Hitchcock by the Bay

The Birds, Bodega and Wine 

When we think of filmmakers and wine, it’s likely in this order of appearance that they come to mind: Francis Ford Coppola, Orson Welles, and Alexander Payne. Why? Coppola has long had a flourishing wine brand under his own name, Welles promised to sell no Paul Masson wine “before its time” in his famed TV commercials and, of course, Payne directed Sideways, which instantly sent sales of merlot plummeting—whilst elevating pinot noir a few price points. The oenophile director who doesn’t get mentioned much, and should be, is Alfred Hitchcock.

The stylish master of suspense flirted with wine throughout his storied career. He owned a vineyard in the Santa Cruz mountains—now known as Armitage Wines at Heart O’ The Mountain—and his 1946 spy thriller, Notorious, finds Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman as spies working against Nazis, uranium and a lot of wine. This is an explosive combination on any day, but perhaps more so with a plot point contained in a rare bottle of 1934 Grands Vins de Bourgogne – Pommard Francois Penot & Cie.

Interestingly, Hitchcock also made more than a few visits to—not to mention movies in—our local Wine Country. Shadow of a Doubt was shot in Santa Rosa, and perhaps more notoriously, his ode to avian terror, The Birds, was shot in and around the ocean-adjacent village of Bodega and the bay that shares its name.

Vestiges of the 1963 film remain in the area, the most prominent being the iconic Potter School House, which is still located at 17110 Bodega Lane, Bodega. It’s a stone’s throw from the fantastic local eatery The Casino and crests a hill that overlooks a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of about 220 people total.

Built in 1873, before The Birds, Potter School had been abandoned, but the film’s art department readied it for its close-up by repairing its facade. Sometime in the aughts, I led a tour of Producers Guild of America members through Wine Country, and this particular stop was an obvious favorite. Naturally, I couldn’t resist embellishing the school’s history with some improvised Hitchcockian intrigue—something about bodies in the basement but don’t quote me.

Should schedules align, passersby may encounter a lifesize statue of Hitchcock himself across the street at the Sea Gull Antiques store. The likeness is a herald, signifying that the store is open—otherwise, I recommend calling ahead. 

One will find a bevy of treasures, including a rack of postcards featuring The Birds and its star, Tippi Hedren, which I spied through the shop’s window—it was closed the Monday I visited. Also closed was the beloved Bodega Country Store one door down, which has been shuttered since late August after some cretin swerved their jeep off Bodega Highway and parked inside of it. A GoFundMe campaign has been established to aid its reopening.

It’s unclear to me what inspired the parking job, but I have my suspicions that it came from a bottle and didn’t contain Nazi uranium. I’ll refer you to a second-season episode of the television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in which we find Hitch addressing the audience from a wine cellar:

“Good evening,” Hitchcock says. “I came down here because I understand that the current year is a very good year for wine. For drinking it, that is.”

That year was 1957, and Hitch was doing his usual droll introduction for an episode entitled A Bottle of Wine. In it, an older, insufferably pedantic judge is concerned that his younger wife is about to run off with a man her own age. The judge invites her paramour to a glass of wine and explains the bottle was purchased during a honeymoon in Spain. The young man drinks the wine after which the judge announces it’s poisoned, but ha!, it actually isn’t. In his resulting panic, the young man manages to kill the judge. When the wife returns, he tells her about the Spanish wine only to learn—spoiler alert—that she’s never been to Spain.

What this Sartrean irony betokens is anyone’s guess. Still, it captures something of the experience of the director’s films themselves, from the requisite whimsy to the twist of fate that is, if not macabre, at least mercurial. Notably, no wine was harmed during the production—not even fictionally, which, for my money, underscores an abiding reverence for the juice.

There is a photograph of Hitch, most recently seen on the cover of Stockholm University cinema-studies professor Jan Olsson’s tome, Hitchcock à la Carte, that depicts the director seated at a table, a roast chicken before him and a carving knife in his back. The weapon doesn’t seem to bother the director, who stares dolefully at the camera—and even if it did, he looks like he’s about to anesthetize himself with a very full glass of white wine.

The label on the bottle is illegible to the naked eye but, aided with a magnifying glass, I ascertained it likely reads “Pouilly-Fuissé,” which means it’s probably a chardonnay because, according to the company’s website, “Chardonnay is the only voice through which the various Terroirs of the Pouilly-Fuissé are expressed.” Well, then.

A few years ago, Reed Brand Management, the firm that manages the Hitchcock brand for the erstwhile director’s estate, licensed the production of a series of wines named after his TV show. They were notably all red—no chardonnay in sight—including a popular 2013 zinfandel with a label reminiscent of the famous Vertigo titles by Saul Bass. The romance copy declared, “Like the Master of Suspense, this idiosyncratic grape produces some of its finest work on location in California.” To bring it all home, the grapes in question hailed from the Alexander Valley and Sonoma County.

Somehow, inexplicably, Turner Classic Movies Wine Club, the licensee of the Hitchcock wines, missed the golden opportunity to produce a wine for The Birds, with grapes sourced from the Sonoma Coast appellation. And, in keeping with Hitch’s Burgundian predilection, the wine, ahem, without a shadow of a doubt, would have been a pinot noir. Moreover, it could have been served in every restaurant up and down the coast, especially at … drumroll, please … The Birds Cafe Bodega Bay!

But, alas.

A bottle of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents Zinfandel 2013” must suffice if you can find one. I recommend pairing it with the fish and chips from The Birds—in fact, its menu is almost entirely composed of fish, prawns, oysters, and fries except the chicken strips—a faint gustatory nod to its cinematic namesake.

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