What could a novel and movie about misunderstood Italian olive oil importers have to do with wine? Quite a lot, it seems, given how often wine appears — at least in the book. In fact, wine appears so often in The Godfather that it almost qualifies as a character. Perhaps it is — perhaps wine is a sort of character in the novel and to a lesser degree the book. Let's take a look at what wine does in The Godfather, what it's social function is and what people do with wine.
To a certain extent, we can trace the role of wine in The Godfather almost chronologically. I'll be quoting primarily from Mario Puzo's novel, but most of these scenes are reflected to a greater or lesser extent from the film as well.
Early on, wine is closely associated with lust and sex:
Carlo Rizzi had worked in the open desert air while very young--heavy laborer’s work. Now he had tremendous forearms and his shoulders bulged the jacket of his tux. He basked in the adoring eyes of his bride and filled her glass with wine.
Lucy Mancini lifted her pink gown off the floor and ran up the steps. Sonny Corleone’s heavy Cupid face, redly obscene with winey lust, frightened her, but she had teased him for the past week to just this end.
The blond groom poured Lucy a glass of wine and smiled knowingly. Lucy didn’t care. She lifted the grapey, dark red juice to her parched mouth and drank. She felt the sticky wetness between her thighs and pressed her legs together. Her body was trembling. Over the glass rim, as she drank, her eyes searched hungrily to find Sonny Corleone.
Wine is also generally associated with parties, fun, and enjoyment:
When Clemenza finally collapsed in a chair, Paulie Gatto brought him a glass of icy black wine and wiped the perspiring Jove-like brow with his silk handkerchief. Clemenza was blowing like a whale as he gulped down the wine. But instead of thanking Paulie he said curtly, “Never mind being a dance judge, do your job. Take a walk around the neighborhood and see everything is OK.” Paulie slid away into the crowd.
This is arguably the wine that's young, fresh, full of live and promise. Not all wines fulfill all their promise, do they?
Given how important Italy is to The Godfather novel and movie, it's no surprise that wine is frequently referred to as being "home made" — the Corleone family and their friends apparently don't go to expensive liquor stores to buy their wines. Instead, they make their own wines according to old family recipes and traditions:
Don Vito Corleone was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promises, nor the craven excuse that his hands were tied by more powerful forces in the world than himself. It was not necessary that he be your friend, it was not even important that you had no means with which to repay him. Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart. And he would let nothing stand in the way to a solution of that man’s woe. His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of “Don,” and sometimes the more affectionate salutation of “Godfather.” And perhaps, to show respect only, never for profit, some humble gift -- a gallon of homemade wine or a basket of peppered taralles specially baked to grace his Christmas table. It was understood, it was mere good manners, to proclaim that you were in his debt and that he had the right to call upon you at any time to redeem your debt by some small service.
Michael Corleone was amusing Kay Adams by telling her little stories about some of the more colorful wedding guests. He was, in turn, amused by her finding these people exotic, and, as always, charmed by her intense interest in anything new and foreign to her experience. Finally her attention was caught by a small group of men gathered around a wooden barrel of homemade wine. The men were Amerigo Bonasera, Nazorine the Baker, Anthony Coppola and Luca Brasi.
There were, now, hundreds of guests in the huge garden, some dancing on the wooden platform bedecked with flowers, others sitting at long tables piled high with spicy food and gallon jugs of black, homemade wine. The bride, Connie Corleone, sat in splendor at a special raised table with her groom, the maid of honor, bridesmaids and ushers. It was a rustic setting in the old Italian style.
Clemenza served wine that he had made himself. His wife, after putting a plate of salami, olives and a loaf of Italian bread on the table, went down to sit with her women cronies in front of the building, carrying her chair with her. She was a young Italian girl only a few years in the country and did not yet understand English.
The proprietor of the café came to serve them. He was a short, burly man, almost dwarfish but he greeted them cheerfully and set a dish of chickpeas at their table. “You’re strangers here,” he said, “so let me advise you. Try my wine. The grapes come from my own farm and it’s made by my sons themselves. They mix it with oranges and lemons. It’s the best wine in Italy.” They let him bring the wine in a jug and it was even better than he claimed, dark purple and as powerful as a brandy.
At the end of both the novel and the movie, wine becomes associated with retirement, but also perhaps decline:
“Now, any man should be allowed one foolishness in his life. I have had mine. I want all the land around the mall bought, the houses bought. I don’t want any man able to look out his window into my garden even if it’s a mile away. I want a fence around the mall and I want the mall to be on full protection all the time. I want a gate in that fence. In short, I wish now to live in a fortress. Let me say to you now that I will never go into the city to work again. I will be semiretired....
Don Corleone: So, Barzini will move against you first. He'll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust guaranteeing your safety and at that meeting you'll be assassinated. I like to drink wine more than I used to. Anyway, I'm drinking more.
Michael: It's good for you, Pop.
Don Corleone: Ah, I don't know. Your wife and your children, are you happy with them?
Michael: Very happy.
Don Corleone: That's good. I hope you don't mind the way I keep going over this Barzini business.