When Rachel Dratch met up with some friends in California wine country for a weekend to celebrate her 50th birthday, she didn't expect it would become a movie—with her in a starring role. But that's how Wine Country, the directorial debut of one such friend, Amy Poehler, got its start. Also on that fateful trip: fellow early-2000s Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph, who steals scenes in the movie as a foul-mouthed mom of four prone to spontaneous wine-fueled outbursts of song and dance.
Wine Spectator associate editor Ben O'Donnell spoke with Dratch and Rudolph while researching the behind-the-scenes feature "Welcome to Wine Country" in the May 31, 2019, issue of the magazine. They shared some favorite Napa memories—stomping grapes, learning to taste (instead of just gulping)—as well as the stories behind some of their scenes, and what it's like to make a film with an "amazing basketball team" of costars and real-life friends.
Read our exclusive feature on the new movie Wine Country in the May 31, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator, on newsstands now. Plus, check out more bonus online-only content about the film, released on Netflix May 10, including our interviews with director and star Amy Poehler, writer Emily Spivey and the winemakers behind the scenes.
Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch and the stars of the movie, on the best time to drink Chardonnay ...
... versus Sauvignon Blanc.
On getting into wine …
Wine Spectator: How did you first get into wine?
Rachel Dratch: Oh gosh, well my first bottle of Riunite really set the tone for everything. No, I’m just a regular old wine drinker, and then I went to San Francisco and Napa on a trip, and I took this little class. I just loved trying to figure out matching [what I tasted with] what they were saying. My head was all big that I had a good wine palate.
I just really like California wines and Napa and Sonoma. So I’ve gone up there a few times for these little like, "lady trips."
I did get to stomp grapes once; I think I’ve done three Napa trips, and that was on the first one. It was called Pax winery.
Maya Rudolph: My parents have always been wine drinkers, so I feel like growing up I saw an appreciation for it, a knowledge of it. In my younger years every good wine came from Italy—I think I just sort of assumed that based on what my dad was ordering.
And then I think in probably, say, my thirties is when I really started paying attention to where it came from and the regions, and even got to travel a little bit and understand winemaking a little bit, and sort of developed my own tastes.
I won’t drink wine just to drink it. I think our characters in the movie just want to take a glass of wine to the head, and like, "Let’s go, here we are, let’s get some medicating involved."
Anatomy of a scene …
Wine Spectator: Can you tell me about the wine-tasting scene with Amy Poehler, where your character [Rachel] keeps guessing "wrong" flavors and aromas like "canned peaches" and "grapes"?
Rachel Dratch: This guy Craig Cackowski [who plays the wine server] used to be comic with us in Chicago, so that was really fun because it was just like doing an improv scene, so that wasn’t written at all. There were so many takes that didn’t make it into the movie of that little tasting scene. Luckily I didn’t laugh on camera this time—I think.
But yeah, that was fun to sort of mock the whole [tasting ritual]. I know it’s been done so many times, but trying to find new ways to take the joke on that was a fun thing to do. Anything sort of mocking the people who take wine really seriously always makes me laugh.
Wine Spectator: There's a scene at the "organic" winery where you [Maya] start singing "Eternal Flame," climb atop a piano and promptly fall off …
Maya Rudolph: Falling off the piano was funny. We didn’t do it very much—I think we did it twice. There was a whole part of the song that [Amy Poehler] wanted me to sing, and then right before we went to shoot it, Amy just said, "Say the first two words and just fall."
On learning (wine) on the job …
Wine Spectator: Did you have a chance to learn more about wine while filming? What kinds of questions and conversations did you have at the wineries?
Maya Rudolph: Especially up in Napa, I’ve noticed that I could talk to a wine sommelier forever, and I find it really interesting and really comforting when they talk. I don’t want them to just pour. I actually want to understand and inform myself about what I’m drinking. I like learning about someone’s craft and their world and the love and art form and the dedication that goes into it. And it always ends up tasting better when you’re in that environment, which is really lovely.
And then obviously on the trip, we were able to shoot at some vineyards and speak to the winemakers themselves. Quintessa was one where we met the woman who made of one of these particular bottles of wine that I thought it was just really exciting. It was called Illumination; it was a white wine. It was just cool to talk to the person who actually crafted the thing and made it and what goes into that.
You know, the wine tasting was so much fun, but I realized like halfway through the trip in Napa that I was finishing every glass that I had poured, as opposed to, like, tasting it.
We had an experience at Artesa where once we were done shooting, we actually had a wine tasting, and we all sat down, and I just liked that feeling of hospitality. They just made us feel completely at home and not intimidated at all, in knowing that we’re not wine aficionados. We’re people who enjoy good glasses of wine or good bottles of wine. They heard that I was in a Prince cover band, and so they put on Prince.
On the big picture …
Wine Spectator: What makes this film special to you, and what do you hope people take away from the movie?
Maya Rudolph: You have to understand that the whole experience of getting to do this together is in and of itself like a complete luxury and joy. When we’re all together and doing exactly what we know how to do together and what our roots are based in, it’s just kind of this joyful, comforting, warm environment that lets you know you’re with people that have your back, that know you and see you and have been through life’s ups and downs with you, in and out of work, and are these people that are really your people, for life. And the people that I have the most fun making comedy with.
It’s like being part of an amazing basketball team. I know how to set up any of them to score, and they do the same for me, and it’s a very group-based sport, this kind of comedy. And that history that we have together allows it to be really full and informed and just a great examination of this time in our lives where we’re all aging with each other. We really do show up for each other in a way that sort of transcends the idea of family or spouse.
Rachel Dratch: I think the good thing about getting older when you’re a comedian as opposed to, like, the hot movie star who’s on the cover of magazines and stuff, is that there’s just not a lot of vanity in comedy. You still can be a character actor until you’re 90 years old. So that’s a good note, it doesn’t affect my career as much as, whatever—"regular acting."
I think in real life and in the movie, we’re kind of regular chicks [laughs]. We talk about regular things, and we have regular friendships, and we’re not always talking about acting and comedy. So I think hopefully that comes through in the movie, that we’re regular, relatable friends.
We just try to write what we think is funny, and since we happen to be women, that’s what we produce. I just think, you always just try to think of what you think is funny instead of like, [lofty voice] "What does the world need," or what will sell or stuff like that. I think all you have is your own sensibility, and that’s what this movie came out of.