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Mondovino is to the world of wine what Fahrenheit 9/11 is to the world of politics -- a passionate polemic that some say is a gross misrepresentation of the struggle between small wine producers and giant wineries and others say is right on target
Written, directed, and shot on DV by French filmmaker (and former sommelier) Johnathan Nossiter, Mondovino provides a sobering look at the impact of globalization on the world of wine. Viewing wine as a cornerstone of civilization and as an expression of power, Nossiter argues that the forces of global consumerism, driven largely by American ideas about marketing and brand awareness, are crushing cultural identity and diversity in the wine world by fooling us into believing that we have choices when in fact almost everything is starting to look and taste the same (an argument that could easily be extended to include films, music, foods, and even politics).

Where some see progress in the wine industry, Nossiter sees the classic problem of multinationals moving into an area and destroying the local culture for the sake of global profit. In the world of wine, however, the problem is compounded by all-too-willing collaborators who, in Nossiter's eyes, eagerly participate in the dilution of wine, because they want to be able to sell their product without risk in the most efficient way possible.

Nossiter's sympathies clearly lie with crusty artisan wine producers for whom wine-making is a vocation and who cherish the notion of "terroir" (literally, soil), which alludes to the mixture of soil, temperature, and place as the distinctive qualities of wine, and which is lost when the corporate wine giants have their way with nature's grapes. The villains in his scenario are the giant wineries, wine consultants, and wine critics, who seem to abide by a Mafia-like code of silence in their efforts to impose their homogenizing methods of production and uniform tastes on consumers. The losers in this battle of the vintners are the consumers who can no longer be sure whether they are drinking an artisan vino or a wine that has been strained of its true character and vitality.

Like Moore, Nossiter has a knack for putting his colorful interviewees at ease and getting them to talk freely, as well as for catching them with their foots in their mouths. Unlike Moore, however, Nossiter has yet to master the art of editing. At 135 minutes, Mondovino is 30 minutes shorter than the version that was shown at the 2004 Cannes film festival, but still about 20 minutes too long to have our full attention. A few well-placed cuts here, some tightening there, and some better overall organization could have easily eliminated the redundancies and rambling narrative of an otherwise smart argument.

You don't have to be a wine enthusiast to appreciate what Nossiter has to say about wine and the players in the wine industry. But be warned that you will never again look at wine as a beverage without wondering about its place of origin after seeing this provocative and challenging documentary.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars