The movies have had a long and passionate love affair with wine. From zesty Zinfandels to crisp Chardonnays, an endless variety of wines have been seen on the silver screen, and drunk in abundance. In the silent era, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle and Charles Chaplin used wine to generate big laughs in comedies such as Fatty’s Wine Party (1914) and The Adventurer (1917). Wine also encouraged wonderful flights of fancy in F. W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924) and William A. Wellman’s Oscar-winning war drama Wings (1927). During this period director Alfred Hitchcock developed an interest in sparkling wines that lasted throughout his career and is apparent in many of his films including The Ring (1927) and Champagne (1927), which tells the story of a young heiress whose fortune rests in bottles of bubbly. Sparkling wines also make notable appearances in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948) and most famously, Notorious (1946), where keen-eyed viewers can spot the Master of Suspense sipping a glass of champagne in one of his many famous cameos.
During the Thirties, wine flowed like water in many memorable Hollywood movies. In fact, it’s hard to think of any film that didn’t include an adult beverage or two. This is partially due to lenient pre-Code censors and prohibition coming to an end—which began in 1920 and was repealed in 1933—as well as the desire to escape from the dire reality of the ongoing Great Depression that left millions impoverished. It’s not surprising that champagne is often linked to popular romantic comedies of the era, offering viewers a sweet reprieve from everyday life in such films as Private Lives (1931), Trouble in Paradise (1932), The Awful Truth (1937), Topper (1937) and Ninotchka (1939). The successful Thin Man series of films (1936-1947) regularly featured its stars, dapper William Powell and lovely Myrna Loy, sipping bottles of bubbly while solving crimes, but occasionally sparkling wine was associated with more somber films. Some great examples of this are Dark Victory (1939), where the doomed Bette Davis attempts to wash away her troubles with champagne, and Letty Lynton (1932) starring Joan Crawford as a desperate woman who kills an abusive ex-lover with poisoned champagne. The sinister side of wine consumption is further explored in Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932) and Dracula (1931) where Bela Lugosi uttered the famous line, “I never drink wine.”
In the Forties, many Oscar nominated classics such as The Philadelphia Story (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), The Lady Eve (1941), Woman of the Year (1942) and Casablanca (1942) prominently featured various wines, although the trend seemed to wane during WWII when national concerns shifted to fighting fascism abroad. The Cold War followed WWII, which had a chilling effect in Hollywood, and films routinely reflected American’s fears and concerns. But movie audiences in search of light entertainment could still find it and wine was often part of the fun. In An Affair to Remember (1957), Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr’s romance is compared to “pink champagne” while James Dean and Rock Hudson almost come to blows in a wine cellar at the end of Giant (1956). Marilyn Monroe notoriously paired sparkling wine with hot dogs in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and with potato chips in The Seven Year Itch (1955), while Leslie Carron sung its praises in Gigi (1956). Foreign films also featured wine but unlike their American counterparts, they often associated it with earthy characters struggling to find their footing in postwar Europe, such as the poverty-stricken father in The Bicycle Thief (1948) and a priest suffering a crisis of faith in Diary of a Country Priest (1951).
The Sixties brought considerable cultural and social changes. Many people started experimenting with drugs and this was mirrored in the movies, but wine continued to make waves. One example is the long-running James Bond series that began with Dr. No (1962), and although the character is widely recognized for making martinis popular among the jet set, he also drinks plenty of Bollinger bubbly. Another film that appealed to movie audiences in the Sixties was Stanley Kramer’s Oscar-nominated comedy The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) starring Anthony Quinn as the inebriated mayor of a winemaking town in Italy that refuses to give up its hard-earned vino to Nazi occupiers.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria is just one of many films that benefited from using rolling vineyards as a backdrop for drama, thrills and laughs. Others include They Knew What They Wanted (1940), The Vintage (1957), This Earth is Mine (1959), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), A Walk in the Clouds (1995), A Good Year (2006), Bottle Shock (2008) and the Oscar-winning romantic comedy Sideways (2004), starring Paul Gimatti and Paul Hayden Church as two friends who go on a winetasting road trip. Sideways proved to be so popular with audiences that it increased wine tourism throughout the United States, and one winery featured in the film was owned by actor Fess Parker (1924-2010). Best remembered for his portrayal of Davy Crockett in the beloved Disney TV series and films, Parker became a celebrity vintner later in life and and his competitors include other recognizable names such as the late Raymond Burr, Gérard Depardieu, Dan Aykroyd, director Francis Ford Coppola and TCM Essentials host (2012-2015) Drew Barrymore, who have all invested in wineries.
Wine’s association with the movies continues to fascinate and attract new viewers every day. History may dictate how we appreciate and enjoy wine but one thing is certain: movie audiences will never lose their taste for it.