineries knowing the taste of Robert Parker thus leading them to produce a special wine which will score high grades in Mr. Parkers critics thus become an expensive luxury wine. What seems to be unfair competition or an at least questionable method raises another problem:
Smaller vineries state that this power executed by few men leads not only to a unification of taste but destroys the notion of terroir in pushing small vineries out of the market.
While one could state that with more sophisticated techniques large companies could produce a greater variety of vines the reality draws another picture and the aftertaste remains bitter:
Traditional winemakers complain that the use of high tech machinery doesn’t lead to more diversified products but to wines adjusted to the common taste which try to bluff the consumer with the fruity bouquet while the character and the special “goût” are erased. In addition to that special wines from special regions are not only a nutritional product but also a product of culture.
If we believe the winegrowers of Languedoc interviewed in the movie, the wine making process was and still is something nearly religious, a metier of poetry which shows ancient cultural traditions and the interaction between man and nature in each bottle of Bordeaux. They may exaggerate but the Globalisation of our world is an undeniable fact. But can we be sure that the Kebab on the Corner tastes the same like 20 years ago in Turkey? Not to mention the Sushi which - thanks to its increasing popularity - can nowadays be found all over Europe but has not much in common with the traditional Sushi served in Japan some time ago.
While exploring all these notions and processes in the wine business the film evokes another piquant question: Wine is nowadays considered as a luxury product at least in Europe and the US. So wouldn’t that mean that by chasing small family wine yards and growers whose incomes are just enough to survive (like in Brazil) out of the market, global players and wine enterprises got their share of making poor people poorer and rich people richer? Not accidentally the filmmaker interviews the incredible wealthy aristocratic Frescobaldi Clan during the World Social Forum in Italy and thus revealing almost incidentally that the Frescobaldis were collaborators with the fascist regime of Mussolini to remain wine production during the war.
While watching the film one can see that sociological, political and economical challenges are inseparable linked to each other and that the low costs for tasty Californian red wine for the consumer could be a high prize to pay for cultural diversity and small family wine yards.