wine Features
More Movies That Will Drive You to Drink
By Jim Clarke

Sideways II: Merlot’s Revenge

Sonoma Serenade

Madame Clicquot

Vines in the Hills

The Grapes of Tharsis

With the success of Sideways and controversy surrounding the wine documentary Mondovino, Hollywood is gearing up to milk the wine-movie phenomenon for all it’s worth. Here are some of my previews:

Sideways II: Merlot’s Revenge Miles and Maya are living happily together until Miles discovers that, as part of her new job as a winemaker, Maya has been making a Meritage – and using lots of Merlot in the blend! He leaves her and goes on a bender with Jack in Bordeaux; Jack sleeps with twin Swedish sommeliers, and a llama spits on him. Miles only returns to Maya when he discovers that the Cheval Blanc he treasured in the first movie was itself 50% Merlot. (Note: In an effort to make the sequel more appealing to women, the studio is hoping to replace Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church with Kelsey Grammer and Mel Gibson, respectively; the latter is said to be holding out for a scene wherein water is turned into wine)

Sonoma Serenade From the producers of Patch Adams and the Horse Whisperer, this Robin Williams vehicle tells the story of a “flying winemaker” who comes to a small town in Sonoma. His antics and controversial techniques upset the locals, but they also bring out the best in the timid, needy, and temperamental Pinot Noir that grows on the local hills. John Lithgow plays the film’s villain; in an exciting, 11th hour twist, he tries to sabotage Williams’ success by aging the wines excessively in 100% new French Oak. The climactic scene features Williams liberating his beloved wines from the barrels with an axe (think Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead); it’s a startling performance.

Madame Clicquot Given high-end Champagne’s popularity with the hip-hop set, a movie about bubbly is an easy sell. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory are producing this historical drama about the independent woman who took over her deceased husband’s business and turned it into a Champagne powerhouse. As she recovers from her loss, a slow-burning love story emerges between “The Widow” (Helena Bonham Carter) and her intrepid salesman Mr. Bohne (Rowan Atkinson, in his first major dramatic role). It all culminates in a powerful scene: Madame Clicquot descends into the cellars in the middle of the night to see if her new technique to rid Champagne of sediment is working; there she finds Bohne riddling the bottles himself. He, too, has an idea: add some sweeter wine to each bottle to replace the expelled sediment. Overcome, she takes his hand and pulls him to the cellar floor; they make love amongst a heap of Champagne bottles exploding in slow motion. (Originally James Ivory was interested in Dom Perignon’s story, but the studio vetoed that plotline as they felt the story of an anal-retentive monk lacked sex appeal). Snoop Dogg is writing the soundtrack.

Might I Suggest… A documentary exposé on wine markups in the American restaurant industry. Because it centers on restaurants instead of vineyards, sommelier-turned-filmmaker Norbert Terrance has announced that it will include fewer gratuitous shots of dogs than Mondovino, but hopes to hit the same level of controversy. In response to this statement wine industry professionals have become reluctant to appear in the film, so production has been delayed. Speaking anonymously, one New York restauranteur told us that he didn’t mind about the dogs, but didn’t feel that the film would treat his 350% markup policy sympathetically.

Vines in the Hills A biopic of Agoston Haraszthy (Ralph Fiennes), the Hungarian adventurer who is often credited with putting the California wine industry on its feet in the 19th century. While based on a true story, the original ending – where he gives up on California, heads off to Nicaragua to make rum, and falls into a stream to be eaten by alligators – was deemed “depressing” by focus groups, so they’re reshooting the ending. In the new version he marries Salma Hayek, settles down in an expansive hacienda with impressive views of the Napa Valley, and devotes himself to encouraging the local, hard-living gold miners to drink responsibly and enjoy wine in moderation for its health benefits.

The Grapes of Tharsis Inspired directly by Michael Mondavi’s dream of one day seeing wine made on other planets (as expressed in Mondovino), this sci-fi adventure tells the story of an intrepid winemaker (played by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in an effort to court California’s wine industry) who sets out to make the first Martian wine. However, the Red Planet’s mysterious radiation begins transforming his grapes into monstrous creatures who crave human livers. Can he trick them into entering the crusher-destemmer and fermentation tank before they destroy the colony, creep aboard a spaceship, and descend upon planet Earth? This one may go direct to DVD.

If films like these don’t promote wine consumption, I don’t know what will.


Sideways was recently releases on DVD, and Mondovino is currently in theaters.

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   Published: May 2005