Chasing Crush: Hollywood's Next Great Wine Country Film?

Jersey Boys producer and Sonoma vintner Kevin Kinsella is making a Napa-set drama with winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and Hollywood veterans Gene Kirkwood and George Gallo. And Brown made a real-life canned Cabernet to pair with it

Chasing Crush: Hollywood's Next Great Wine Country Film?
From left: Kevin Kinsella, George Gallo and Gene Kirkwood (Courtesy of Cowboy + Cougar Entertainment)
Mar 23, 2021

The man behind the Grammy- and Tony-winning musical Jersey Boys, who also happens to be the man behind one of the top-rated Cabernet Sauvignons in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, is now pairing two of his greatest passions. Film, TV, theater (and wine) producer Kevin Kinsella, owner of Kinsella Estates, is working on a new wine-themed film, Chasing Crush, with producer Gene Kirkwood (Rocky) and director-writer George Gallo (Bad Boys). “We want to make a great piece of art, a wonderful film,” Kinsella told Wine Spectator, “maybe something that could even win an Oscar.”

And there’s a cinematic twist! The plot of Chasing Crush involves a canned Cabernet of the same name, and Kinsella, Kirkwood and Gallo are actually making the wine and putting it on the market. Well, they’re not making it. That job belongs to Kinsella Estates winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, who oversaw production and also owns a share of the Chasing Crush wine brand. On top of that, Brown is making his Hollywood debut as an executive producer for Chasing Crush the movie. “It's geeky, I know, but pulling back the curtain on production could be a great way to introduce more people to wine,” Brown told Wine Spectator via email, “while also satisfying the exacting standards of the wine aficionados.”

The IRL Chasing Crush is a non-vintage Sonoma Cabernet made from Kinsella’s Jersey Boys vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, set to launch with a production of at least 25,000 cans (size and price are still TBD) and possibly hitting shelves this summer. This marks Kinsella and Brown’s first foray into canned wines and a significant pivot for both of them—Kinsella Estates wines are typically priced in the low triple digits, and Brown is one of the most highly sought-after winemakers in Napa Valley.

Still, Kinsella plans to keep the cans rolling if this first batch is successful, possibly expanding the brand with other varieties and styles. But he won’t be using his own vines in that case. “I can’t convert my whole production to canned wine,” Kinsella says. “If this explodes like a rocket ship, I don’t have the vineyard capacity.” This would be another big change for the vintner, whose winery motto is “We buy no fruit, and we sell no fruit.”

 Winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown stands in a vineyard in Napa Valley
Winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown makes some of California's top Cabernets. (Tai Power Seeff)

Chasing Crush (the movie) tells the dramatic story of five Napa winery interns from around the world banding together to make a canned wine from the estate’s leftover Cabernet. “[The interns] are all broken in a certain respect,” says Kinsella. “The process of working together in this difficult environment—working with each other, getting to know each other—it changes their outlook on life. And the broken pieces that they arrived with get repaired.” The movie’s title refers to the passion that drives winery workers to make great wine as they travel the world, like surfers looking for the perfect wave.

Kinsella was inspired by his wine experiences and those of real-world winery interns, especially workers from the Southern Hemisphere. The characters will face non-fictional job hazards like wildfires, and the film will feature real-life footage that Gallo shot during last year’s Northern California wildfires. “[George] got together with a fire captain over in Napa who basically gave him carte blanche,” says Kinsella, who lost his entire 2020 vintage to smoke taint. “He got in anywhere he wanted.”

Kinsella’s original script wound up in Kirkwood’s hands last year via an oh-so-Jersey Boys acquaintance: the doctor of late Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito. “I get a phone call out of the blue from Gene Kirkwood … well, you take that phone call, right?” Kinsella remembers. “And we started talking about the project.”

Kirkwood suggested bringing on Gallo, and the three were soon meeting in Los Angeles, where the conversation organically turned to making an actual wine. “So now we’ve got a movie that’s also a business project!” said Kinsella.

Filming is set to start this summer at Kinsella Estates, with Gallo directing and Kirkwood producing. The team might also shoot at Brown’s Calistoga winery, Rivers-Marie, and at Tamber Bey, where Kinsella’s wines are made. “We will use a lot of [my] property,” Kinsella says, “because I envisioned the film based on my experiences at my vineyard and the surrounding parks.”

“I have the same feeling I had when I did Rocky,” said Kirkwood via email. “There’s something about Chasing Crush that I haven’t felt in some time.”

“What we are doing with Chasing Crush hasn't been done before,” Kirkwood said. “We’re doing an elevated, artistic film with an extraordinary product tied to it. It’s very organic, and audiences are going to fall in love with the movie and the wine together.”

Kinsella is eager for a 2022 theatrical release with a summer or fall premiere. He believes the film will promote Napa and Sonoma as a wine country experience outside of tasting rooms, and hopes the Cabernet will help introduce people to canned wine (especially if audiences can enjoy it while watching Chasing Crush). But it’s still early days, and we’ll have to wait and see if the film can crush it at the box office. “Hopefully this will be monumentally successful,” Kinsella says, “and the imitators will come flocking.”

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