Year in ChampagneWhat a charming way to spend 82 minutes.  Read the rest of my review if you like, but I won’t be offended were you to opt instead for a quick download, a bottle of your favorite bubbly, your favorite movie companion and a quick call to your boss apologizing for some sudden 24-hour  malady.

Download this movie from iTunes here.

What?  You’re still here? Guess I’d better get on with the full review.

This film’s award-winning director, David Kennard (Cosmos, A Year in Burgundy) is based in Mill Valley, CA.  This factoid has nothing to do with the quality of the film and everything to do with my desire to tip my hat to the talent pool in the Bay Area.

In this, his second of three “A Year In _____” films, Kennard has replicated his success with “A Year in Burgundy”, also a joint project with the esteemed wine importer Martine Saunier.  

Martine has a fine palate – I lust after some of the wines in her portfolio – and she represents some of France’s finest producers.  The fact that the wineries in Kennard’s film are limited to producers she represents takes nothing away from the film itself. Though it likely makes other importers greatly jealous, she likely took more flack from other producers SHE represents who didn’t appear in the film.

I intended to watch this movie on my own, but our 12 year-old daughter wandered into the room as I was starting the DVD, and she was sufficiently moved to watch the film to its satisfying end, enjoying the process of making champagne as told in each of the film’s four seasonal sections.  She even asked intelligent questions, and for the first time understood how the secondary fermentation process creates bubbles in each individual bottle.  I also think the riddling rack might have its next young Riddler in the wings, at least, until she tries the repetitive job for about ten minutes.

Kennard’s film is poetic, a paean to the featured wine region, without being cloying. The music and the photography alone make it worthy of your limited free time.  But his film also provides intelligent insights into the essence of the region, into its wines, of course, but also the history, people and foods that are the foundation of these wines.

champagne pop 2

This is not a film for learning ABOUT wine.  You can get the more raw information in far less time from any basic introductory text.  This is a film that lends a better UNDERSTANDING of wine, and what makes them fascinating and uniquely different, one from the other.  

Trust me, “A Year in Champagne” will leave any wine buff smiling.  Especially if you follow my suggestion to watch it with a bottle of your favorite bubbly well chilled and close at hand.

Happy Merchant



The “New” Ice Bucket Challenge?

I’ve watched with great interest the viral success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  Congrats to ALS for this most deserved windfall.

And now, I wonder “what’s next”?  Every non-profit in the country is studying this case to find ways to replicate it.  Well, I think can speak for all the Managers at all the Tasting Rooms for every winery when I say “I hope  the next big trend is NOT the Spit Bucket Challenge”.  So messy.

Is the "Spit Bucket Challenge" Next?

P.S.  October of 2014 marks the 10-yr anniversary of this movie.  You’d be amazed how many of my Millenial customers have no idea what it was.  It’s worth the $4-$5 you’ll spend on the DVD!

New Foodie Movie: The Hundred-Foot Journey

Movie Poster - 100 Foot Journey

From the director of ‘Chocolat’, produced by Spielberg and Oprah, and acted by Helen Mirren (with a French accent, no less!), this new movie promises to provide rather predictable plot lines and to be a bit over-produced (it’s from Dreamworks).  But food becomes the lead character and ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey” deserves viewing by any food enthusiast.

The contemporary plot involves an upstart Indian Chef whose family moves in across the street from Mirren’s Michelin-starred restaurant.  The ensuing clash is predictable but fun to watch, as the young upstart brings a freshness to the French foodways and traditions, and as he adapts his own style to create a fusion of the two.

Did I mention Helen Mirren plays lead?  So it’s automatically on our watch list, French accent or not.  

And I’ll enjoy each of the beautifully-shot food scenes, given the high expectations set by foodie director  Lasse Hallström in his classic ‘Chocolat’. As if his credentials weren’t enough, know that NY Chef Floyd Cardoz (Tabla, North End Grill) consulted on the food (see recipe, below) and that Cardoz was a leader in the New Indian Cuisine scene – the marriage of traditional Indian spices with Western technique.

Try the recipe at home, and if you like it, try the movie too!  

Wine Tips – Indian food has complex spices and a touch of heat, all of which work well with a surprisingly sweet Mosel Riesling – I’d say Spatlese or Auslese. Even those not fond of sweet wines will find that it comes alive when paired with Indian dishes, as does the food itself.  Enjoy! (Click the image, below, to see a print-ready version)

100 Foot Journey - Beef Recipe

Point : Counterpoint. Wine tasting – Junk Science or High Art?

Is the influence of the wine critic waning?
Is the influence of the wine critic waning?

Two interesting, and contrasting, news items are buzzing about the wino-sphere this week.  

The first article bore the inflammatory title of “Wine Tasting : It’s Junk Science“.  The author reports on findings that wine judges (and those setting the scores that, for three decades, have famously determined what wine is good, which wine is not) are embarrassingly inconsistent in their evaluations.  It concludes that there is so much variation in an individual’s judging ability as to make nonsense of such silly notions as scores, medals, and awards.  Take this notion to the extreme and it becomes silly to even evaluate a wine’s components, or to describe it, or attempt to pair it with food.

Next thing you know, they’ll tell us to drink Cabernet with Oysters.  Cats and dogs sleeping together, Armageddon.  OK, so you know where I stand on this bit of journalistic sensationalism – a good point, lost in hyperbole.

Movie Poster for "Somm"The second “article” to stir up excitement in the wine business this week was the flurry of reviews for the movie “Somm”, which comes out this Friday in four lucky cities and on iTunes wherever you are.  The 90 minute documentary has won critical awards, but blase response from the general public.  Which is surprising to me, though less so considering doesn’t feature a single offspring of a former Olympic gold medalist.  Not even one.

But it DOES feature great music, beautiful photography, and that one element so often missing from most scripts – a moving story of human trial and triumph, of perseverance and dedication.  It’s a movie to see if you love wine, if you don’t love wine, and if you can’t even spell wine.  If you’re human, you’ll relate.

And viewed next to each other – debunkers of human taste on the one hand and exhalters of it on the other – the two make sense. Given the 3% pass rate at the court of Master Sommeliers, it seems fairly clear that few people posses the natural ability – the palate talent – to consistently judge the magical combination of flavors and aromas that we know as wine.  Does this invalidate every other attempt to do so?  Yours?  Mine?  Ours?  

I vote no.  But it DOES suggest that wine should be sold by means other than scores, points and medals.


You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Champagne corks are a bigger threat to eyes than Red Ryder BB Guns!  Learn why...“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!  

That famous line from ‘A Christmas Story’ (one of our family’s favorite holiday movies!) haunted young Ralphie at every turn as he plotted and connived to get a Red Ryder BB Gun under his Christmas tree.

Well, far more eyes (~600 per year!) are lost to this most innocent-seeming item, the closure from a container of no interest to kids.   Of course I’m talking about… well,  just watch the video…



Dave “the Wine Merchant”

Wine Ads vs. Beer Ads

I recently received a response (and a challenge) to an old, forgotten post entitled “Beer Ads Rock!  Wine Ads Whimper“.  The posting’s premise was that there are a handful of beer companies who are able to encapsulate fun into their branding – even succeeding to the degree that people will stop what they’re doing to watch the company’s ads – while wine advertising seems to take itself so seriously as to be an easy mark for parody.

Seems there were several wineries who took umbrage.  Seems I was unaware of a whole cadre of home-spun ads that are submitted for the annual Vinos Wine Festival up in Canada.  I know many Americans are unaware of the almost 100 producers surrounding the inland lake known as the Okanagan, but the ad competition among these neighboring producers seems fierce, even if it’s a totally Canadian friendly sort of fierce.

I was contacted by one such producer – Jennifer Molgat of The View Winery & Vineyard who urged me to familiarize myself with their efforts.  After which, I went to YouTube and watched more of the ads from the competition (search on Vinos 2010 Wine Festival).  See what you think – the production quality is low and affordable, and the acting and writing are home-spun, but most of them do seek to ad some fun to the product, an element that is all too often missing from wine advertising.

I welcome your thoughts and comments please!

Dave the Wine Merchant

“American Dad” spoofs Sideways!

Given my willingness to see any movie set in wine country, I rushed out to see Sideways soon after its 2004 release.  I thought it did such a good job of promoting wine that I changed career direction and spent five years operating the Sideways Wine Club for Fox Searchlight Pictures.

So when I was told about the spoof of the movie done by the wacky, animated folks of American Dad, I just had to share it with you…


My Life With Julia Child

Julie_and_julia large posterThe movie “Julie & Julia”” hit theaters last Friday, just one week before Julia Child’s birthday on August 15th.  The foodie movie’s considerable buzz has gotten me thinking about the Grande Dame of American culinary education.  So in our wine shipments this month,we paid homage to Julia by selecting wine-friendly recipes from her original cook book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, first published in 1961 after 8-years of work.

My Life With Julia
The catchy title for this posting is a  bit of a stretch.    Actually, it’s a big stretch.  My time with Julia lasted all of 6 minutes during which not a single word was spoken (and since she lived to be 92, our shared time amounts to just one 10-millionth of her life).

Somehow, I doubt she remembered me.

200px-Julia_ChildBut I remember our shared moment.  It was in Chicago back in 1990 (a few years after this photo at right).  She was the keynote speaker at an international wine event and I was an attendee.  Of all the choices for the break-out sessions, I’d selected the vertical tasting of Mondavi Cabernets.  Mondavi was at its peak back then, and the tasting was hosted by a superstar from their sales team, a man whose aura of confidence extended at least 50 feet, a man who was not on a first-name basis with humility.

The room quickly hushed as his session began.  Several minutes into his well-rehearsed presentation (he actually genuflected as he said the words “Opus One”), an aged Julia quietly ambled in.  She took the empty seat next to me and I could hear a quiet rustle in the room as everyone discreetly ignored the presenter to sneak a peek at Julia.  Had the presenter not been such a stranger to humility, he might have relished his honored guest.  Instead he simply asked for everyone’s attention.

As the presenter marched ahead, I tried to think of something witty to say, something Julia hadn’t heard a million times before (“Your boeuf bourguignon changed my life” or “What do you think of Dan Ackroyd’s spoof of you on SNL?” or “How many times DID you drop something on the floor during your live TV show?” or…)  – no such drivel would suffice.  I wanted my opening phrase to provide a foundation for a lifetime of exchanged letters, opinions on new food trends and mutual dinner invitations whenever travels brought us into the same ZIP code.

As I sat pondering my ideal introduction and most attendees were once again returned their attention to the speaker, Julia grew increasingly impatient.  She listened for a few minutes, making eye contact with noone, and then proceeded to taste the first of the six wines neatly semi-circled on her place-mat.  She swirled, sniffed, sipped… and made a small puckery face as she shook her head.  As attendees began to watch, she repeated this six times, then got up and left, just as unceremoniously as she’d entered.  It may have been the only time that presenter ever stumbled during his spiel.

Sadly, my witty greeting for Julia never got out of the garage.  I’d like to tell you it was good enough to have started a life-long friendship, but it’s permanently sidetracked somewhere in the neural network of my brain, crowded out by almost 19 years of other stuff.  So we’ll just never know.

This Month’s Recipes
To pair with this month’s wines, I selected two recipes from Julia’s first cookbook – a Pissaladière Niçoise (Onion tart with anchovy & olive) and a Coq au Vin (literally, chicken in wine) with onions, mushrooms and bacon.  Enjoy!

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day
Life itself is the proper binge
~ Julia Child, American Gourmet Food Pioneer, Author and TV Personality (8/15/12 – 8/13/04)

Michael Pollan vs. Julia Child

Julie_and_julia large posterOver the last decade, cooking shows have become the culinary equivalent of professional wrestling.  Once the Food Network discovered that America’s love affair with “Reality TV” extended into the kitchen, their mission changed from one of teaching to one of entertaining.  And sadly, their ratings have soared.  Now the Network’s transition is nearly complete, with Alton Brown being their sole prime-time show that actually teaches cooking skills.

NYT PollanBut the new hit movie “Julie and Julia” suggests that perhaps there is a counter-cultural movement afoot.  At least, that’s my hope, despite Michael Pollan’s cheerful (not) piece in Sunday’s (8/2/09) New York Times Magazine “No One Cooks Here Anymore” (image, right).  Pollan’s typically well-researched article suggests  there’s at least a portion of our great nation who thinks of cooking as a spectator sport. Which means we think of cooking pretty much like we think of sports – something to be left to the professionals.

Julia oh Julia, Wherefore Art Thou Julia?
Pollan may have his finger on the pulse of America’s eating habits.  His thought-provoking article even references panel research from the NPD Group, a national survey company employed for decades by the nation’s largest food companies to monitor America’s food habits.

So perhaps I’m holding out naive hope that Pollan and the NPD study are missing a large portion of culinary America, the Culinaria I live in and hope that you do too.  The one portrayed in the new movie Julie & Julia, which I’m sure you’ve read so much about by now that I don’t need to add to the hubbub (except to say I can’t imagine a venue more perfect for Meryl Streep’s considerable talents – MAN, she must have had fun with that role!)  The movie is destined for cult status among foodies – it was #2 in box office receipts during its opening weekend, and I suspect its success will continue on DVD/Netflix, and in long-tail perpetuity on late night pay-per-view.  The movie is not really about food as much as it is about how great food, and the ability to prepare it, can transform a rudderless soul.

But I am more hopeful about America’s potential food habits than Pollan’s article says is justified.  At the same time we’ve seen distressing levels of food intake and fewer meals made from scratch, we’ve also seen steady increases for all of the following over the last FIFTEEN YEARS, a long-term trend that co-exists with Pollan’s and NPD’s frightening statistics about fewer in-home meals are being prepared during the same time period:

  • The “Organic” food category has been the fastest-growing category in most grocery stores (though the recession may have taken a toll on this, I believe it is short-lived)
  • Farmer’s Markets and Community Gardens are on the rise in all cities across America
  • Urban gardens, and
  • Urban chicken coops are likewise rising
  • A growth in sales at heirloom Seed companies, and
  • Premium Artisanal cheeses and breads, while not “home cooked”, have become staples at gourmet shops and grocery stores, and correlate with a rise in America’s food standards
  • U.S. premium wine sales have increased steadily for 15 years (for the first time since records have been kept) – a fact I believe correlates with a growth in meals prepared and eaten at home.

So I challenge all those reading this (and especially any of those who participate in the NPD panel!) to just make ONE more home-made meal each week.  Apply heat to raw ingredients.  Follow a recipe using fresh ingredients you’ve purchased yourself.  And pair your meal with a well-chosen bottle of wine.  Just once a week, that’s all I ask.  Your waistline will thank you for it.  And so will I.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day
If you don’t want to use so much butter, you can always substitute fresh cream!
~ Julia Child, August 15, 1912 – August 13, 2004 (Happy Birthday, Julia!)

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Japan Turns Sideways

Japan's "Sideways" remake, shot in Napa
Japan’s “Sideways” remake, shot in Napa

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The NY Times published a story this week about the Japanese remake of ‘Sideways’.  It has been shot in Napa (the original was shot in Santa Ynez Valley, the setting for the book by Rex Pickett), using Japanese actors and crew, and is expected to be released in Japan in the coming months. 

Seems the budget for the film is really low, as in $3 million.  For perspective, the original low-budget film was shot for $17 million – a paltry amount by Hollywood standards.  My winery friends in Santa Ynez may engage in a bit of schadenfreude over the discrepancy, though I doubt Napa cares much, being the big dog on the winemaking block (awareness tests among wine drinkers indicate “Napa” is #2, just slightly behind “California”).  The remake is part of a trend in Japan and other countries whose local filmaking industry is busy remaking an interesting mix of American movies, from the classics to more obscure films deemed of interest to the folks at home.

The NYT story reports that most of the scenes are intact, though some have been modified to better suit the home audience in Japan.  But the famous Merlot rant is gone – seems the producers found a tepid response when scouting for locations in Napa, home to many iconic merlots.

I just hope the film brings the pleasures of touring wine country to a new audience.  If the movie is a box office success, it will likely raise wine sales in Japan (and perhaps among Japanese-speaking Americans?) as the original did in the U.S.  But will the brand-conscious Japanese buy only the wine brands that appear in the movie, or only the wines of Napa, or only California wines, or…?   We’ll have to wait and see.

Dave the Wine Merchant 

 Quote of the Day:
If anybody orders merlot, I’m leaving!“     Miles Raymond in the original movie ‘Sideways’







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