After four years, seven states, seventy interviews, three name changes and what seems like an endless process, we’re finally nearing the home stretch. Now we’ve got a rough edit of the film and we’re raising some finishing funds to help us launch the film in 2014.
After more than three years of roaming American vineyards and wineries, we’re finally on the home stretch of our feature documentary, American Wine Story. We’re closing in on 100 interviews, and we expect to take our very last trip this weekend, heading back to where it all started in Walla Walla and Washington’s wine country.
There’s plenty of work left, from audio mixing, to color correction, final edits, motion graphics and more. But look for the film in early 2014.
While making this documentary, we accumulated so many more stories than we can use in one feature documentary, so we’ll be posting clips from time to time that help show off the amazing personalities we met along the way. Mary Olson of Airlie Winery in Monmouth, Oregon is someone who always makes you feel at home. It’s the first Oregon winery I visited after moving here from the Midwest.
I remember that visit well. It was a lovely, bright spring day, and we were the only guests. We walked into the tasting room, and Mary came in to meet us. “It’s too nice to stay inside,” she said. “Go out and have a seat, and I’ll bring you some wine.” We sat under a trellis, watching her Irish Setters splash in the pond, while she brought out wines, four at a time, sitting down and chatting with us between pours. Read the rest of this entry »
Had one of those magic moments today when things just fall into place. I was digging through the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield College (home of the International Pinot Noir Celebration), looking for whatever I could find in the collection of Oregon Pinot pioneer Dick Erath. I found a number of fantastic documents and slides.
I’d gathered enough good material that I was all ready to call it a morning and start copying and scanning when I spotted a small, worn, aged notebook in the bottom of one of the boxes. I stopped short a moment. I knew it had to be something good.
When we interviewed Dick Erath, he described in detail his first shot at garage winemaking. It was a Semillon he bought from a local vineyard in California before he moved up to Oregon. A number of the slides I found showed him at work on a home rig from around that time. But the notebook held an even bigger surprise: his handwritten notes from making that vintage.
This is where the winemaker was born. Right from the start, you can see his meticulous attention to detail. On the back, he wrote down a long list of hydrometer readings, being beyond thorough. I recognized it right away…I use the same format in my own garage winemaking, though I’m a lot less precise and my handwriting is undecipherable. I guess that tells you something about why he founded one of the largest wineries in the Northwest and I’m still making wine in my garage.
In any case, I know right where, in the latest edit, a scan of this page will go. Making that discovery was a thrill. I felt like the wine geek equivalent of an enological Indiana Jones. The crackle of the old paper, the splotches that just might have been the must of a wine pioneer’s fledgling vintage: all of this is as exciting to me as Harrison Ford dodging some Mayan death traps. It’ll be a great addition to the story we’re telling.
We’ve been following the story of Jim Day for a few years now. He started out making his wine in borrowed corners of Corvallis-area wineries. He had his garage bonded as a storage facility last year, and now it’s a full-fledged production facility.
If you drive past this unassuming garage in a suburban neighborhood, you might not guess that it’s the home base for Day’s Panache Cellars label. The only clue is the sign warning that kids can only enter accompanied by an adult.
Inside, you’ll find a simple table, some cheese, a few friends and curious winery hoppers, and a flight of Jim’s Willamette Valley Pinot and Washington Sangiovese.
In a global industry rife with power players, you might think it’s somewhat hubristic to think you can compete by making wine in your garage and selling it in your driveway. But when we interviewed Dick Erath, we learned that that’s exactly how he began. Erath told us how he sold his first wines by unfolding a card table at the end of his driveway and selling wine to friends invited down from Portland and any other curious passers by.
And also like Erath, Day offers a line of excellent Pinot Noirs, Oregon’s signature varietal.
Will Jim Day follow on the heels of the Oregon wine pioneers and move production beyond his suburban driveway? Right now he plans to stay small. But you never know.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in talking with seventy-something wine industry people: anything’s possible.
Vintage is a feature project we’re developing as a follow-up to our wine documentary. We’ve cut together a teaser, working with talented actors Seth Allen and Chuck Skinner, and are now moving onto the development and financing process. Anyone interested in the project should let us know as we look for cast, crew and production partners.
Here’s the final version of our video for “The Wind Kept,” by Brave Julius, directed by Santiago Uceda and starring Matthew Joel Flood and Dominique Valodovinos:
Our music video collaboration with Brave Julius and Santiago Uceda will premiere during a concert tomorrow night at the gorgeous Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis. Should be a great show, and what an amazing opportunity.
Thanks to the Gazette-Times for providing coverage of the event. The theater is a local treasure and an amazing creative space. I hope it continues to inspire creative spirits for another hundred years. If your in Corvallis, please come by for the show. It’s only seven bucks!
Launched our Kickstarter campaign to finish the music video for The Wind Kept and put on a concert for its premiere at the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis. Great working with Glenn Alexander and Santiago Uceda on this project.
Tad Seestedt of Ransom Wines & Spirits was told that he was crazy when he talked of leaving New York City and heading to Oregon without knowing a soul, with a vague notion of returning to an agricultural lifestyle in the wine industry. But after three years of planning, he headed west in 1993, and now his plans are finally coming together.
We recently interviewed Tad for our documentary project and learned that slow and steady can really sometimes win the race.
Ransom now produces gin and whiskey from barley he grows on his certified organic farm on the edge of the Coast Range, and he also produces a line of Oregon wines from area vineyards, with his own vines in the ground on his 40-acre farm outside the small town of Willamina, Oregon.
It’s been a long road paved with credit card and bank loans, but Ransom has arrived and Tad’s mother has stopped calling him to ask when he’s planning to start law school. With distillery dog Lucy by his side, Tad spoke to us about his path to independence in the wine and spirits business.
And my favorite quote from the conversation: “Making good wine involves science and focus and love…and maybe a little bit of superstition.”
We recently spoke with wine writer Katherine Cole to help us frame some of the larger themes in our current documentary project. She took some time away from her current book project to meet us at the Southeast Wine Collective, an urban winery that fosters some up-and-coming winemakers in an urban space that borders the lively restaurant scene on Division street in the Southeast Portland neighborhood.
Katherine’s voice combines the authority of an expert with the passionate of a true aficionado…on camera she shares that same spark that many of the winemakers we’ve talked to who’ve jumped into this business.
Tom Monroe is one of those who took a leap of faith. Along with his wife, Kate, he founded The Southeast Wine Collective as a home for not only their own Division Winemaking Company, but a number of other incipient brands, winemakers who might lack the capital necessary to plant their own wine estates in Yamhill County, but who’ve got no shortage of enthusiasm and commitment. A few of them were hanging out in the tasting room while we talked with Tom about leaving behind his career in the financial industry in New York, heading for some manual labor gigs in the Loire Valley before deciding to settle in Portland to launch a vision for an urban winery he first conceived in graduate school.
We find fascinating wine people at every turn, and it’s tempting to keep on shooting, but we’ll soon be settling into the editing phase of the project.
Last Saturday we shot the live motion portions of our upcoming music video project, ‘The Wind Kept,’ with guitarist Brave Julius. With an amazing, cinematic song to work with, our hard-working crew and artist Santiago Uceda directing, we’re looking forward to an amazing final product. We hope to debut the video on March 16, 2013 at a benefit concert for the restoration of this amazing theater.
Here are a few production stills:
We’re trying to cover as much of harvest this year as possible, with shoots at Rex Hill, Cardwell Hill, Brooks Winery and more. The weather’s been great this season, though the rains have started and winemakers are eyeing the weather. It’s an exciting time of year to be in the vineyard and on the crush pad.
Like any good suburban neighbors hatching a scheme over beers and barbecue, Thomas Jefferson hatched a scheme with Filippo Mazzei, an Italian patriot living on the next hill over from Monticello. Mazzei was an Italian patriot from a well-known wine family. They decided that they’d form a company to produce fine, European style wines on American shores.
But a revolution intervened, and though grapes were planted, they were either trampled by British horses or died due to disease and neglect. Wine was never made.
But now there’s a flourishing wine industry in Albemarle County. We traveled east to connect some of the dots and gather more footage for the film.
For the next set of interviews for Vino Veritas, we traveled east, to Virginia, to learn a little about the birth of the wine industry in America. Most think of the West Coast as the original home to American wine, but in truth early colonists were required to plant vinifera, and Thomas Jefferson even was a partner in a fledgling wine company with his Italian-born neighbor, Filippo Mazzei.
Andy Reagan is now winemaker on Mazzei’s former estate. The vineyards are new…now grafted on disease resistant American rootstock. But Jefferson’s dream of fine wine production in Virginia lives on after a hiatus of a pair of centuries.
And another Italian vigneron now tends the vineyards on Monticello. Gabriele Rausse helps to produce an estate wine at Monticello while also consulting with area wineries and producing his own label of Virginia grown wine. Gabriele’s connection to Jefferson goes well beyond horticulture, though, as he’s found a philosophical resonance in the words of the founding father.
And yet another Italian-born winemaker is heading production at Barboursville Vineyards, one of the oldest and most recognized wineries in the state. Luca Pascina grew up in Italian wine country and knew he wanted to be a winemaker at a very young age. And he’s settled into the lifestyle and landscape of Virginia, where the challenges of weather and excess rain don’t keep him from producing award-winning wines, or even deciding that they should skip a poor year if that’s what it takes to maintain their reputation of excellence.
We captured interviews and and tried to uncover the early roots of American winemaking in an effort to connect this story to what we’ve been covering in the Midwest and West Coast. We’ll share a video of extras from the trip soon.