Thursday, September 1, 2011


L-R, Theodore Bikel, Jeffrey Hayden, John Kerr, Aero Theater representative

Wine lovers always like to check out movies about wine, and I had the good fortune to see a little-known wine movie screened at the single-screen Aero theater in Santa Monica, California.

"The Vintage" was made in 1957 by MGM.  It tells the story of two Italian brothers, on the lam from the law, who go to Provence and hide out as grape pickers in a vineyard.  It's a pretty good little story and a fairly atmospheric film, one that's hard to catch because no prints are known to exist.  The screening was courtesy of a high-quality DVD copy supplied by Turner Classic Movies.  It was the first time the picture had been theatrically screened since its release some 54 years ago.

The movie was shot entirely in France, and utilizes the harvesting of grapes and making of wine as the backdrop for the story.  The drama unfolds as the two brothers join a band of migrant workers who are helping the family bring in "the vintage."

What really made the screening special was the personal appearance by the director - Jeffrey Hayden - and two of the actors - Theodore Bikel and John Kerr.  Above, Bikel is on the left, Hayden is next to him, then Kerr, and on the right is a representative of the Aero Theater.  None of the three principals had seen the movie in all those years.

Kerr seemed genuinely shocked when he commented, "we all looked so young!"  He gave up acting as a profession when he went to law school in the 1960s.  He still works as an attorney.

Director Hayden had the best story of the evening.  He related his memory of the trip to France before production of the film began.  It seems the producer, Edwin Knopf, was a wine aficionado.  Wine importer Alexis Lichine had a beautiful chateau in Bordeaux.  According to Hayden, Knopf and his entourage hung out there for weeks instead of finding a more suitable farmhouse location for the movie.  Hayden said he had to maneuver to get the picture moved to the simple area where it's set, all the while using "all we need is a farmhouse!" as his battle cry.

If you get the chance, see the movie.  I think anyone interested in wine will find it enjoyable.

As a footnote, here's an interesting tidbit on wine maven Alexis Lichine, from his entry in Wikipedia:
"Starting around 1940, Lichine and (partner) Schoonmaker promoted the idea that California producers should label their wines by the grape variety or varieties from which they were made.  The standard practice among New World producers was to give their wines semi-generic labels.  That is, they named them after the regions whose wines they resembled.  For example, full-bodied red varieties might be labeled "Burgundy", whereas crisp whites might be labeled "Chablis."

"California's Wente Vineyards was the first winery to adopt the practice.  After calling its Sauvignon Blanc by its varietal name rather than labeling it "Graves," Lichine and Schoonmaker found its sales volume to increase several-fold.  More important, they were able to sell it in the important east coast U.S. market.  Others, such as Robert Mondavi, soon adopted the practice, which has become the standard for New World (and, increasingly, some Old World) wines."

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