Recently I tried a new California Zinfandel and wondered what film I could tie in with it? There are loads of great California movies but how could I decide? Then I considered that three of the major constants in American culture have to be California, cars, and Rock n’ Roll. Well, one came to mind that had those three major constants and that was American Graffiti. It is a perfect film for California, cars, and Rock n’ Roll.
This movie takes place in California and was made in California. Most of it was filmed in Petaluma (substituting for Modesto where Director George Lucas grew up) which still has a small town, idyllic feel to it.
As for the iconic Mels Drive –in, Lucas spotted it prior to filming in 1972 when it was scheduled to be demolished. He brought in his crew and began filming. This piece of Americana became the heart of the film where much of the action takes place.
This film resonates with so many viewers because of the representation of simpler, more innocent times (sock hops, cruising in cars, drinking in cars, necking in cars…you get the idea) before Vietnam, large scale corruption and foreign and domestic terrorism. It takes place in 1962, which is the true end of the Fifties. But most importantly it is about Rock n’ Roll; pre-British invasion stuff from Buddy Holly to Little Richard. There are dozens of classic cars from a bygone era like a 56 T-bird, a “ piss yellow – puke green” 30’s coupe hot rod, and even an out of place Citroen.
The characters are teenagers, some who are about to journey off to college while others will remain in their little town, victims of their own fears or economic limitations. This is a bittersweet film with as much poignancy as there is humor. A few careers were launched with American Graffiti including Richard Dreyfus, Cindy Williams (Laverne and Shirley) and in a bit part, Harrison Ford. Ron Howard, already known as a child actor who played Opie on The Andy Griffith Show would go on to do Happy Days which was greatly influenced by this film, and would later become an award winning film director. Lucas of course would become most famous for Star Wars.
The Geyserville Cellars 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel was fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. It has deep, dark, flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and spice that greet the nose while the palate is full of more blackberry as well as cherry cola, chocolate and subtle black pepper. This wine is rich and full bodied and would be a pleasure to drink with so many different foods from spicy, Indian lamb dishes to BBQ pork ribs. But if we are going to keep this in the spirit of California, I would have to pair this with a classic Cheeseburger with onion and ketchup and large, crinkle cut fries. Substitute the Zinfandel for the Chocolate Malt you would have had as a kid.
So now your meal and wine are set. Start the movie and relish the classic opening scene where Mels comes into view complete with vintage cars and lots of neon. “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets draws you in as does your first sip of the Zin. Now take a bite of the burger. This is magic…California style.