photography by Stephanie Pommez
When Jonathan Nossiter isn’t making movies, he’s creating winelists for trendy New York City restaurants like Balthazar and Il Buco. Nossiter, director of Mondovino, a new documentary film about wine, is a trained sommelier and a wine insider who’s written for Wine and Food and New York Magazine. But he may soon be an outsider.
Mondovino should be titled “The Dogs of Wine.” It’s a pithy, irreverent view of vintners - pundits, consultants and assorted epigones, parvenus, viragos, sultans and scalawags - and their dogs, like Robert Parker’s duo - one that farts and another that snoozes, both while Parker is pontificating - and a snarling French bulldog that introduces a segment of Florentine intrigues involving the Antinoris, Frescobaldis and Mondavis.
While Nossiter insisted in a recent conversation that his documentary is about the “conviviality’ of winemakers, his film nevertheless chronicles la guerre du vin: the war of terroir versus globalized wine. While the weathered vintners of small estates in Burgundy, Pomerol and Sardinia bemoan the loss of terroir in globalization - wine that’s lost its sense of “place” due to its “manipulation by man” - their youthful inheritors celebrate new oak, micro-oxygenation and the latest branding strategies.
Few in the wine aristocracy of Italy, France and America (including the Frescobaldi, Antinori, Magrez and Mondavi families) escape Nossiter’s unsteady camera or his disdain for arrogance. If their political views don’t damn them, their dogs do, referring to them as pampered pets of the modern upper classes, mostly resembling hounds in classic portraits of European nobility.
Nossiter probably couldn’t define cinematic syntax. He has no feel for camera placement, and the less said about his editing skills the better. But complaining about Mondovino’s visual style is like judging the literary quality of the latest Kitty Kelley expose. The documentary reeks of intrigue, romance and generational infighting. It catches Wine Spectator’s James Suckling dishing it with Salvatore Ferragamo, praising Silvio Berlusconi’s fiscal policies while dumping on the French and their wines. In fact, Mondovino is worth seeing just for Nossiter’s regicide of the major critics and consultants. Robert Parker especially.
Fondness is reserved for the very few, mostly for Hubert, the patriarch of the De Montille family of winemakers in Burgundy, and Battista Columbu and his wife Lina, who cultivate a few acres in Sardinia. Less endearing but equally unforgettable are Aime Guibert, his dog Vanille and the people of Aniane, Languedoc, all straight out of French central casting, who recount the “Mondavi Affair,” the biggest story in Aniane since the decline of the Roman Empire. Apparently, Mondavi attempted to buy a hillside in Aniane by schmoozing the mayor. Business as usual in America, but legerdemain, knavery and downright treachery to the French.
In the end, Nossiter is humbled by one native Argentinean with a black dog named Luther King (for Martin) and less than three acres of vines in Tolombon. Antonio Cabezas, a sad, sweet man who makes a great wine but is so poor he must labor for others in order to sustain his vineyard, insists that Nossiter accept a bottle of his nectar as a gift. You’ll want to exit with the warmth of that moment intact. Don’t. The dogs of the closing credits summarize the entire Mondovino anti-globalization story in the space of a sniff.
Distributor: Think Film
Languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portugese
Length: 135 minutes
Directed by: Jonathan Nossiter
Illustration by: Dupuy Berberian