Pendock Unfiltered 6

Monday, 13 December, 2004
Neil Pendock
Neil brings us news of the latest inter-continental spat about the globalisation of the grape or 'the battle for the soul of fine wine culture' as it's called in Jonathan Nossiter's recently-released documentary, Mondovino.
Jonathan Nossiter has not one, but two jobs rarely seen in situations vacant columns in SA. With a day job as a sommelier and consultant to restaurants on their winelists (Manhattan fixtures like Balthazar and Café Gitane are on his beat), it’s when he makes movies that he gets wider exposure. His first one was Resident Alien, a documentary about the late eccentric Quentin Crisp and New York’s demi-monde, put him on the radar screen but it’s his latest, Mondovino, that has wine’s jumbo egos taking rapid avoidance action. Funded by French TV but now on general release in the UK with a USA launch penciled in for early next year, Mondovino is a shockumentary about the battle for the soul of fine wine culture with SA an important battlefield. It’s shaping up to be another struggle between the US in the form of Robert Parker and the Mondavis (described as ‘a vinicultural version of Kentucky Fried Chicken’) and Old Europe, played by Michael Broadbent, the Frescobaldis, Ludovico Antinori and a host of ancient French terroiristes. Michel Rolland, no stranger to SA where he is largely responsible for the huge commercial success of Rupert & Rothschild, is Mephistopheles in this liquid version of Faust, standing accused by traditionalists of selling the soul of fine wine and transforming it from ‘an elitist product to a mass market phenomenon’ and making himself a whole barrel full of money in the process. His secret weapon is micro-oxygenation, used to produce wines with a velvet palate from heavily fruited juice, fermented in new wood with obvious vanilla flavours and round, ripe tannins. Rolland is involved in Murray Boustred’s Remhoogte operation on the Simonsberg and owns property in SA, Argentina and Spain as well as a home base in Pomerol where he makes a wine with a somewhat unfortunate name: Château La Grande Clotte. On the face of it, you’d think that Nossiter would be in favour of Rolland’s campaign to ‘globalize the grape.’ After all, at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Nossiter identified ‘unforgivable pretension and snobbery’ as a ‘tremendous malady’ in the wine industry. A second big fault is ‘complacency and back-scratching’ which leaves ‘the general public deeply misinformed about many basic truths in the world of wine.’ So a man with a mission statement ‘to make good wine in order to make the consumer happy’ should be just up Nossiter’s viewfinder. And he probably would be, if he didn’t make so much money doing it. Perhaps the most amusing thing about Mondovino is the agitation it has caused in the global wine writing spittoon. Tim Atkin, who could double as an SA wine writer given the coverage he gets in local magazines and wine guides, rallied the readers of the Guardian to arms recently: ‘…wine is not dead. It is too diverse to be killed by the forces of cynicism, globalization or commercial expediency. Every time you buy a bottle of wine, you can help to keep it that way. Avoid big brands – or whatever happens to be on promotion this week – and choose something that is an authentic expression of the place it came from.’ Jancis Robinson was unlucky not to be featured on celluloid and admitted to feelings of miffedness, having spent a day being interviewed at the River Café in London. But there is a second shot at fame for JR in the form of 10 one-hour TV documentaries, although she’s taking bets it will be their conversation on ‘shoes and Issey Miyake’ that will appear – which was pretty much the coverage she received on Winenews last year after the Fairbairn show. Read more about Mondovino at www.festival-cannes.fr
The battle for the soul of fine wine culture is on
The battle for the soul of fine wine culture is on

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