Mondovino (USA/France, director Jonathan Nossiter): Since I work in the wine business, I had been quite eager to see this documentary, and I wasn’t disappointed. Reportedly drawn from over 500 hours of footage, the good news is that Nossiter will be releasing not only a theatrical cut, but a ten-part, ten hour series of the film on DVD by next Christmas (ThinkFilm is distributing it). The bad news is that it’s still a bit of an unwieldy beast. When it was shown in Cannes, it was close to three hours long. For Toronto, he’s cut about half an hour but it still clocked in at 135 minutes. Now, for me, that’s fine. I love wine and I love hearing about the controversies raging in my business. But not everyone wants that much.
Nossiter flits around the globe, from Brazil to France to California to Italy to Argentina, talking to winemakers and PR people and consultants and critics about the state of the wine world. The theme that emerges is that globalization and the undue influence of wine critic Robert Parker are forcing a kind of sameness on wine. Small local producers are either being bought up by larger conglomerates (American as well as local), or are being pressured by market forces to change their wines to suit the palate of Mr. Parker, who dictates taste to most of the American (and world) markets.
It’s a complicated subject, and I can understand why Nossiter wants to let his subjects talk. There is Robert Mondavi, patriarch of the Napa wine industry, and his sons Tim and Michael, whose efforts to buy land in Languedoc faced opposition from local vignerons and government officials. There is Aimé Guibert, founder and winemaker of Daumas Gassac, iconoclastic opponent of Mondavi’s plans and crusader for wines that express local terroir. There is Robert Parker himself, expressing some discomfort with his influence while refusing to stop writing about the wines that he favours. There is “flying winemaker” Michel Rolland, consultant for dozens of wineries all over the world, advising them how to make Parker-friendly wines. There are many many more fascinating personalities in this documentary.
If you are a wine lover, you will want to seek out the ten-part series as well as the theatrical version of this film. But even if you’re not into wine, the film is an interesting look at how the forces of globalization are changing many of the world’s oldest and most established traditions. The effects on local cultures and economies cannot be ignored.