[Marxism] Mondovino

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Mar 25 10:44:11 MST 2006

There has been a bumper crop of documentaries on globalization in recent 
years, including "Life and Debt", "The Corporation" and "The Take". But it 
would be difficult for me to imagine anything topping the 2004 "Mondovino" 
in terms of dramatic and political depth. Taking as its theme the power of 
Mondavi and other huge wine multinationals to run roughshod over much 
smaller but superior vineries, it would not evoke the same sense of outrage 
as films devoted to the plight of landless peasants or sweatshop workers. 
In addition, unlike a Melanie Klein or a Michael Moore, director Jonathan 
Nossiter does not editorialize. He simply allows his villains, such as they 
are, to make the case against themselves through their obsessive concerns 
with "marketing" and "brands". All in all, one is left with the rueful 
sense of the inexorability of Walmartization into every nook and cranny of 
the planet, including French and Italian vineyards dating back to the early 
Middle Ages.

The film is basically a tour of the world's great wine-producing regions, 
from France to Italy to Argentina. Everywhere he goes, Nossiter interviews 
principals on either side of the barricade. There are men and women, 
usually elderly, who see wine-making as a kind of blend of art, agriculture 
and religion in which "terroir" is the key element. This term can be 
described as a "sense of place" that is critical in the production of wine 
grapes, coffee beans or tobacco or anything that satisfies the palate while 
stimulating the nervous system. These substances have been with humanity 
from the dawn of history. When they convey the mysterious combination of 
soil, water and sunlight of their native roots, they remind us of where we 
come from in the deepest sense. However, this "sense of place" collides 
with the needs of big wine-making businesses to produce a product that can 
be delivered to the marketplace anywhere in the world and at a price that 
will eliminate the competition. In that process, civilization's greatest 
treasures will also be eliminated, in the same fashion as a museum being 

Nossiter accompanies wine consultant Michel Rolland as goes on his rounds 
in the Bordeaux wine producing region. Rolland is a supremely smug and 
self-amused individual given to laughing at his own jokes to the point of 
annoyance. Traveling around the world, he dispenses advice on how to make 
wines that are more marketable. This often involves "micro-oxygenation", a 
technique that involves introducing bubbles into fermenting wine in order 
to shorten the traditional aging cycle, which obviously gets in the way of 
efficient profit-making.

Rolland is also a forceful advocate of "Napa-izing" the French vineyards, 
which in his eyes are filled with uneconomic practices. But when Mondavi 
came to Languedoc with plans to buy up huge amounts of land, they were 
stopped in their tracks by the Communist Mayor Manual Diaz who understood 
it quite rightly as a typical imperialist incursion. When asked for his 
opinion on why they rejected Mondavi's bid, Michel Rolland dismisses them 
as a bunch of "dumb peasants." Also interviewed is the previous Mayor, a 
Socialist, who was all too happy to do business with Mondavi. Some things 
apparently never change when it comes to social democracy.

The Mondavis, like all of the other "bad guys" in "Mondovino", are not 
cardboard figures. They clearly got into the wine business because they had 
a love for wine, but as their business grew they became transformed. Robert 
Mondavi, the patriarch, eventually found himself in bitter disputes with 
his sons about the direction of the business, which were only resolved, as 
son Michael puts it, when they became incorporated and put the "family" 
side of the business behind them.

Nossiter interviews the Staglin family, another major Napa grower, who are 
somewhat easier to detest. The husband Garen was in the air force during 
Vietnam and flew bombing missions for over a year. Afterwards, he was an 
aide to Henry Kissinger whom he described as a major inspiration. His wife 
Sheri claims that they get along famously with their Mexican vineyard 
workers who they treat like "family," which amounts to bestowing t-shirts 
with the company logo at Christmas time.

It turns out that the Mondavis have an easier time doing business in Italy, 
which is blessed by having an Prime Minister who is on record as stating 
that Mussolini was "not that bad." If anything the Italian aristocrats who 
partner with Mondavi are even more sleazy than the Staglins. When Nossiter 
asks their opinion on Mussolini, Dino Frescobaldi points out that "the 
trains ran on time." Albiera Antinori, another Mondavi partner, says "What 
you need to know is that Italy, at that time, needed a strong, energetic 
hand, and fascism did bring about a certain order."

We learn from the documentary that the big-time trade publication "The Wine 
Spectator" is totally committed to the Napa-ization of the wine industry 
worldwide. It's European bureau chief James Suckling is a perfect twit who 
compares the French unfavorably to the Italians, who are not burdened with 
a socialist government.

But the most repellent figure has to be Robert Parker, the powerful wine 
critic who has spearheaded the homogenizing process decried by the film. In 
a March 22nd NY Times profile on Parker, the paper's own wine critic Eric 
Asimov (son of the science fiction author) referred his appearance in 

 >>Jonathan Nossiter's documentary "Mondovino," released in the United 
States in 2005, juxtaposed Mr. Parker with a Burger King sign and portrayed 
him as an emblem of opulent globalized wine and an enemy of diversity, 
terroir and nuance. A 2005 biography, "The Emperor of Wine" by Elin McCoy 
(Ecco), expressed concern about a world dominated by "the tyranny of one 


Given the NY Times's general embrace of globalization, symbolized most 
dramatically by Thomas Friedman's obnoxious columns, it should not come as 
a surprise that Asimov's article is basically an opportunity for Parker to 
defend himself against such criticisms.

The film ends with a trip to Argentina where it contrasts two growers, one 
a bourgeois businessman who has brought in Michel Rolland for advice and 
the other an indigenous peasant who grows wine grapes for love rather than 
profit. He makes about $60 per month. The businessman blames "laziness" for 
Argentina's problems, while the Indian makes wine in the same way that 
indigenous peoples in the Americas cultivated tobacco, chocolate, and 
alcohol from time immemorial--as a way of celebrating their humanity and 
their connection to the Eternal. When Nossiter drinks a glass of the 
Indian's white wine, he reacts as if he has tasted the nectar of the gods.

("Mondovino" is available on DVD/Video from your better stores and on the 

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