I do not watch a lot of films about wine. Sure, I have seen Sideways and even read the book (the movie was better), but I am probably the only wine geek in the world that has not (yet?) seen Somm. I never saw Mondovino either. I did see Bottle Shock, but the only reason I saw that was that it came out on HBO.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to preview the film A Year in Champagne, which is being officially released today on iTunes and in a few select theaters. At first, I thought “Sure! I would love to watch a film about the wine and region that I place above all others.” But, as days passed, I was not so sure I wanted to watch it.
I have no problem watching movies that have to do with cycling (there are far fewer of them, though, and now that Lance Armstrong has turned out to be a complete ass, there might even be fewer in the future)–in fact, I will often seek them out and often buy them (I have copies of both American Flyer and Breaking Away, the latter being one of my all-time favorite movies).
So why not wine?
Well, as I sit here watching the snow fall, drinking a bit of Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, I think I figured it out: In the few cycling movies there are, the cyclists are portrayed as heroes–people who through grit and determination beat the odds and win.
Or something like that.
Sure, they shave their legs and are clearly obsessed with training and competing, but they are mostly “good” and worthy of admiration.
Most of the time in wine movies, however, wine enthusiasts are portrayed as pedantic, navel-gazing elitists who, by the end of the movie you either pity, or you wish they had been run over by a tractor.
Since I am also a wine enthusiast, well, fill in the blanks.
A Year in Champagne was different, though. First, it was about both one of my favorite places in the world and my favorite wine, and second, the people I have met during my travels to Champagne are far from the insufferable snobs who bloviate about wine–they are some of the most generous and engaging people I have met in the wine world.
I knew I had to watch it.
And I am glad I did.
A Year in Champagne provides a fantastic backdrop for anyone who wants to have a greater appreciation for la Champagne (the region) or le champagne (the bubbly). The film does a wonderful job underscoring that the region is far more than the millions of bottles of bubbles that are produced every year, while also acknowledging the significance of the magic that goes on in the bottle.
The film follows a particular year (2012) as it unfolded in Champagne, but starts with a touch of the war-torn history that all the Champenois share. The last 70 years of peace is somewhat rare for the region, as wars have been waged in Champagne since the time of Attila the Hun in the Fifth Century.
The filmmakers look to capture the essence of the region as it follows the progression of the vines through the seasons. While the major Champagne houses garner much of the attention in the U.S., the film focuses more on what I would call the essence of Champagne–the independent growers.
Several such families are followed and interviewed during the course of the year including Jacques Diebolt (of Champagne Diebolt-Valois in Cramant), Stéphane Coquillette (of S. Coquillette in Chouilly), and the wine making team of Xavier Gonet and Julie Médeville (of Gonet-Médeville in Bisseuil in the Montagne de Reims). The bigger houses are not left out, however, with two of my favorites, Gosset and Bollinger figuring prominently.
What is striking about the film is just how difficult it is to make champagne, as there are many obstacles to overcome: the weather (perhaps no other wine region in the world is as susceptible to the vagaries of weather, and as was evident throughout the film, 2012 was a particularly trying year weather-wise), the regulations (Champagne is perhaps the most regulated wine region in France where just about every aspect of production is closely regulated–vine trellises, the amount of juice extracted, even the dates for the harvest), the process (the “champagne method” of capturing the bubbles in the bottle is elaborate and well-covered in the film).
But above all, the film does a magnificent job of capturing the spirit of the people of the region, who seem to be as ebullient as the beverage they create. There was a particularly poignant back and forth between Médeville and Gonet (the latter of which had the best line in the movie: “Il faut pas faire confiance aux gens qui boivent pas”–“Don’t trust people that don’t drink”), as they tried to define the essence of champagne. Over the course of a minute or two exchange, they stated that champagne has many sides to it: exotic, magical, festive and sharing, pleasure and seduction.
I have been to Champagne countless times, and I found this film to be true to the region–it does a wonderful job providing the viewer insight into the spirit of the people of Champagne and an understanding of the magic that they are able to create.
Highly recommended. Available on iTunes.