Whatever you do, don’t let Amy Poehler plan your next trip to the Napa Valley.
The film, “Wine Country,” is about six women, mostly played by Saturday Night Live alumni, who go on a trip to wine country — specifically, the Napa Valley. Any tasting room associate can tell you that the Napa Valley is a chick-trip magnet. Ask them about wine country bachelorette parties, and you’re sure to get some good stories about women behaving badly. In fact, these ladies act exactly like the groups of insolent, entitled, rude, loud, impatient infections that all tasting room staff absolutely dread.
To summarize: Poehler and five friends are reuniting for Rachel Dratch’s character’s 50th birthday. They all know each other because they waitressed at the same time at a pizza place in Chicago, which may be a stand-in for Second City, the comedy incubator in Chicago where Poehler, among others, got their start. They come together in an Airbnb, hosted by Tina Fey in the weirdest fake tough girl Southern accent I’ve ever heard, unlike the way anyone actually speaks in Napa.
What follows are a drinking party where, rather than do the molly Ana Gasteyer’s character has thoughtfully brought on the trip, they sit around, drink wine and discuss the pharmaceuticals they take.
Then there is the morning tarot reading gone wrong and wine tasting where the ladies rudely insult the poor wine educators. Thrown into the mix is a bit of art criticism when the girls go to an art show hosted by a Maya Erskine’s Jade, a millennial lesbian who has an interesting take on Fran Drescher; an interlude where Paula Pell hands out dildoes after dinner in an elegant restaurant and is dressed like Santa Claus; and a histrionic scene where Maya Rudolph gets bitten by a snake. This last bit was at the end of the movie I thought would be interesting because rattlesnakes are an ever-present and very serious danger to anyone working in a vineyard. But the snake turns out to be, according to a doctor, either non-venomous or just a twig that scratched her ankle. She lives. Bummer.
It was a girls’ weekend that was the genesis for the movie. Apparently Poehler, et al, spent a few days in Sonoma the previous year. But the film is so bad, painting the Napa Valley in such a horrible light, one can only imagine that their trip to Sonoma must have been a complete disaster, filled with pretentious wine geeks who go on and on about the finer points of wine appreciation; chefs so committed to the perfect dish, they force their diners to wait, preposterously, all night long; or itineraries that are so overbooked, that one doesn’t have time to enjoy the very thing they came to enjoy. The thing is, it is that very unyielding dedication to the craft of making food and wine that made you want to come to wine country in the first place.
What is clear is that her trip to Sonoma did not inspire respect or appreciation for the work it takes to make a good bottle of wine or a great meal. Rather, it inspired contempt for a culture internationally known for its gracefulness and taste. And often, the inability to appreciate gracefulness and taste when it is presented is an indication of that lack of gracefulness and taste on the part of the person to whom such delicacies are being presented. Amy Poehler, this means you.
As someone who has done my time behind a tasting bar, I’ve dealt with plenty of people like these. They’re a bore, insufferable, and generally detract from the experience everyone else is having. To make a film, where the hosts and tour guides work so hard to show you a good time are treated so poorly is an insult to everything I, and my fellow residents of the Napa Valley — the winemakers and vineyard workers and marketing people and hospitality workers — hold dear.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not so blinded by my own sense of self-importance to realize they are poking fun at a stuffiness that can get tiresome. I fully realize the pretense with which I am writing. Who am I to be the arbiter of taste and gracefulness, and why is taste and gracefulness important in the first place? Can’t we just spare each other the tired wine arrogance and have a good time?
Sure. By all means. But you only do that once you have done your homework. And Amy Poehler didn’t do hers. Somebody has to point out the stupid details she neglected to double check, and that person is going to be me. To wit:
Jason Schwartzman’s chef character is apparently so dedicated to his paella recipe that he never actually finishes it so it can be eaten. Paella, for those who don’t know, is a Spanish dish of seafood and rice. Schwartzman, when Poehler’s character meets him in the kitchen, says he just got this squid from Bodega Bay—a real place in Northern California comes from. Schwartzman goes on to ask whether the squid is a cuttlefish, then swiftly answers his own question, informing Poehler that it is indeed a cuttlefish. Except that cuttlefish are not native to North America. The water is too cold and deep. Cuttlefish are only found in Southeast Asia and Australia.
Furthermore, there is a scene where Schwartzman is cooking his paella in a huge copper pan over a gas fire pit, stirring it with an oar from a rowboat. The paella is a total liquid—complete soup, when anybody who has actually had paella as Poehler did when she was in Sonoma, will know that paella is made from rice, containing mussels, shrimp, calamari, etc. It’s a moist rice pilaf filled with fruits de mer, not a pan of poop-colored slop.
Next, a woman at one winery tells them that because the wine is organic, there will be a lot of sediment at the bottom of the glass, but they are all standing at the bar with white wine in their wine glasses. White wine doesn’t have sediment. Sediment is caused by the precipitation of the grape solids out of the wine as it ages. White wine is not fermented with the skins, so there is nothing to precipitate out of the wine to create the sediment.
Also, the hapless tasting room associate says that “tartrates” is another word for sediment, which is not true. Tartrates are the white crystals that form when potassium in the wine binds with tartaric acid usually if the wine gets below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You can have tartrates in red wine, but it is rare because red wine is usually served just cooler than room temperature, around 55 degrees.
On their second day in Napa, after a late night of drinking, they wake up hung over to find a completely crazed tarot card reader on their doorstep. Who in their right mind schedules a tarot card reading for early morning? Why didn’t they have her come the night before when everyone was drunk? And, this tarot card reader referred to the major arcana card The Fool, saying that it was about “other people’s needs,” which is not true. The Fool represents new beginnings, having faith in the future, being inexperienced, and not knowing what to expect in life.
If you do watch this movie, and can suppress your gag reflex enough to make it to the end, notice the doormat of the hospital they walk out of. The doormat says “NoCal County.” Did they mean “NorCal County?”—NorCal being an abbreviation for Northern California, as opposed SoCal, the region to the south. Why “NoCal County,” when they know Napa is a county all its own? Lazy.
Certainly, I, a self avowed wine snob and Napa Valley aesthete, am not the target demographic for this film. I’m obviously taking too seriously something that is meant to be a laugh, a lark, an absurd bit of comedy. But it’s the mindless oversights like these that prevent me from being able to laugh. Her crude disrespect for the culture of her host is the ultimate insult.
“Wine Country” is available anytime you want on Netflix. But your time would be much better spent watching “Black Mirror.”