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From Film to Wine

FEW WOULD ARGUE THAT DRINKING WINE IS ALL ABOUT ENTERTAINMENT. The way wine strikes your palate, sending flavor signals to your brain, can stimulate not only your senses, but the soul and psyche. Wine is emotive; it can move people in ways that few foods can. It tells a story-much like a fine song, objet d’art, or film. Yet few understand the parallels between these art forms like Mark Tarlov, successful movie producer and winemaker.

Having produced notable films such as Copycat, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Serial Mom, A Good Man in Africa and Christine (based on Stephen King’s best-seller), Tarlov worked closely with stars such as Kathleen Turner, Sigourney Weaver, Sean Connery, Bill Murray, Melanie Griffith and Christina Ricci. However, today he concentrates his talents on producing “stars” with names like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-many of which he has similarly elevated to the world stage.

In his curtain-call career, Tarlov puts in to the market wines from three different estates, the grapes of which come from some of this country’s finest vineyards. He cultivates Pinot Noir from Seven Springs Vineyard in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills district; Sonoma (California) is home to his Occidental, Carl Myers and Two Daughters vineyards, while another four farms (Siren’s Call, One Tree Hill, Bloomsfield and Memorious vineyards) reside further south in the Santa Rita Hills. (He also manages some time to produce wine in France, to boot.)

Tarlov is quick to say that both filmmaking and wine-making is mere “storytelling.” In film, he strives to create “a connection to a place.”

“When a viewer watches the film, although they are not actually in it, people put themselves in the story,” Tarlov says. “The same can be said when drinking wine. Through its flavor identity, people are transported into the place where it was made.” In fact, Tarlov adds, wine “is a more complete way to tell the story.”

He meticulously produces his variety of wines so that they each tell a different story. In Oregon, the story is of fire. The volcanic soils in the red hills of the area are unique in that they are so replete with iron, it instills a distinctive earthiness and warmth to the wine. The Occidental Vineyard is a story of fog: Moderate temperature and reflective luminosity of the light-plus a long growing cycle-leave tremendous complexity in the wine. The cold and sunny combo makes for a perfect yin and yang arrangement, in both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The Santa Rita Hills vineyards fall under the fossil category: Seashells pepper the ground with bright white soils. Paired with bright sunshine, the wines elicit an obvious exuberance and ripeness that differs greatly from the others. Last, the wines of Burgundy are a story of fracture; broken limestone offers bright acidities and reserved seduction.

The notion that he once worked with actors and now directs grapes is not lost on him. Making a film-and a wine-is merely “pulling together a bunch of freelancers,” he shares. “The grape, the vineyard, the winemaker, the growing cycle-they all play different elements or parts.”

Yet Tarlov is quick to admit wine presents its own challenges. Much like producing a dozen different films in different locations all at the same time. On top of this, the various clones of the grapes, as well as the different winemakers for each property, make for unique flavor profiles, which of course can make for a series of complex, individual identities for each wine. Each tells a different story. But what makes the best story or wine?

“It is the one that has tension. The conflict in a movie is what drives it. That’s what makes you want to watch,” Tarlov concludes.

Indeed, there is conflict among the elements of acidity, tannin, alcohol and fruit within a bottle. Furthermore, there is the conflict among the vines, the soil and the elements. Yet besides a great balance of these traits, how is this conflict resolved?

“A great wine makes the personal connection to the people, to the earth and to the table,” Tarlov says.