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In the cellar with James Orr

Hollywood screenwriter James Orr tells KIA SPEAK about his passion for cult/handmade and unknown wines.

James Orr is behind such film comedies as Three Men And A Baby and Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, and has produced, among other movies, Father Of The Bride and Young Harry Houdini (which he also wrote and directed). He is currently working on a remake of the 1947 Cary Grant comedy, The Bachelor And The Bobby Soxer

James Orr, when did you become interested in wine?

James Orr: When did I become interested in wine, or when did I start collecting? When I was at university I was drawn to the romance of wine, but without disposable income, could not indulge my interest. I started to learn as much as I could about it. In my early 30s, I started going to Napa, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany and buying wines. I now have a cellar of 4,000 bottles.

So how did James Orr begin?

James Orr: I had to learn about the politics of buying: there are front-room wines and back-room wines. The former you can buy from either the winery or your merchant, while the back-room wines are handmade and of limited quantity. You have to make your local wine merchant your friend.

What is the current focus of your cellar?

James Orr: I focus on what I call ’boutique wines’. I don’t like the term ‘cult wines’ as it implies I should be glassy-eyed, kneeling before idols – I prefer the term ‘handmade wines’, those made in small quantities and with such care and attention that they are the equivalent of Aston Martins in the automobile world.

What do you consider a high price for a bottle?

James Orr: Many of the bottles that I am interested in cost $150 a bottle in the primary market (the first sale from the winery). But many collectors will buy them in the secondary market, pay $1,000, and be happy to get them – I wouldn’t be.

Which wines interest you right now?

James Orr: The obvious ones: Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, Sine Qua Non, Colgin Cellars, Marcus & Marcus. But I really get excited about emerging boutique wines – you really have to work to discover wines like these. I visit chat boards, go online. I find it exciting to discover wines that no one has heard of yet.

Such as?

James Orr: Carlyle, Pillar Rock, Brewer-Clifton in Santa Barbara, Abreu… Paloma is going to be hot. These are small quantity, fabulous products overshadowed by the so-called ‘cult wines’.

What wine regions interest you right now?

James Orr: Paso Robles in California is the next great domestic wine region. Oregon and Washington State are making great wines now: Washington State for Syrah, Oregon for Pinot Noir. And, of course, Chile, Argentina and emerging regions.


Do you have a cellar in your home?

James Orr: I have three large temperature-controlled storage cabinets of 700 bottles each for the wines I feel are drinkable now, and an off-premises area with 2,000 bottles, for those I feel need more time.

Does James Orr have a favourite varietal?

James Orr: I love Syrah. That has been my favourite grape from the beginning, both from the Rhône and Australia. Carlyle’s Syrah, made in Sonoma, is a extraordinary wine. I like Cabs, and I’m a huge fan of Zinfandel. I find them truly pleasurable. They are only made in California and are a truly American wine.

Clearly you love wine. Do you ever dream of having your own winery?

Orr: There isn’t a collector who does not have that dream. Perhaps it should stay out there – just a dream. As another wine wit once said, ‘If you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a large fortune.’ Maybe I should leave it at that.


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