Wilder on Wine: I want my wine TV

Friday, May 29, 2009 at 12:00am

Want to see a television show dedicated to wine? If you're awake at 4 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning, you're in luck!

That is when the only available program about wine airs (on ABC). It's called In Wine Country, and while I appreciate the information about and footage of various places in California's wine country (many having nothing to do with wine, such as a woman who makes brightly colored ceramic planters), its somewhat cheesy host and middling production values (not to mention its graveyard-shift timeslot) beg the question: Is there really so little demand for quality TV shows about wine?

The Internet certainly provides plenty of content about wine, with many shop owners and independent aficionados producing their own shows about wine and posting them on YouTube. They're great in that you can watch them anytime you like, but even though I'm not the biggest devotee of TV watching, there's just something about kicking back on the couch after a long day and not having an infinite number of options. You've more than likely been in front of a computer screen all day at work. Sometimes it's therapeutic to simply be a couch potato.

And when I'm being a potato, it would be nice if I could be entertained by grapes once in a while.

Sure, there is wine on TV. It gets an occasional cameo on lifestyle shows. I always enjoyed seeing Ted Allen's recommendations for the hapless Straight Guy on Queer Eye, and loved to hate Stephen, the snooty sommelier on the first season of Top Chef. There was a feature story about South Africa on PBS's "Wide Angle" which had a segment about their wine industry. Sometimes Anthony Bourdain drinks a little too much local vino on No Reservations. But it seems wine is never the basis or focus of an entire series.

I don't get a million channels, but even on exotic stations I don't get like The Lifestyle Channel or the obvious homes for wine that I do get, like The Food Network, wine is oddly absent.

What's a wine lover to watch?

A Feb. 13 post on the popular Fermentations blog (http://fermentation.typepad.com/fermentation/) bemoans the lack of wine programming on TV. Blog proprietor Tom Wark's brilliant idea? A 24-hour Wine Channel. He even presents a range of potential programming, running the gamut from your basic Wine 101 show to a program that visits wineries to movies that incorporate wine.

The post inspired a slew of comments, many featuring their own creative programming ideas. The overarching theme in the comments, which I couldn't agree with more, was one of bemusement. Wine is obviously becoming very popular in the United States; why isn't this being reflected in more venues of entertainment?

Could it be that oddly American, puritanical mindset rearing its bonnet-covered head? It's OK to mention wine drinking in passing or as a side note, but to focus on it completely? That would encourage people to… drink! We can't do that!

However, if there's one type of TV show that is perfectly suited for intoxicating beverages, it's the ubiquitous "reality" show.

Thank goodness PBS will be the first to go down that avenue. Their show The Wine Makers is set to premiere in the winter. The premise is that 12 men and women compete to produce their own brand of wine, and if any channel can make a reality show bearing some resemblance to actual reality, it's good old PBS. The producer, Kevin Whelan, is responsible for several of the only worthwhile wine-centric (though non-serial) shows on TV (Wine 101 narrated by David Hyde Pierce, Tales from the Vineyard, and Uncorked: Wine Made Simple all of which also aired on PBS).

Until then, I suppose I'll have to settle for setting the VCR (yes, Wilder on Wine is still TiVO-less) for 4 a.m. Saturday night, channel 2, because I really, really want my Wine TV.

Questions? Comments? E-mail Wilder at wilderonwine@gmail.com