Planet of the Grapes – The Influence of Wine in Media and Cinema
Sometimes an outstanding wine can ascend to the wuthering heights, merely of its own accord. Other times, a sprinkle or splash of celebrity and media stardust can present it equally with that same achievement.
Celebrity endorsement and product placement have been as relevant to wine, as they have been to designer fashion and all of the other lavish indulgences in our now discerning society.
Superstar celebrities including Madonna (Ciccone Vineyard & Winery, Michigan), Graham Norton (Invivo Wines, New Zealand), and John Legend (Legend Vineyard Exclusive, Napa Valley) own acclaimed wineries throughout the world – which some may say adds very prominently to the ‘B side’ of their career portfolio.
Though it could be naive to think Madonna et al. would be the ones personally caressing and pressing the grapes for juice after the harvest, they do hold serious buying leverage in selling their wine.
Influential celebs also carry incredible pouring power when it comes to what they enjoy sipping. Take the forthcoming Royal Family darling Meghan Markle as one, who long before Prince Harry, fell in love with iconic Super Tuscan wine Tignanello, her first sweetheart.
Markle’s now retired beauty and fashion website, TheTig.com, was even inspired by this remarkable wine. Tignanello, acting almost like a third wheel between the Royal couple, has been photographed and publicised to various extents over the last year, which some could say may captivate this icon wine to a now endless audience of differing age groups.
Wine also has played a poised cameo role in many mainstream movies. Casablanca (1942), set during World War 2, was one of the first Hollywood hits to star our adored bubbly bliss, Champagne. At one point during the film, when Major Strasser enters the room, Captain Renault suggests he try the 1926 Veuve Cliquot, ‘a splendid year for Champagne’.
From the opening to closing of the film, Champagne and wine were both used as powerful features to highlight the struggles and personalities that the closed off characters felt.
The black tux-clad James Bond who takes his wine neither shaken nor stirred, also spoke of his personal Champagne palate pleasure in the 1962 movie, Dr. No. The famous scene incorporates iconic Champagne Dom Perignon: “That’s a Dom Perignon ’55,” says Dr. No. “It would be a pity to break it.” Bond shrugs, puts the bottle down, and says, “I prefer the ’53 myself.”
James Bond also had an affluent taste for Bordeaux Claret – in particular, Chateau Angelus from Saint-Émillion which stars in both Casino Royale (2006) and Spectre (2015).
On the small screen, Italian fashionista wine Pinot Grigio achieved global popularity in the late 90’s by television series Sex and the City. Pinot Grigio promptly became the most exported wine out of Italy and even dismissed Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay as the top imported wine into the US!
Prosecco soon followed suit, the now synonymous cocktail party aperitif. Beyond the impressions of drinking these trend-setting wines from observed on TV and Film, Pinot Grigio and Prosecco have indeed flunked to generate any brand perception. I’m sure few wine drinkers could maybe name more than one or two specific producers!
Regrettably, some wines, like the once sexy Chardonnay, for instance, didn’t get the same love and attention as the likes of Champagne and Pinot Grigio have through the silver screen.
Bridget Jones Diary (2001), can accredit itself to assume celebrated culpability for the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement in the 00’s. Chardonnay was depicted as the shoulder for Bridget to cry on, in her failed quests searching for a husband.
Merlot, another once glorified grape, was vilified in the 2004 American black comedy film Sideways, which coincidentally, celebrated Pinot Noir throughout. While about to enter a restaurant with his friend Jack, wine snob and main character of the movie Miles, exclaimed: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving, I am NOT drinking any (expletive) Merlot!”.
Since the release of the film in ’04, The ‘Sideways effect’ has prompted Merlot popularity worldwide to plummet close to 2% year on year, while in turn there’s been an incredible acceleration in demand for Pinot Noir of 9% annually. Sideways is to wine movies, what Burgundian icon Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is to wine itself – big budget and full of high octane Pinot Noir which has turned into a cult box-office hit for wine lovers.
Countless other wine-themed movies are out there, sufficient to excite the oenophile within us:
Telling the true story of ‘The Judgement Paris’ of 1976, the lead character and Englishman Stephen Spurrier (Alan Rickman) sets up the most famous wine tasting in history, one which pit the best of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon of France, against the best of the same examples from California.
The result was to be a foregone conclusion, so everyone thought.
Played by characters, Jim Barrett and his son Bo (both of Irish heritage) who own Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley are depicted notably throughout, exhibiting their passion & love for their now iconic wine leading up to the event in ’76.
A super intense real-life American documentary depicting four sommeliers attempts to pass the daunting Master Sommelier exam – an exam that has one of the lowest pass rates in the world. Viewer discretion advised if you’re currently a sommelier planning to watch this, it will surely scare you!
Such was the success of the original film; its sequel ‘SOMM: Into the Bottle’ (2015) was released only a few years later. In this movie, filmmaker Jason Wise explores wine and what makes some wines better than others. This film is truly delightful viewing for those with little or more advanced understanding and enthusiasm of wine.
A Year in Burgundy (2013)
A fascinating, charming film that documents seven wine producing families in Burgundy.
A Year in Burgundy explores and offers an in-depth look at the rhythm of the vineyard, the culture, and the creative process of making wine in the famed region.
Whether within the media, cinema or otherwise – the hallmark of wine is something that will forever continue to surround us.
Behind all the glamour and glitz of some wines, there is always a story to every bottle, waiting to be told.
Originally from Celbridge, Kildare, Philip Dunne has worked in the Irish hospitality industry since he was 15. After experiences in fine and casual dinning, he started to work at Ashford Castle in 2015 and after working his way up, he became Ashford Castle’s Head Sommelier at the age of 25.
Philip’s passion for wine goes beyond the service at the luxurious five star as he also writes about the topic and he’s an enthusiastic and active presence in the Irish wine scene.