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Wine has famously inspired feature films and docs (Sideways, Somm). Add in entertainment-themed wines (The Walking Dead wine) and clubs (like TCM’s wine club), and even more celeb-backed bottles swirling around right now, and it’s clear that vino and film go hand in hand.
But it’s likely that no one has ever released a new wine brand alongside producing a wine-focused film. Enter producer Gene Kirkwood (Rocky, The Defiant Ones), writer-director George Gallo (The Comeback Trail, Bad Boys) and Broadway producer Kevin Kinsella (Jersey Boys), who are prepping a canned wine called Chasing Crush alongside a movie of the same name that will shoot this summer.
“This hasn’t been done before. Most movies with tie-ins are usually like Marvel comics. This is more of an art film with a product tied to it,” says Kirkwood. Adds Kinsella, “It is product placement, but at the same time, it’s completely organic. It’s not forced like putting a bottle of wine on a table and getting a plug. It’s really in the marrow of the piece.”
Chasing Crush, the film, will follow five young people who come from all over the world — Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, the Midwest and the East Coast — to work the harvest in Northern California’s Napa and Sonoma counties, the state’s preeminent wine country. It’s set in late summer and early autumn, a time when growers and winemakers work hard to get perfectly ripened grapes from vine to wine, while racing against natural elements like temperature, rain and wildfires that could make or break that year’s vintage. Gallo is directing and co-wrote the script with Kinsella, who is producing along with Kirkwood.
The location, the characters’ personal obstacles and their points of view — as seen in the film — will also help shape the real-life final product: a canned cabernet sauvignon made by and targeted to millennials.
Kinsella is the only one of the trio actually in the wine business. His Kinsella Estates produces some of the finest cabernet sauvignons in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley — big, bold wines in ornate Italian-made bottles that retail for around $140. It’s no canned wine.
But Kinsella knows firsthand the inherent drama that winemaking can bring: the beauty, romance, heartbreak, relationships and rivals, love and loss. And danger: His entire 2020 vintage was lost to smoke taint on the grapes from the Glass Fire last year. “Winemaking is serious business with hazards and risks that you don’t want to face,” he says.
That plays into the film’s plot, as well. Gallo, who is also a plein air painter, aims to capture the beauty of the Sonoma and Napa landscape onscreen. Expect sweeping vistas of vines and rolling hills, perfect late-summer light, but also destruction. Most of the production on Chasing Crush is planned for late this summer, but Gallo went to Napa and Sonoma in 2020 to get footage of the wildfires that ravaged the area.
“The destruction and devastation was indescribable. You could feel it in your chest,” says Gallo. “We’ll incorporate some of that into the film. But then you fall madly in love with these people and the idea of what winemaking is. It’s like this big, beautiful, wonderful poetic dream.”
If all goes as planned, expect Chasing Crush (the wine, in which all three have ownership stakes) to be available well before Chasing Crush (the movie) is released, which means viewers can easily sip the product while watching the story unfold.
That’s the goal, anyway, says Kinsella, “When you go through this whole voyage with these kids and the owners, in the end, you can open up a can of wine that tastes pretty good.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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