The American filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter may not appreciate the comparison with Michael Moore, but if his Cannes competition documentary, Mondovino, proves to be half as successful as Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, he will at least have succeeded in demystifying wine snobbery by unravelling some of the complexities of the business.

The American filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter may not appreciate the comparison with Michael Moore, but if his Cannes competition documentary, Mondovino, proves to be half as successful as Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, he will at least have succeeded in demystifying wine snobbery by unravelling some of the complexities of the business.

Where Michael Moore wields a sledgehammer, Nossiter's polemic, described by one critic as "brimming with life, information, intrigue, eccentricity, and just enough gossip to satisfy fans of both art and soap opera", is more tolerant of opposing views. Tracing the economic and cultural transformation in the wine world over the past 25 years, his depiction broadly supports the small grower against the insidious forces of globalisation. Yet, according to Nossiter, "there are no good guys and bad guys".

Nossiter, a sommelier-turned-filmmaker, already has Signs & Wonders (starring Charlotte Rampling) and the Sundance Grand Jury winner Sunday under his belt. This latest work takes in three continents and 10 countries, as Nossiter examines the complex issues affecting winemakers from the small family producer to the titans of California and elsewhere. The film is due to be released in the UK this December, and from 500 hours of material, Nossiter is currently working on a 10-part mini-series for TV.

His travels to Burgundy, with a filmmaker friend, reveal a kinship with growers such as the De Montille family, one of Volnay's leading producers. Though Nossiter claims there is no message in his film, a sense of continuity linking the human personality in wine to tradition and progress pits him against standardisation. To Nossiter, family growers like De Montille are natural-born actors who demonstrate that "wine is a reflection of civilisation and national culture". Hubert de Montille agrees: "Wine must be a reflection of the terroir and the person who makes the wine, and not something that has been popularised and is identical wherever you may go."

Nossiter also turns the camera on Neil Rosenthal, a New York importer of artisan wines, who argues that California is "infantilising" wine and killing regionality, claiming that even in Bordeaux, "the terroir is there, but they are destroying it".

But does Nossiter want to have his cake and eat it? After all, to an extent, much of the wine snobbery he so detests has been blown away by the stepping stones to quality that entry-level big brands have helped to build.

Given Nossiter's broad sympathies, it's not surprising that Mondovino should have generated intense interest in France, where many traditional wine producers feel under threat from globalisation. When another documentary, Tempête dans un Verre de Vin ("Storm in a Wine Glass"), was recently screened on French television, the French were horrified to discover that their wines were not universally admired overseas and many small growers were going to the wall. The director, Nicolas Glimois, cited the globetrotting consultant winemaker Michel Rolland as an example of French success in the world wine market but, ironically, Rolland is dubbed "the Spielberg of wine" by Nossiter for churning out formulaic bestsellers. Yet Glimois shares Nossiter's broad outlook. "I am afraid that taste and terroir will lose their diversity, as France tries harder and harder to compete in the global market. The only way to get out of the problem is to raise the quality of our wines."

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