Thursday, December 17, 2020

Belgian vineyard at Chateau Bioul

A couple of months ago I visited one of the several up and coming vineyards in Belgium, and was surprised by a unique approach.





Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Film Review: A seat at the table (2019) by David Nash and Simon Mark-Brown , **


Synopsis

A New Zealand winemaking team enters the period known as Vintage when wine is made 24/7 for months on end. Sleepless nights, endless labor, time away from home means they must ensure nature, science and magic come together to overcome each challenge Vintage presents. (from imdb)


Review

A missed opportunity. The makers of this documentary had access to the whole process of harvesting at a large New Zealand vineyard but we learn very little in over one hour of watching this repetitive production. We hear a hundred times how hard the work is during harvest, and how awesome everyone in the multinational team of pickers is, but little else. 

Some information that one learns in this film: foreigners now own one third of NZ wine production, the French were the first to invest, in the 1980s. 

Biodynamics taking off.

Not so many rules like in Europe about controlled origins, allowed varieties, irrigation, chaptalization, so  NZ can experiment more.

One curiosity: lots of pigs apparently threaten the harvest at night, and even deer. As for birds, they try and do their share of eating but mostly cause botrytis, which is some parts of the world is welcome as it allows to make sweet wines, but not here.


Read my reviews of films about wine here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Film review: Disrupting Wine (2020) by Johan Rimestad, ***


Synopsys
 

Documentary about the founder of Vivino, Heini Zachariassen. Vivino has more than 43 million downloads worldwide and has its HQ in San Francisco. (from the film’s website) Of course: for wine just as for anything else innovation blooms in silicon valley.

Review 

Too much about the life of the founder and his family and not enough about the Vivino application, its features, its very useful role in the hands of wine lovers and sommeliers alike. While some facts about Heini would obviously be in order to understand the genesis of the app, this is not supposed to be about him but about IT, VIVINO! Also, one gets the impression that the creator of Vivino treats wines as if they were any other commodity, he could have made an app about different kinds of detergents. I feel that is not the case but Heini's passion for wine does not come through.

See my other reviews of films about wine here.

 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Film review: A Year in Burgundy (2013), by David Kennard, ***


Synopsis

The film follows Martine Saunier seven wine-making families in the Burgundy region of France through the course of a full year, and delves into the cultural and creative process of making wine, as well as its deep ties to the land. What lies within the rhythm of a year, from vines to grapes to wine? 

The film is in four season-sections, and plays out against that backdrop: spring showers, drought, heat wave, hail and storms, harvest moons and the damp cold of winter. Each vintage is a time capsule, a bottled piece of history of a very specific year, with its particular weather pattern, its crises and its triumphs. It all goes in, whether you want it to or not, and 2011 was full of drama. (from Ibmd)

Review

A bit of a disappointment. If you don't know anything about Burgundy you will certainly learn something. If you've been there a few times you will still get a few bits here and there but not much. Much of it is cliche. Brugundy deserves better. Still, if you have it for free on Prime and want an easy evening, go ahead an watch it, with a glass of Burgundy wine in hand of course.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Somm, into the Bottle (2015), by Jason Wise, ****

Synopsis

Sequel to the previous Somm movie of 2012, this documentary takes the viewer into the private world of famed producers (who open exceptional bottles for the occasion).


Review

A peek into cellars that most of us humans will never get into, and a good dose of self-irony about a profession that means different things to different people. Definitely recommended after the first.

We learn that the word "spirit", used for alcoholic beverages, comes from the fact that wine has been used in religious functions for a long time, it takes the "spirit" out of the body, especially when abused! Not sure it is true, but it sounds fun.

We also learn that Julius Cesar instructed his legionaries to drink at least a liter of wine a day, more before going into battle.

One somm opines that aging wine in wood is like adding salt to food: you may need it to exalt the flavor, but not too much. Some may not like it at all, of course. But if you do choose to oak a wine, beware: your barrel is going to be like a wife for your wine, choose well or your wine will pay the price for your mistake!

A few spoke about scoring wines. Some find it useful, some hate it as an oversimplification that is not reliable: no single somm will score the same wines the same way if given the same bottles blind over again.

View more reviews of films about wine.


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Film review: Three Days of Glory (2018), by Scott Wright and David baker, ***

Synopsis

A documentary about the world's greatest wine celebration in the most legendary of wine regions during its most difficult season: Three Days of Glory offers a glimpse into aspects of Burgundy never filmed before. Burgundy is home to some of the most legendary wines on the planet. 

But it wasn't always that way. A series of difficult years in the 20s and 30s led to the creation of the events now known as Les Trois Glorieuses, or the Three Days of Glory. This is the story of that festival, its origins, and the small-estate winemakers of today who have faced a string of brutal years that threatens their very survival. (from IMDB)

Review

A peek into an otherwise impossible to join a gathering of producers in Burgundy, where secrets are revealed, deals are made and friendship cemented over open bottles. 

Burgundy is special because, unlike Bordeaux, most vineyards are still in the hands of small producers, often the same family since the beginning of time. Small realities which are threatened by climatic and economic upheaval.


View more reviews of films about wine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Film review: Vintage (2019) by Colin West *


Synopsis

A New Zealand winemaking team enters the period known as Vintage when wine is made 24/7 for months on end. Sleepless nights, endless labor, time away from home means they must ensure nature, science and magic come together to overcome each challenge Vintage presents. (from imdb)


Review

A missed opportunity. The makers of this documentary had access to the whole process of harvesting at a large New Zealand vineyard but we learn very little in over one hour of watching this repetitive production. We hear a hundred times how hard the work is during harvest, and how awesome everyone in the multinational team of pickers is, but little else. 

One curiosity: lots of pigs apparently threaten the harvest at night, and even deer. As for birds, they try and do their share of eating but mostly cause botrytis, which is some parts of the world is welcome as it allows to make sweet wines, but not here.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Film review: The Barolo Boys (2014) by Paolo Casalis and Tiziano Gaia, ****

The story of a group of Barolo producers, friends, colleagues and competitors at the same time, who broke with tradition to find their own call.

Barolo was mostly cheap, unknown and unloved until the early 1980s. It was a difficult wine, harsh, unfriendly, tannic, and it required a very long time to age and become more pleasant.

A bunch of producers, led by Gaia and Altare among others, decided to change that: they started reducing yields by green harvesting (removing some bunches before they ripen, so as to leave fewer but better bunches on the vine) and using new and small oak barrels.

The result was amazing, Barolo became well known, expensive and very much loved. But not everyone was happy...





 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Film review: Somm (2012) by Jason Wise, ****


Review

Four sommeliers attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. 

The documentary follows them step by step as they prepare and study together, meticulously, for many months, at the expense of their normal lives, their loved ones and their emotional balance.

The test is ruthless, both theory and practice (a blind tasting) demand superhuman qualities, memory, and not a little luck. In the end, those who pass join a club of only some 200 people who ever passed the test and are catapulted to the top of the wine world.



See my other reviews of films about wine here.




Saturday, October 17, 2020

Scammer 2.0 - Rudy Kurniawan The Wine Forger

A documentary about Rudi Kurniawan, the most notorious wine forger of recent times. A warning to all wine lovers and collectors. He duped experts and collectors until the FBI raided his home. His fake wines were later destroyed. He spent 10 years in jail.



Friday, April 10, 2020

Film review: Résistence naturelle (2014), By Jonathan Nossiter, **

Synopsys

Ten years after the landmark wine documentary Mondovino, filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter returns to the subject, documenting the drastic shifts that have affected the industry in the time since. Natural Resistance follows four Italian winegrowers.

First is Giovanna Tiezzi lives in a converted 11th-century monastery, and grow grains, fruit, and wine in a way that links to their ancient heritage. She laments that much of Tuscany's vineyards have been bought up by foreigners, but then is proud that her region is a leader in quality vine cultivation.

Corrado Dottori is a refugee from industrial Milan, who inherited his grandfather's farmstead and tends to it as an expression of agricultural social justice. he studied capitalism at the Bocconi, he says, so as to criticize it better.

Elena Pantaleoni works her father's vineyards and strives to create a utopian reality.

Finally, Stefano Belloti, the controversial radical farmer poet, disrupts the long-established rules of farming from his avant-garde property in Piedmont. (Synopsys partly from IBMD.com)


Review

A lot of ideology in this hastily put together film, which is really only a compilation of Nossiter's chats with the above growers over some wine.

The title "resistance" recalls the fighters of World War II against fascism and nazism, and it is not by chance. Nossiter, inserts several clips of Mussolini speaking from a balcony and SS guards rounding up civilians in this movie, and contrasts them with the heroic organic farmers, his partisans of today.

The other word in the title is "natural". The film compares and contrasts it with "artificial". And artificial (made by man with material that exists in nature) is not the same as "synthetic" (made through synthesis, transforming elements that do not exist in nature). Of course, all wine is artificial, it does not exist in nature.

Several of the protagonists complain about the DOC rules being abstract, detached from the criteria for quality that was the original reason for being created. In this they are right, and it has long widely been accepted that many top-quality Italian wines do not have, seek or need DOC certification.

The film nostalgically recalls when, in Italy, but the numbers are similar in other European countries, 60% of the people lived and worked on farms. Now it is about 2-3% depending on how you count it. Of course, every country that modernizes and develops moves from the primary sector of the economy (agriculture) to the secondary (manufacturing) and on to the tertiary (services). This brings higher standards of living, I find it hard to argue one should go back to the happy past.

The speakers are generally critical of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They argue it is a conspiracy to hand agriculture to big multinational corporations. Let alone that in several countries, Italy among them, EU subsidies (managed by regional administrations) are often left unused because small farmers do not bother to claim them.

They also argue that hygiene checks are targeted to create problems for small wine producers while they close an eye on the big ones. I do not know about the accuracy of this sweeping statement but they do not provide any evidence.

I also noticed a bias when a farmer shows Nossiter the difference between rich organic soil and standard vineyard next to it. The organic soil is a dark rich color and fluffy texture while the standard soil is hard and grey. But Belotti digs his organic sample near a plant and the other one on a pathway where constant traffic is expected to compact the soil. A careless test at best.

In sum, this film is more of an emotional call to arms than an analysis of the undoubted biological benefits of organic farming.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Film review: L'Esprit du vin (2011) by Olympe and Yvon Minvielle **

Synopsys

A film sponsored by Château Lagarette, a biodynamic producer in Bordeaux.

A dozen or so biodynamic wine-growers express their vision of the present and make proposals for the future.

They ask eminently social and even political questions: What food? How could humanity restore the ideal of living together?

I hope this review can help the reader make up his own mind on this subject.


Review

This film is an all-out passionate defense of biodynamic viticulture. I say defense because most of the interviewees talk as if they are under siege, as if the evil forces of modernity are out to extinguish the feeble flame of tradition. No alternative point of view is presented in the film. If you want to hear alternative voices, skeptical or critical of biodynamic wine, you have to look elsewhere.

Clearly, the growers interviewed are very passionate about their wine, but often they get carried away. Just a few pearls from their statements. A basic theme of the film is a high level of hostility toward "technology": there is "technological" wine, which is artificial and then there is biodynamic wine, which is natural. Oddly, little attention is paid to organic wines, although biodynamic certification requires a wine to be organic to begin with.

A couple of speakers identify "technological" wines as the result of American influence and specifically the work of Robert Parker, while, on the contrary, "Europe" is the custodian of genuine winemaking. Well, Parker has nothing against biodynamic wines and actually promotes it. And, of course, there are lots of American biodynamic producers and in fact the USA is the biggest biodynamic farming producer in the world.

One speaker argues that biodynamic vineyards are better equipped to resist the negative radioactive impact of Chernobyl, thus lumping together as if it was a dogmatic truth a whole host of questionable assumptions.

A major problem for me is when, as several speakers repeat in this film, the argument is put forward that what is important in biodynamic wine is NOT the result, but the relationship between man and nature, a new philosophy of daily life. Assuming the latter is somehow better served in biodynamic farming, for me the end result, ie good and healthy wine, IS WHAT MATTERS.

Technology, a word that is often repeated with a grimace by many interviewees, destroys the relationship man and nature, farmer and vineyard. Biodynamic preparations restore the correct energy flows! A corollary of this argument is the open hostility of one speaker to established wine associations such as the Masters of Wine. In his view, these associations have been created to serve technology against the natural traditions of wine.

One speaker is very honest when he says biodynamic farming is like a religion: you can not demonstrate it, you can only believe it. Another one compares it to acupuncture: not scientifically proven, but many believe it anyway. Not surprising that biodynamic farmers also accept homeopathic principles, as they use extremely diluted solutions in some of their preparations.

A quirky claim toward the end of the film is that biodynamic wine is especially appreciated by women! Maybe so, as a woman grower claims to have produced a "concert wine" in her biodynamic vineyard because both wine and music share a spirituality for people to appreciate.

If you already believe in biodynamic farming this film will make you feel really good. If you are trying to understand more, it will give you only half the picture.

For a different view on biodynamic farming, watch this video, (in Italian).

For a wise and cool view of the subject, read Jancis Robinson, one of the world's most respected authorities.

You can watch the film reviewed here on Youtube.