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Friday, Oct. 28, 2005

Nossiter says 'bon sante!'

If nothing else, Jonathan Nossiter's "Mondovino" created a stir and no doubt triggered many discussions amid the opening (and sniffing!) of corks all over the world.

Michel Rolland, a wine consultant who appears in the film, was incensed at the way he was portrayed and launched a media campaign accusing Nossiter of being an ingrate swindler. In California, shortly after "Mondovino" was released, the Robert Mondavi empire collapsed and the family was ousted from its "seat of power." While there were voices that said Nossiter had jinxed the Napa wine business, others said that the Mondavis got what was coming to them. As for Nossiter, he appears to take it all in stride; "I never thought filmmaking could yield such pleasure" is how he sums up the four years spent making " Mondovino.''

The sommelier/bon viveur/director was recently in Tokyo giving his views on wine and the wine business.

What are your thoughts on the collapse of the Robert Mondavi concern?

News photo
Jonathan Nossiter

I felt very sad for Robert Mondavi personally, because he contributed a great deal to the world of wines. Without him wine would not have reached the American public in the way it did and the Californian wine culture would have had a totally different landscape.

The company was ultimately sold to a consultation house whose motto happens to be "the world's finest marketer and producer of wines." No matter how powerful you get, someone larger will come to swallow you up.

What do you think of Aime Guibert's pronouncement that wine is dead?

I couldn't disagree more. Local wines are made everywhere, from Japan to Brazil, and the populace interested in wine, both as a culinary and creative expression, has never been so diverse. The bad news is that a handful of companies now dominate the market and this gives them the license to jack up prices on mediocre wines.

How was the film received in the States?

How you read this film is how you read the world, and in America a lot of people thought it was politically incorrect, that I was somehow exploiting poor, disenfranchised peasants like Aime Guibert and Hubert de Montille. Well Aime is the scion of a Parisian leather merchant and Hubert is a descendant of an old aristocratic family.

What is your own relationship to wine?

Wine is the only product on Earth that's simultaneously agriculture and high culture. That's the beauty of it. And I'm happy and thankful that I have the training [as a sommelier] to be able to walk into any wine shop in the world and plonk down 10 bucks for a decent bottle while others are tricked into paying $60 for something they've been told to like.

And your thoughts of globalization in the wine world?

Globalization has always been around -- French wines are the direct result of Roman globalization and the so-called classic style of Bordeaux was created to suit the British palate during the 17th and 18th centuries. So in the same vein, the end of the American empire will signify the end of the current taste in wines. The singular nature of globalization is that the dominant culture can spread more or less permanently throughout the world and if America crumbles, its effects on the wine industry will be immeasurable.

In Japan, I see the positive effects of globalization, since the Japanese have created a new, region-specific wine culture in which they combine different wines with Japanese cuisine: one of the most complex and sophisticated in the world. I would say that the marriage of wine to Japanese food can produce something truly beautiful.

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