Behind the Scenes with the Winemakers of ‘Wine Country’ (Wine Spectator)

Wine
What was it like hosting Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and a film team of hundreds? Here’s how the wine pros at Artesa, Quintessa and Baldacci Family, and the mayor of Calistoga, remember it

Wine Country is an intimate movie, following the deep and complicated relationships of longtime friends. But behind the scenes, it was a massive production endeavor, like most feature films, accompanied by a small army of trailers for the cast, for makeup and wardrobe, for the commissary, and hundreds of crew members toting props, cameras, booms and rigs for lighting and sound. When the circus came to Napa to film, it was both exhilarating and overwhelming.

From hacking the complicated logistics to hanging out with the stars, the managers of the wineries appearing in the film—Artesa Estate, Quintessa winery and Baldacci Family Vineyards—and the mayor of the town of Calistoga recall the ups and downs of their few days in the Hollywood spotlight.


Read our exclusive feature on the new movie Wine Country in the May 31, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator, on newsstands now. Plus, check out more bonus online-only content about the film, to be released on Netflix May 10, including our interviews with director Amy Poehler, costars Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch, and writer Emily Spivey.


Photos courtesy of Artesa Estate, Quintessa and Baldacci Family Vineyards


Quintessa


Baldacci Family


 Artesa Estate


Artesa Estate


Artesa Estate


On getting to “Action!”

Wine Spectator: What was it like preparing for a major film production to come to you?

Chris Canning, mayor, Calistoga, Calif.

When it was announced that they were coming, people got excited, the residents were interested. There was some trepidation on behalf of the businesses in town because they thought, “Oh, they’re going to close the street, and we’re not going to be able to do business.” Obviously, we’re still a living, breathing town, so it’s not like we can shut it all down. It’s a huge operation that comes in.

But between our public works, our public safety and the production company, everyone worked out a very amicable and reasonable schedule and the impact was minimal at best.

Kellie Duckhorn, general manager, Baldacci Family Vineyards (the fictional “Morgen Jorng” organic winery in the movie)

So I get this call in January of 2018 from this location scout. “Oh, we’re looking to shoot at sort of a rustic winery.” And I said, “Yeah we’re not interested.” [Editor’s note: The winery had just reopened and was concerned about logistics and permits.] [Eventually] I got super involved in the logistics of the whole thing [with the Netflix production company], not just for Baldacci but the whole project.

The county’s concerned about lookie-loos, they’re really worried about traffic. Money doesn’t always buy simplicity or ease of operation. Sometimes no matter who you are, you’re still gonna have to jump through some hoops. It was a very celebratory attitude after all the permits got approved. It was like, “Yes, thank God, we can make this happen.”

Susan Sueiro, president, Artesa Estate

It was like the circus coming to town. They all just unpacked everything in 30 minutes. It was quite an impressive set of trailers. They basically turned our parking lot into a movie lot. They were here for three days, and they did a scene in the vineyard one day and then two scenes on the front lawn.


Photos courtesy of Artesa Estate, Quintessa and Baldacci Family Vineyards


Quintessa


Baldacci Family


Artesa Estate


On the scene …

Wine Spectator: What was it like watching the shoot and interacting with the cast and crew?

Leslie Sullivan, estates director, Quintessa

It was great to see just the pure joy that you could feel on the set. Amy [Poehler] was such a force, and it was very professional; they seemed so genuinely happy to be in wine country and to be doing this filming. And just the energy of all the characters, it was a lot of fun to be around.

They were also just really [enjoying] being in Napa, in wine country, and showing off pictures of what they were doing and where they were staying. There wasn’t a lot of time for extracurricular activities, but it was great to see the pure joy and energy between those women.

Sueiro: They were extremely kind and generous with all of my staff. And that whole scene where Ana and Maya are dancing, the crew was all trying to do the dance in the background. So everyone was just laughing and having fun.

[Craig Cackowski, who plays the Artesa sommelier,] spent a little time with one of our staff pourers to talk about, “How would you do this, how would you present it? We want this to look authentic.” And so he kind of walked him through the way that we would do a tasting so that he could pull it off in a way that was professional.

Being a woman who is running an estate winery here, watching Amy as a leader of her team, it was a management master class. The mood of all the people in the cast and crew and how positive they were and how thoughtful and generous they were and how much fun they had when they were doing it is a testament to her leadership. They were so professional, they were so well-organized. [Watching] somebody pull off a project of this scale so incredibly professionally and creatively was impressive. But to see a woman doing that was really inspiring.

Duckhorn: The props department came and completely beautified—I thought in a great way. They put up these fun, kinetic wrought-iron sculptures.

Prior to [filming in May], all their scouting was [in February], and we have all this mustard. It’s beautiful, so they wanted to know, “Can we replant the mustard?” No, because in May, typically the weather is warm, so all that stuff has died. But we worked with them. We did a seed mix that was wildflowers. So there were just little things that every two weeks came up: “Can we make sure the trees are still blooming?” “Hmm, I don’t know, but we can maybe put something else out there?” So it was just stuff like that that I found really fun.

They were super busy. I mean, I wouldn’t walk through a winery that was in the middle of crush and start hanging around and trying to chat with the winemaker.


On stardom …

Wine Spectator: What is exciting and meaningful to you about appearing in this high-profile film? How do you think it might affect perceptions of Napa?

Sueiro: We actually lost a block of vineyard, which was very close to where they shot the scene. So it will forever be: That used to be a spot on the property that was a scene of something really horrible that happened that has become a scene of something really hilarious and wonderful that happened. So, just on a personal level, that’s become one of my favorite spots on the property now, for that very reason. It reminds you of the good and the bad.

Canning: What we did negotiate very early on is that we would be very cooperative in exchange for them identifying Calistoga actually as Calistoga in the movie, versus “Wine Country Town XYZ” or some made-up name. Because it is a unique, real place, and it’s our backdrop, it’s our face.

We love all of our sister towns up and down the valley, but people refer to us as laid-back, relaxed, approachable, some people say funky. And this ties right into it. Because it clearly demonstrates you can have a great Napa Valley experience and not be intimidated by some of the perceptions of the Napa Valley being very rigid about their wines.

Duckhorn: Before we committed to this I said, “As industry people, we are fine making fun of ourselves. But where we do draw the line is saying the wine is terrible or flawed or something like that. I was very adamant that we didn’t care how they portrayed this mock brand as long as none of the vocabulary would ever insinuate that Napa Valley wines were inferior, Napa Valley wines were pedestrian, Napa wines weren’t well-made.

I was happy that we were the organic, kind of hippie [winery], because that’s true to our roots as a brand, and also that is part of the industry that can be chronically lampooned. We take our wines very seriously, but we don’t take anything else that seriously.

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