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by Courtney Cochran

In most films, the cast is comprised of seasoned actors who possess a vibrant screen presence and innate ability to charm the audience.  But for a handful of movies in which wine itself plays a major role, we might as well add “mouthwatering” to the list of qualities a cast may claim.  Encompassing major motion pictures, documentaries and even a mockumentary, our list of top films for wine lovers covers lots of territory – affording viewers plenty to digest when it comes to wine and the silver screen.

No list of top flicks for wine would be complete without Alexander Payne’s 2004 cult classic, Sideways.  Set amidst the rolling hills of So Cal’s Santa Ynez Valley, the Academy Award-winning film (adapted screenplay) follows two friends on a raucous bachelor party through wine country.  Punctuated by lush vineyard shots and plenty of footage of local wineries and restaurants, the film is credited not only with turning the once-sleepy region into a tourist hotbed, but with putting Pinot Noir on the map.

This famously biased 2004 documentary – which decries the evils brought on the wine world by a wine consultant whose “international” (read: homogenous) style of winemaking threatens to eclipse the integrity of terroir-driven wines everywhere – gives viewers a rare look behind the scenes at the lives of importers, retailers, wine writers and producers.  Whether or not you choose to believe the hype, it’s a fun, thought provoking ride through some of the world’s most hallowed wine spots, including Napa, Bordeaux and Tuscany.         

From Ground to Glass
An official selection of the 2006 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, From Ground to Glass follows director and past pro snowboarder Robert DaFoe as he creates his own wine for the first time.  Made on a shoestring in and around the Santa Ynez Valley, the charmingly frank documentary intersperses footage of DaFoe’s winemaking journey with insightful commentary from both up-and-coming and veteran winemakers including Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clenenden and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ Warren Winiarski.

French Kiss
Kevin Kline’s famously spot-on portrayal of a Frenchman in this underappreciated 1995 romantic comedy is reason enough to rent it.  Add to the mix a fetching costar in Meg Ryan, an eventful journey through the stunning French countryside and a quirky subplot involving a smuggled grapevine, and you’ve got the recipe for a winning wine flick. Both actors were nominated for an American Comedy Award for their work, and Ryan’s diatribe against the “452 official kinds of cheese” in France (her character is lactose-intolerant) is downright hilarious.

A Good Year
The film itself may be a bit disjointed, but the story is compelling and the actors on point in this picturesque 1996 adaptation of the Peter Mayle novel by the same name.  Russell Crowe – supported by Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard – plays Max Skinner, a workaholic investment banker who unexpectedly inherits a château and vineyard in Provence.  And though The New York Times dubbed the film “a three-P movie: pleasant, pretty and predictable,” there’s still plenty to appreciate in the sumptuous French countryside, mouthwatering food and wine shots and amusing vigneron-next-door subplot.
With its official debut at the 2008 Sonoma Valley Film Festival just behind it, this well-received send-up of the California wine industry has insiders chuckling and wannabe insiders half-seriously wondering why the wine business is so wack.  Shot during harvest in 2005, the mockumentary follows a manic winemaker, a billionaire, a clueless winery manager and an incompetent rich kid – among other colorful characters – as they compete to win the fictional Golden Cluster trophy.  So real at times it’s scary.

A Walk In the Clouds
Keeanu Reeves’ stiff performance as a chocolate salesman-turned-faux-fiancé in this cheesy 1940s-era love story doesn’t manage to overshadow the stunning scenery and ebullient grape stomping that takes place during harvest at a fictional California estate called Las Nubes (“the clouds”).   Shot on location at such well-known spots as Mount Veeder Winery, Duckhorn Vineyards and Charles Krug Winery, the film’s splendid vineyard scenes are reputed to have inspired more than one real-life dreamer to plant vines.   

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You

Bottle Shock
Slated to open August 15 nationwide, this highly anticipated film chronicles the events leading up to the watershed 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting.  Shot on-location last year in Sonoma and starring Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman, Bottle Shock shows how the passion and unflagging commitment to quality shared by a maverick father-and-son winemaking team (Chateau Montelena’s Jim & Bo Barrett) translated to a Chardonnay that trumped its French counterparts and put American wine on the map for good.  

The First Emperor
Loosely based on Elin McCoy’s 2005 biography, The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker Jr. and the Reign of American Taste, the film will follow the ascent of the infamously influential critic to – what else? – the fore of the world’s wine consciousness. Producers say the film will feature little-known aspects of Parker’s early career, and rumors peg Spanish Academy Award-winner Javier Bardem in the lead with Sideways star Paul Giamatti lending support as French wine consultant Michel Rolland.

The Jefferson Bottles
Word has it two Hollywood outfits have separately purchased rights to the story of oil magnate William Koch’s dogged court battle to prove the provenance of several bottles from his collection purported to have once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.  Though it’s uncertain if either party will eventually make a film from the rights they’ve purchased – in the form of the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace and a recent New Yorker article, respectively – the recent success of other wine-related films (ergo Sideways, Mondovino, and perhaps the upcoming Bottle Shock) certainly bodes well. 


  1. Monty

    Bottle Shock was a superb movie. Chardonnay happens to be my favorite style of wine, and a movie about the best Chardonnay was appealing to me. Apart from the quality of wine the movie portrayed, the acting was top notch, and the soundtrack out of this world. A must see movie this summer.

  2. Melissa

    I totally agree. I caught “Bottle Shock” at Sundance this year and what a treat! Great acting, beautiful cinematography, and an awesome story about how wonderful California wine is! The best part is that it’s based on the true story of the 1976 Judgement of Paris. Watching it definitely made me want to take a trip to Napa!

  3. Merlove: A movie about Merlot wine!
    Merlove is a documentary celebrating Merlot wine in response to the movie Sideways. Have the courage to embark on your own wine adventure. Merlove will help you learn more about wine, but it is your own experience that will guide your personal journey. As you try new wines you will gain love and appreciation for the gifts that wine can bring. Like anything in life, wine can be enjoyed and enhanced by sharing it with others. The bottom line is good wine is good wine and bad wine is bad wine, but that should not stop the adventure. The message of Merlove is that no single grape varietal should be singled out as superior or inferior to others. Enjoy as we interweave documentary style filmmaking with the animation of a bottle of Merlot wine named “Merlove” who must find a way to fill itself with love when aimlessly tossed into the ocean of mediocre Merlot wine.
    We want people to know that Merlot is ready to be loved again by all and remember that every vintage has a new story to tell…

  4. Dave

    An oldie: The Secret of Santa Victoria. A nice little film about one italian town and it’s attempt to hide a million bottles of its’ beloved wine from the german army during WWII. Anthony Quinn and a young Giancarlo Giannini are quite good in this funny sleeper.

  5. I would add the following:
    J’ai epouse une ombre OR I married a shadow
    with Natalie Baye – the original french version of While You Were Sleeping,
    except this is more film noir – the story is about Hélène, abandoned by her unstable lover and expecting a child. In the train which is taking her south and an uncertain future, she meets a couple. The wife, Patricia, is also pregnant and about her age..she lends Helene a dress after coffee is spilled on her own. Helene tries on Patricia’s wedding ring which is lying on the sink. the train crashes and when she wakes up in hospital, she is taken for Patricia by the in laws who own vineyards in Bordeaux.
    A really great film!

  6. Earl

    Does anyone remember a movie (possibly a made for tv movie) about a woman,who works in the family wineyard, looking for a rare bottle of Napoleon Brandy? It is an adventure movie,where several people are chasing clues to find the brandy.
    Please respond to

  7. Juan

    The movie “The Ways of wine” is coming soon!!
    The famously renowned sommelier Charlie Arturaola travels to Argentina, invited along with other colleagues to participate in a series of tastings that take place at the prestigious event organized by Mendozas Hyatt, called: “Masters of food and wine”. Once he arrives at the country, something unexpected occurs: a couple of days before the main event in Mendoza City, in a photo shoot, the glamour, the stress, the marketing, the hectic rhythm of the session and finally drinking out of a glass that contained artificial colorants that allow a better contrast of the wine in the cameras, Charlie suffers the complete and absolute loss of his palate and sense of taste. He needs to recover it.
    “The ways of wine” tells the story, in a dramatic yet fun and comedic tone, of the return of Charlie Arturaola back to his essences; back to that day when he was 11 years old, and while hiding in a barrel of wine playing hide and seek, he first sensed that aroma that would strike him and determine his fate forever

  8. Aaron Gibson

    A good year is a great film directed by the great Ridley Scott and it was made in 2006 not 1996.


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