The trouble with making a TV show about wine is that it’s hard to get across its essence: A glass of red wine looks like any other glass of red wine on the screen, whether it’s a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or a Central Otago Pinot Noir.
The popular documentary Somm skirted this issue by focusing on the cast of Master Sommelier aspirants rather than the wine itself. And while one can’t taste or smell the food on shows like Netflix’s Chef’s Table, cinematic representations of elaborate plating make up for it. In contrast, the Apple TV+ show Drops of God, currently releasing weekly episodes until its finale on June 2, seeks to make wine the star.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s based on the manga series of the same name, which debuted 20 years ago. Over its 44 volumes, the manga talks about over 700 wines. The television adaptation tapped wine consultant Sébastien Pradal to help bring the show’s featured bottles to life.
Drops of God starts with the death of Alexandre Léger, meant to be a Robert Parker-like figure. Léger’s daughter Camille, played by Fleur Geffrier, finds out that she must go to Tokyo in order to claim her inheritance. There, she will compete with her father’s protégé, Issei Tomine, played by Tomohisa Yamashita. Complicating matters is the fact that Camille doesn’t drink, the outcome of a disastrous incident in her childhood. The inheritance in question? Alexandre Léger’s home and his cellar housing 87,000 bottles, valued at $150 million—the largest private collection in the show’s universe.
Quoc Dang Tran, the show’s creator, is a self-confessed wine neophyte and worked closely with Pradal to create drama around the show’s bottlings and the characters’ relationships to wine. Pradal brings a unique perspective to the table: He won a Best Young Sommelier in France competition over 20 years ago, but doesn’t think of himself like the other French sommeliers. He has long hair, speaks with a strong southern French accent and doesn’t wear a suit and tie. “I don’t really care too much about that,” Pradal says. “I taste, I drink.”
Dang Tran came up with the wine tests for the show, but enlisted Pradal to choose the wines. “We tried to use wines with long histories, like Vega Sicilia and Cheval Blanc,” Pradal says of the two bottles Camille encounters during her first test, a blind tasting in which she must identify the grape, vintage and estate of the wines.
Both are well-known bottles from notable producers. When asked why he selected them, Pradal notes how when one is starting on their wine journey, it’s important to learn bigger names in the industry and their histories. For the later tests, when the audience is more invested and Camille has garnered more knowledge, he selected lesser-known wines, like Sandlands Vineyard’s Mataro, a small-production wine from California.
Pradal’s role also included helping scout locations. He leveraged his industry connections to secure the Rhône Valley’s Château de Beaucastel—he’s friends with the owners—as the vineyard setting for Camille reeducation in tasting wine. When the owner declined to let production film in the chateau’s cellar, Pradal located a replacement, one belonging to a Bordeaux négociant.
In addition, Pradal coached the actors on their wine technique. “We had to give the illusion of their being tasters,” he says. To achieve this, Pradal met with both Geffrier and Yamashita separately several times each for hour-and-a-half sessions. At his restaurant, Paris’s La Petite Régalade, Pradal opened bottles and demonstrated classic wine presentations. He also taught the actors different ways to hold and swirl their glasses according to their characters’ personalities.
For example, since Camille is a beginner, she at first grasps the wine glass brusquely by the bowl, as opposed to delicately holding the stem. This is a rookie move, so much that when Pradal’s daughter watched the scene, she exclaimed to her father, “You’ve got to be kidding!” It’s all part of Pradal and Dang Tran’s grander vision.
“One of the challenges of the show was to do something for those who don’t understand wine,” notes Pradal. Creating stories that center wine helps draw in the audience, even those who aren’t experienced wine drinkers.
“Wine is not a call to action,” Dan Tran says. “It’s something that takes its time, something that is contemplative, so [it] adds tension while people drink it.” Drops of God will likely appeal to wine lovers, but here’s hoping that it also creates a few new ones.