Tim James: No love for biodynamic wine in ‘Succession’

By , 15 May 2023

Matthew Macfayden as Tom in ‘Succession’.

Tom Wambsgans and Shiv Roy are hosting a pre-presidential election party in their luxurious New York triplex (in Season 4, Episode 7, of the great TV series Succession, but don’t worry – no significant spoilers to follow). We meet again the wine from their own German vineyard that was introduced in the previous season and that I mentioned in a piece about great wine scenes on TV. Tom and Shiv had, back then, received the first bottles from their first vintage and were sadly disappointed, not only because it had a screwcap. Said Tom, finally acknowledging a problem: “It’s quite agricultural, you know, it’s, it’s, er…. It’s not very nice.”

It seemed to be a dig at natural wine, and presumably the wine had refermented in the bottle – one could see the bubbles when Tom lifted the glass to his lips. (It’s not an uncommon problem with inexperienced makers of “natural” wine – I remember an early grenache from Testalonga which had just as many bubbles and smelt and tasted equally “agricultural”; fortunately I don’t think Craig Hawkins made – or at least released – a problematical wine like that again.)

Anyway, Tom has decided to try to shift some of the wine at his grand party. He tells the bar staff: “This German one with this label. Let’s push this, okay? Say it’s a light, fruity red. Um, don’t say it’s biodynamic and don’t say it’s German.” He adds hopefully: “And yes, a little bit of fizz is normal – it’s sophisticated, okay?”

No mention that it’s a pinot noir either. Doesn’t sound much like a classic example, does it?

References to the wine become a minor running joke for us through the party scene – a little comedy amidst the depths of late capitalist rich-family awfulness so scathingly portrayed in the series. Poor Tom. He goes back to the bar later to ask them again to push the wine. But then seems to have second thoughts and pushes the bottles away, without admitting the reality: “No, actually, put them away, so we create a kind of scarcity thing….”

He has, though, already tried to persuade at least one of the guests of his over-hopeful estimation of the stuff, with a splendid line: “It’s the kind of wine”, he says encouragingly, “that separates the connoisseurs from the weekend malbec morons.” Oh well, at least the merlot drinkers were getting a rest from the sneers of the pinot-lovers. The only observation on the wine from one of its drinker-victims came from someone who, when asked if he’d had a good time, remarked that “the red wine smells like a wet dog”.

I mentioned last time that perhaps the failure of the wine was in some way sympbolic of the the failure of Tom and Shiv’s marriage. I wonder now if the German vineyard was perhaps a wedding gift from Shiv to Tom. In this episode, when abandoning all pretence of the quality of the wine (and pretty simultaneously of their marriage, in fact), Tom accusatorily says to her: “You fobbed me off with that fuckin undrinkable wine!” Ah well. As long as people don’t draw too many conclusions about German pinot noir (much of which is excellent), or about biodynamic wine (ditto, I suppose).

One side point. You’ll note in the picture, a still from series 3 of Succession, that sophisticated Tom holds his frothy glass elegantly and properly. I remarked in my previous article how the ultra-rich media family in Succession tended to grip their stemware, as they’d surely have referred to it, by the bowl rather than the stem. A comment on the article from Pieter de Klerk suggested that “holding a wine glass by the stem in movies and TV series is actually extremely rare…. bowl-clutching is the order of the day in Hollywood.” I looked closely in this episode to verify it, and from what I could see, the bowl-clutchers were in the majority (champagne was also being served, in flutes). But in fact there weren’t too many wine-drinkers at all. Most of the guests were with tumblers, presumably of whisky. Understandable, of course, if they’d had a whiff of Tom’s doggy and dodgy Spätburgunder.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.


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