“Uncorked,” which releases today on Netflix, is a film that represents a cultural shift. Historically, the wine industry has ignored the $1.2 trillion in spending power of black Americans. And while athletes have become trend-setting, bottle-moving oenophiles, Hollywood also has been late to the party. But in a cinematic evolution that touches both realms, here is a movie that finally speaks to what many black wine consumers have been saying to themselves: I’m here buying wine, studying wine, and working in the wine industry — but I’m often ignored.
The film is loosely based on the life of groundbreaking sommelier DLynn Proctor and his journey to become a Master Sommelier. What makes “Uncorked” different from other wine movies is it is the first featuring a predominantly black cast, focusing solely on one man’s wine journey, played by Mamoudou Aethie as Elijah Bruener. The film was written and directed by Prentice Penny, best known as the executive producer, writer, and director of HBO’s “Insecure.”
As a black wine enthusiast, I remember the first time I saw Proctor. It was in the 2012 documentary “SOMM” and I was transfixed like most black people who liked wine. Proctor’s personality came through and mentor Fred Dame’s moniker “Señor Smooth” was not to be dismissed. Proctor’s fashion style came through on the screen as well as his personality. Proctor was nervous, charismatic, engaging, and smart, and you could see why he was named “Best Sommelier in America” in a leading wine magazine. Later, as I entered the industry as a black wine journalist, Proctor was one of the people I reached out to for guidance.
A lot has changed for Proctor since “SOMM” premiered. He worked as a brand ambassador for the legendary Australian winery Penfolds and then moved over to Fantesca Estate & Winery in Napa as the winery’s director, working alongside the celebrated winemaker Heidi Barrett. As in his “SOMM” days, you can still find Proctor dressed to kill, but usually he’s rocking sneakers instead of oxfords.
With “Uncorked,” Proctor can now add associate producer to his list of accomplishments. “This movie was a long time in the making and it was Prentice’s curiosity of learning about wine, discovering his palate, and wanting to tell our stories is why this movie matters,” Proctor says. “Especially right now.”
“Uncorked” comes at a significant moment of change for the wine industry, according to Proctor. “Right now the industry has had to pivot,” he says, referring to the widespread closure of wineries in the face of the Covid-19 coronavirus. “We have amazing clients at Fantesca, but how do we keep the experience virtually? It’s the same with this movie. I’ve heard of so many virtual watch parties happening, and it’s great.”
Proctor continues: “This movie is going to expose wine to an entirely new group who felt left out of other wine movies before. And I’ll be drinking a Fantesca Estate Cabernet Sauvignon while watching too.”
“Uncorked” has been “six years in the making,” according to Penny, who says he sees himself in the main character. In Penny’s hand, we see nuanced characters that black actors rarely get to play in movies, to say nothing of wine movies. It’s a film with many layers of drama, including laughter, tears, and emotional involvement.
What you won’t find is a film based on black trauma. Penny says he wanted to write a father and son story where the father is present, not absent, as is often portrayed in black films. Instead, the focus is on one man’s transformation of a wine enthusiast into a wine professional.
Ultimately, “Uncorked” showcases the transforming power of wine and how it takes drinkers to different parts of the world, both literally and figuratively, as a kind of liquid passport. And with all that’s going on in the world right now, a liquid passport is just what we need.