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Making Movies, Wine Country Style

You'd be surprised how many films and TV shows have used California's wine regions as a backdrop
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 6, 2013 12:00pm ET

It seems like I've driven all over Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties the past few weeks. We're busy this time of year researching stories for the summer issues, and there always seems to be a vineyard to visit or a winemaker worth knowing better.

I may be in a hurry to get where I'm going, but I try not to take the beauty of wine country for granted. It's like something you've seen in a movie, which of course you probably have. California's wine regions have been featured in a surprising number of Hollywood films and TV shows over the years.

Wine lovers will no doubt recall recent films like Sideways (2004), which was shot on location in Santa Barbara wine country, and Bottle Shock (2008), which was filmed in Napa and Sonoma valleys. Falcon Crest, a popular 1980s TV drama that lives on in reruns, used Spring Mountain Vineyard in St. Helena as a backdrop.

Those may be obvious examples but did you know that Staglin Family Vineyard in Rutherford was home to the still young and innocent Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap (1998)? And that Keanu Reeves came to Northern California for harvest in Walk in the Clouds (1995)?

Wine tourists who also love movies will have fun discovering specific locations made famous on film. Perhaps the most celebrated is the schoolhouse from The Birds (1963). Driving west toward Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, you can spot it on a hill from a mile away. Someone always seems to be in front of it taking a picture.

Birds director Alfred Hitchcock was fond of filming in Sonoma County. Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was set in Santa Rosa, and the train station so ominously portrayed early in the film is still standing. The house the family lived in is located on historic McDonald Avenue and, ironically, just across the street is a house you might know from Scream (1996), which was filmed all over Sonoma County.

Francis Ford Coppola's charming Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) was shot entirely on location in Sonoma County, with Santa Rosa High School featured prominently. The famous cruising scenes from American Graffiti (1973) were filmed on the main drag of downtown Petaluma.

And of course, James Dean fans will recognize the coastal village of Mendocino from East of Eden (1955), and it really hasn't changed a lot. The same village served as the backdrop for the TV show Murder She Wrote. The town is just a short drive from some of the best Pinot Noirs in California: Anderson Valley.

You never know when California wine country will pop up. Below, I've listed a few of the other movies that feature the regions. OK, movie buffs: What did I leave out?

Sonoma County: Cheaper by the Dozen (2004), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Phenomenon (1996), The Goonies (1985), Cujo (1983)

Mendocino: Same Time Next Year (1978), Summer of '42 (1971)

Monterey/Carmel: Basic Instinct (1992, also filmed in Sonoma County), Play Misty for Me (1971)

Julie St John
Geyserville CA USA —  March 6, 2013 1:43pm ET
A great list, and some great movies. I believe part of Mumford (1999) was filmed in Healdsburg.
Dave Pramuk
Napa —  March 6, 2013 3:11pm ET

Let's not forget one of the all time great bombs, Howard the Duck, filmed partly in Napa. That deserted restaurant across from the Carneros Inn was one of the film sites.
A brush with fame for me - I sold some wine at a winery where I was working in 1985 to the movie's star - Lea Thompson.

Dave Pramuk
Robert Biale Vineyards
Rickey Trombetta- Forestville-CA —  March 6, 2013 6:06pm ET
Shadow of a Doubt was filmed in Santa Rosa and on McDonald Avenue as was PollyAnna. Smile was filmed in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa.
Rickey Trombetta- Forestville-CA —  March 6, 2013 6:07pm ET
I almost forgot. Kraft used McDonald avenue for it's "Main Street USA" promo for cheese!
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  March 6, 2013 7:15pm ET
Great additions everyone, thanks.

Michael Coats tells me that FF Coppola filmed scenes at Steve Ledson's house in Sonoma for "Tucker: The Man and His Dream" (1988).
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  March 6, 2013 11:46pm ET
what about Turner and Hooch? Filmed in Monterey I think
Dan Kosta
Sebastopol, CA —  March 7, 2013 7:38am ET
It's a mad mad mad mad mad mad world (Sonoma county airport)
Lolita (Jeremy Irons circa 1997)
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  March 8, 2013 12:38pm ET
I just remembered, before I joined the magazine, I covered Sylvester Stallone filming "Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot" at the old naval air base in Santa Rosa. I think it ended up being a 1 minute scene. Sly, was very nice by the way. The movie was awful.

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