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Wine is Having a Moment on TV

ABC drama Promised Land and OWN's The Kings of Napa are bringing Succession to the wine business.
  • Photos: ABC, OWN.
    Photos: ABC, OWN.

    With shows like Succession and Squid Game dominating the cultural conversation, it was only a matter of time before television’s embrace of extreme wealth found its way to the elite world of wine production. That two winery-set shows on two different channels would premiere over the course a week was less expected, but it's not called Peak TV for nothing. Though ABC's Promised Land and OWN's The Kings of Napa take place in different wine regions — Sonoma and Napa, respectively — both embrace soap opera conventions to tell a diverse, multigenerational story of love, success, power, and the lengths to which families are willing to go to maintain their status.

    The superior of the two, Promised Land stars John Ortiz as Joe Sandoval, owner of the family-run Heritage House Vineyard. Along with his wife, Lettie (Cecilia Suárez), Joe has spent decades building up his empire, but with retirement on the horizon, he begins to assess the future of the business, a task that requires evaluating each of his children and their leadership potential. While Veronica (Christina Ochoa) quickly emerges as the natural choice to succeed her father, she faces opposition from her siblings, Antonio (Tonatiuh Elizarraraz), back in Sonoma after a stint in New York City, and Mateo (Augusto Aguilera), who is committed to disproving his step-father’s belief that he’s “not a winemaker.” As for the younger generation, twentysomething Carmen (Mariel Molino) hopes to get involved in the business with a new line aimed at her peers, while Junior’s (Miguel Angel Garcia) attempt to lay low goes awry when he gets in trouble at school, forcing Lettie to come face-to-face with her past.

    Joe’s efforts to keep his business on track only become more complicated when Margaret Honeycroft (Bellamy Young), the daughter of the winery’s founder, goes after her perceived birthright. Joe and Margaret were once married — they share Veronica, Antonio, and Carmen — and the two have a long, complicated history, but this latest battle threatens to destroy not just the company, but the entire Sandoval family. Young, best known for her work on Scandal, is as campy as ever as Margaret, and she functions as an excellent foil for Ortiz’s buttoned-up patriarch.

    Intercut with this drama is the story of Carlos Rincón (Andres Velez) and Juana Sánchez (Katya Martín), who meet while crossing the U.S. border from Mexico in search of a better life. The two travel to the Heritage House Vineyard, where Carlos’ brother Billy (Rolando Chusan) helps them acquire fake papers and gets them jobs doing the tough, physical work of tending to the grapes. Though the Sandoval family plotline has the kind intrigue that's come to characterize primetime soaps, it's this story that gives Promised Land emotional depth. Joe may be fighting over his legacy, but Juana, Carlos, and Billy are quite literally fighting to survive, and the show never loses sight of the stakes in these two very different circumstances.

    With its well-developed characters, fun performances, and big twists, Promised Land is poised to be a big hit for ABC. The same can’t quite be said for OWN’s The Kings of Napa, which brings a similar premise two hours east to Napa Valley, California. Like John Sandoval, prominent surgeon Reginald King (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) turned his passion for wine into a global company, House of Kings, and has established himself as a successful African American winemaker in a predominantly white industry. The Kings seem to have it all, but when Reginald suddenly exits the company, his three children — marketing manager August (Ebonée Noel), cocky CFO Dana (Rance Nix), and party boy Christian (Ashlee Brian) — begin grappling for the reins to the kingdom, only to learn that there’s trouble lurking beneath the family’s picturesque vineyards.

    A true soap opera, The Kings of Napa is most concerned with moving its winding plot forward — the first episode alone introduces a long-lost sister story, an extreme sibling rivalry, and an extortion plot — while paying little attention to fleshing out its major players. Of the many Kings, only Noel’s confident, ambitious August gets something that resembles a backstory: in high school, she dated a man who later married a “housewife,” the type of person she sees as her ideological opposite. As Reginald’s secrets come to light, Kelvin (Curtis Hamilton), now an attorney, reenters August’s life, and their rekindled romance gives the drama one of its few romantic storylines (or at the very least, it’s only positive one).

    It's impossible to watch either Promised Land and The Kings of Napa without being reminded of Succession, HBO’s own take on the primetime soap. Over the course of three seasons, viewers have watched Succession patriarch Logan Roy both demand loyalty from his children and purposefully pit them against one another. Neither Joe Sandoval nor Reginald King are as sharply written as Logan — and The Kings of Napa, in particular, feels like cheap boxed wine when compared to Succession’s rich, award-winning pinot noir — but they share an all-consuming desire to win, no matter the cost. “To family,” they say as they clink their glasses, fully aware that the business will always come first. Blood may be thicker than water, but only until a fresh merlot comes along.

    Promised Land airs Monday nights at 10:00 PM ET on ABC and is available to stream next-day on Hulu. The Kings of Napa airs Tuesdays at 8:00 PM ET on OWN.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Promised Land, The Kings of Napa, Succession, Bellamy Young, Isiah Whitlock Jr., John Ortiz