‘Mondovino’ documents crimes against gastronomy
Michel Rolland, Robert Parker and the Mondavi family are superstars of the wine world. Rolland has been hired by dozens of wineries on three continents to direct their winemaking techniques and recipes. Parker, through his publications the Wine Advocate magazine and Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guides, is the most influential wine critic ever. The Robert Mondavi Corporation of Napa Valley, headed by two generations of the Mondavi family, is synonymous with wine production on a grand, international scale, despite having been acquired late last year by Constellation Brands.Pretty solid reputations, all. Except in “Mondovino,” Jonathan Nossiter’s wine world documentary, all three are portrayed largely as vineyard villains. The trio shares a common crime against gastronomy – making wine a packaged, one-taste-suits-all commodity, and sucking out the sharp distinctions that traditionally have not only separated Bordeaux from Burgundy, but the Cabernet made on one side of a hill from that made at the next vineyard over.For centuries, the most significant concept in wine was “terroir” – the idea that the combination of soil, sun, temperature and techniques of a particular region led to wines with a distinct personality. But as Nossiter interviews old-school grape growers, winemakers and distributors from France to Italy to Brooklyn to Napa, the trio of Rolland, Parker and the Mondavis emerge as the faces of globalization systematically dismantling the concept of terroir. “Terroirists” is the term practically spit out by one French traditionalist, wine merchant Jean-Luc Thunevin. While Nossiter – who has significant backgrounds in both film and wine – mostly sticks to his subject, “Mondovino” effectively uses wine as a metaphor for other issues taking hold in the world. The most obvious is globalization: “Mondovino” tracks how the French wine-growing town of Languedoc successfully thwarts Mondavi’s effort to buy a big chunk of their land. The film makes sport of Rolland, “the flying winemaker,” who travels from vineyard to vineyard with the same prescription for every sub-par vintage: micro-oxygenate.These business-minded winemakers, with their focus on markets and growth, contrast with Old World, elderly men like Aimé Guibert, whose life has been devoted to the small plot in Languedoc from which his family has been coaxing grapes for ages. Guibert, trying to explain Parker’s massive influence, likens the critic to the Pied Piper of Hamelin: “Parker discovered the music that makes Bordeaux dance.”Importer Neal Rosenthal, whose talk and opinions seem inextricably entwined with his own native region of Brooklyn, N.Y., refers to the “Napa-ization” of wine. He claims that winemakers around the world cater to Parker’s tastes in pursuit of a high score on the Parker scale, resulting in a flood of “high-extract, new oak, Merlot-influenced” wines. But Rosenthal broadens the argument outside the realm of Cabs and Chards. He argues that Parker’s “suppressing terroir” is akin to the current political climate of tamping down debate in favor of unwavering pronouncements of “Let’s not debate anymore. Let’s accept.” Similarly, Guibert opined that wine-distribution monopolies comprise “the new fascism.”Nossiter gives his villains plenty of screen time, enough for Parker to state the case that he has been a revolutionary advocate for the consumer, for Rolland to demonstrate that, whatever his alleged faults, his services are in extraordinary demand. To his credit, Nossiter doesn’t attack, but persuades. But while “Mondovino” makes it easy to take the old-school side, it is Nossiter’s missteps as a filmmaker that defeat his argument. The film, at 135 minutes, is needlessly long; does it add anything to have Parker talk about his pet bulldogs? “Mondovino” also wanders aimlessly from point to point, and with shaky camerawork to boot.The film does provide the novice with an education about wine issues. And experts will be happy to chew on whether or not the titans are bringing down the foundation of winemaking history. But there’s no escaping the conclusion that eventually there will be a better cinematic experience to imbibe on the subject.”Mondovino” shows at the Wheeler Opera House Tuesday, June 14.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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