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This story first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Now in its third year, the Napa Valley Film Festival — running Nov. 13 to 17 — was founded by Brenda and Marc Lhormer, producers of Bottle Shock, a 2008 indie pic about the famous 1976 contest in France that put California wine, and Napa Valley, on the map. More than 100 movies are set to screen at the festival, and befitting its environs, THR turned to Christopher Sawyer — sommelier and wine educator at Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar at The Lodge at Sonoma — for advice.
“My basic philosophy on film and wine pairings is based on character development,” he says. “In a great film, you follow the development of each character for an hour and a half. The same is true when you open a fine bottle of wine and engage in sensory experiences as the wine develops with more time spent in the glass.”
PHILOMENA (NOV. 15, 8:30 P.M.)
Stags’ Leap 2009 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley ($45)
This Stephen Frears drama is filled with mystery, intensity and character. A light-bodied wine wouldn’t work with this film. You need an intense wine, and that’s what petite sirah is about. It has all of these intense flavors: black cherry, blueberry, fresh violet, vanilla and black pepper.
SAVING MR. BANKS (NOV. 13, 5:30 P.M.)
Charles Krug 2010 Generations Red Wine, Napa Valley ($50)
In 1961, Walt Disney was working hard to get movie rights to Mary Poppins, the famous children’s book written by P.L. Travers. Cabernet sauvignon was not popular at the time, but it since has become the most revered grape variety grown in Napa Valley. Beginning in 1991, the Mondavi family has produced Generations, a complex blend consisting of cabernet sauvignon and merlot with smaller portions of petit verdot and cabernet franc. I’m not sure whether Disney liked wine; I assume he was more of a cocktail guy.
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (NOV. 17, 5 P.M.)
Ballentine 2012 Chenin Blanc, Estate Grown, Napa Valley ($19)
This is a fascinating historical movie set in South Africa about a man who is a legend. In South Africa, chenin blanc is a very popular wine. It is bright, lively and stimulating with lovely floral and flavors of crisp apple, pear, peach, mango and fresh citrus, all with a long, dry finish. Outside of France’s Loire Valley, this grape is grown widely in South Africa and in smaller portions in California — including a small block at Ballentine Vineyards in Napa Valley, which makes a great chenin blanc.
NEBRASKA (NOV. 12, 5:45 P.M.)
Saintsbury 2010 Pinot Noir, Lee Vineyard, Carneros ($54)
Alexander Payne‘s road-trip drama follows a father and son through the American heartland. Matching the film’s strength and rustic charm is this Saintsbury pinot noir made with fruit from Lee Vineyard in Carneros. Loaded with flavors of bing cherry, wild berries, licorice, layers of spice and chewy tannins, this wine is strong enough to complement the film’s characters but elegant enough to pair perfectly with beef, lamb, duck and other heartland cuisine.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (NOV. 13, 5:30 P.M.)
Grgich Hills 2011 Fume Blanc, Estate Grown, Napa Valley ($30)
This John Wells film is based on mother-daughter relationships and hilariously awkward situations. As such, it’s fine to pair with a white that is lighthearted and fun to drink. An example is this Grgich Hills fume blanc, a dazzling dry sauvignon blanc with a creamy texture created by aging in large and small oak barrels for an extended time before being bottled. The result is an elegant white wine with lively flavors of fresh melon, white peach, fresh-squeezed lemon, wild herbs and vanilla, all with a long, smooth finish.
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