Whatever Works

woodyallenWoody Allen’s 40th film as a writer/director has just been released,  the wine equivalent of producing 40 vintages in a row, from 1969-2009.

Whether with movies or wine, not all are going to be great, some might even be downright bad.

And yet, to paraphrase Woody at the end of his masterpiece, Annie Hall, as with love, we keep coming back again and again because we need the experience to survive.

We have a longstanding opening night Woody ritual with another couple that dates back at least as far as Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).  And over the years I’ve been very forgiving of his films, finding his work on the worst day better than the majority toiling away in Hollywood.  Up until Friday night.

To put it in perspective, I’ve haven’t squirmed this much in my seat since my kindergarten graduation (1971).

On the surface it should have been a winner.  Woody being channeled by another comedic favorite of mine, Larry David.  Unfortunately the set up is contrived, the dialogue (always a plus in Woody’s films) feels stilted, forced and unbelievable and there’s nothing to engage us, not even a return to the streets of New York, something that in many past films has made me question why I ever left the city for California.

Still the movie did good business in select cities, proving there are others like me who give him the benefit of the doubt because he has entertained us so much in the past.  It also proves that critics play little if no role in people paying money to see his films.  It’s this way with wine sometimes, and for the better.

Some filmmakers and winemakers deserve our time and money because they are good at what they do.  And just as a story can be flawed for many reasons, so too can a wine in a given vintage.  Which is not to say that critics do not have their place in the equation.

But in the end, we as consumers have to make our own choices, if only for the chance to see another Manhattan or drink another 1995 Rubicon (a wine produced, perhaps appropriately by another director responsible for some of the best and not so best movies of all time).

Being creative for a living is hard, and if you’re lucky you’ll have more hits than misses.  But the goal, I think, is to be critic proof, that is to say forge such a strong bond with your audience that they’ll force you to keep trying to produce another masterpiece year after year, even if you fall short sometimes.

Because in wine, movies and love, “…we just need the eggs.”

Published in: on June 22, 2009 at 1:17 pm  Comments (2)  

Party (Down)

RhodiumfingerprintWeddingBandsLet me state for the record that I am the most happily married man I know.

So why do I find myself cursing every time I sift through the Weddings Page in the Sunday Times?  Is it because the people who choose to acknowledge their nuptials there fall into very specific catergories:

1.  Ivy League Educated
2. Doctors, Lawyers, Hedge Funders or conversely, school teachers, museum curators, non-profiteers
3. Parents with important jobs (past or present)

Or is it because they are the same type of people to send with their holiday card a recounting of the past year’s successes like we – a.) care or b.) actually believe that anyone’s life could be so perfect.

I’ve often fanticized about sending our holiday card with a note saying something along the lines of:

“Eric and Linda did the best they could in 2009, what with the boys lagging so far behind in their reading skills, their lack of interest in anything besides video games, soda and Sugar Frosted Flakes and their basketball teams, which finished a combined 2-26 for the year.  Linda works long hours with little praise while Eric continues to beat himself up for not making more of his Fine Arts degree.”

But in the (un)real world, life for those getting married could not be better, with happy couples running down the aisle, albeit trying to be mindful of upsetting their poor friends by throwing subdued and understated receptions, ones that ironically cost more than the previously traditional shindig at Bacara.

Wedding food now, formerly caviar and truffle encrusted Kobe beef has now been recessioned to look like mini cheeseburgers and slumdog desserts like pie and cupcakes.  Said food is “passed from person to person”, while thirsty guests will have to pour their own wine, you know, like actual life.

But these same people, hoping to present such an austere picture for their guests can’t seem to contain themselves in telling reporters that such charades break the bank as well.  Don’t feel sorry for us they’ll whisper, we just want our friends to think we’re just like them.

My news flash to these insufferable souls is this, authenticity can’t be faked by some creative caterer or moonlighting production designer.  If you want to have a down home backyard wedding, have it at *your* backyard, with its overgrown grass and undergrown hillside (wait, that’s my backyard).  If cheeseburgers are what you’re after, have the mobile In-n-Out Truck showup in your driveway.  You get the idea…

Even though my wedding was in a magical setting at a fancy hotel with hundreds of guests in the bang-bang late 90’s, I can’t tell you anything about the food, the wine or the conversation.  There were only two people in the room that day – and I didn’t care if anyone else knew it or not.  That’s authentic.

Published in: on June 17, 2009 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

If You Build it…

20050301ap_trv_field_dreamsPJ01_580Many people’s favorite moment in the movie, Sideways (mine included), is the scene in which Miles gets word that his book has been rejected by the publisher he was hoping would champion it, thus relegating him to further anonymous status, something that goes along with all his other disappointments.

And while most people remember this scene for his chug of the spit bucket – hilarious and memorable  –  my take away was more cerebral.  That he receives this soul crushing news at a pompous, over the top Disneyland-esque winery, truly illustrates everything that is bad about the wine business in his eyes (read: that it’s successful as he fails).

His book, dense, quasi-meaningful and no doubt esoteric, mirrors the way he likes his wines.  So while the world thinks they are enjoying themselves drinking candy-like vino and reading Dan Brown, he is the true artiste among them.

I thought about this on Saturday, when I was in Napa attending the wedding of Linda’s first cousin, held at Viansa Winery in Sonoma.  That the property is beautiful goes without saying for those that have been there.  That it’s a charming place to  vow everlasting love is irrefutable.  But it was also an example of winery as sales destination.

And the place was PACKED.

We drove up for the rehearsal on Friday to a full parking lot of cars, two big buses and several limos.  Though the fact that the winery is one of the first properties you come upon as you drive from the 101 certainly plays a role, there must be some talented people working in the PR and marketing departments to gather such a crowd on a late afternoon weekday – even a Friday.

The amazing courtyard leads towards the doors to the winery building itself, a sort of antechamber that was pouring some wine.  But the real heart of Viansa is the upstairs tasting room, a bright, high-ceilinged, Wonka-like market selling everything from well, it just sold everything.  Jellies, salad dressings, meat marinades, pie fillings, cold sandwiches, hot sandwiches, sodas, juices, cheese, etc. times infinity.

In short just the kind of place that Miles would hate.  And normally I might too.

But in looking around, all I could see were happy customers.  Happy paying customers.  They bought the jelly, they sampled the wine and from the looks of the boxes they carried out, they loved it too.

The wedding the next day was wonderful, without a hitch from the attentive Viansa staff.   Great food, good wine (I liked the whites better than the reds) but if it was me looking back on my nuptials at the winery, I’d have deemed it an unqualified success.

And it furthered the simple notion that people want to be entertained, which is why theatre goers tend to give every musical they see a standing ovation, why the average LA sports fan will even feel good after watching the Clippers play. It’s all about the experience.

Yes, many people visit Napa to luxuriate in the famed labels that are produced there, love to be wowed by big scores and fancy language that describes the latest vintages, but in this economy, the fact that a “Big Box” like Viansa keeps packing them in, is, in my mind, good news for smaller wineries like us.  For some (not all) of these wine drinkers will take their positive experience and turn that into a love of wine that will eventually lead them to us.

So go ahead, focus group loving, flow chart reading, mass wine producing shops.

If you build it, they will come.

Published in: on June 8, 2009 at 10:34 am  Comments (1)