Through the Grapevine


New York wine importer Neal Rosenthal, one of the most eloquent and passionate “terroirists” in Jonathan Nossiter’s Mondovino, describes the wine industry’s ongoing battle between small local producers and globalized big money as one between “the resistance and the collaborators.” Rosenthal, who met Nossiter when the filmmaker-sommelier was consulting on the wine list for Balthazar several years ago, has been mounting his own resistance for nearly three decades now, searching the vineyards of France and Italy for artisanal makers who share his appreciation of wine as an agricultural product. “We work directly with people who grow their own grapes,” he says. “There’s an old saying that 90 percent of the wine is made in the vineyard. I look for wines that express their own terroir—the sense of a place—and the particularities of a vintage. And I’m not afraid to have different wines every year—that’s nature.”

Since Mondovino‘s release in France last year, Rosenthal has been inundated with requests from French producers to represent their wines. But the reaction among the wine world’s establishment has been less favorable; the film has already provoked knee-jerk trashings from American wine writers—in a bewildering assessment, the Times‘ wine critic last week accused Nossiter’s documentary of ignoring paradoxes that it in fact goes out of its way to emphasize. In defense of the film, Rosenthal says, “Jonathan obviously has a point of view, but this isn’t a gross polemic. I don’t know that there are good and bad guys but people with opposite approaches. My point of view is that there’s a uniformity invading the wine world, and it’s making wine less interesting. A lot of the responsibility lies with the consumer. They can’t be passive in the face of a marketing onslaught. If people sit back and accept what comes their way, whether in commerce or politics, they can’t lament the ultimate result.”