On November 13th, Heart's Delight hosted a special screening of the documentary film American Wine Story. It was a great opportunity for DC-area wine lovers to see the film, meet the producer-director and some of the winemakers in the film, drink many of the wines described in the movie and to raise money to fight heart disease. Any one or two of those would have made for a successful evening--together, they were a slam dunk.
David Baker, a first-time filmmaker from Corvalis, Oregon, and Oregon State University, was intrigued by the power of wine and the dream of making it to cause men and women to fundamentally change their lives--often risking everything--to pursue those dreams. He identified a lot of such stories for research and interveiws...and zeroed in on about a dozen. Initially, all of the stories were "created equal"...but the more he learned about Jimi Brooks, the young Oregon winemaker, the more intrigued he became.
Passionate, fun-loving, curious...sometimes called a big elf, Jimi Brooks found his wine calling in France while wandering the world and returned to help found Oregon's biodynamic movement. He earned respect as winemaker at estates such as WillaKenzie and Maysara--and pursued his real dream, making Brooks Wine, nights and weekends. He told a magazine writer that it was something that he hoped he could pass on to his son. That happened all too soon. In September 2004, he was struck down by heart disease at age 38. His son, Pascal, was 8.
At first glance, what Jimi left may not have been impressive. He owned no vineayards...no winery. And there were obligations. He had contracts to buy grapes...contracts that would come due in a few days. But he left something more important--a dream and a vision that inspired others. His sister, Janie, stunned from the loss of her only sibling soon after the loss of both her parents, flew to Oregon for the memorial service. After it, a group of Oregon's top winemakers was waiting for her. They said they'd take the grapes and make the Brooks wines if she'd run the business side. She agreed.
She had no idea what she was getting into...she knew that much. Not only did she not have any experience in wine, she lived a thousand miles away--where she had a husband and two young children. But she couldn't walk away from Jimi's dream. So she threw herself into it...and she learned. Had some success...hired a winemaker...bought a vineyard...built a winery. Won accaim. Helped Jimi's son Pascal grow up and understand the business.
That story became the core of Baker's film--around which he wove the stories of others, like Scott Wright--a former nationally syndicated DJ and music producer...Mike Officer--a former software engineer...and Al and Cindy Shornberg--who owned a high tech business. Each, for their own reasons, walked away from their former lives and founded wineries. They had different explanations, but they shared a common, powerful dream. Wright established Scott Paul in Oregon, where he makes high end pinot noir. Mke and Kendall Officer established Carlisle in California, where they make some of California's most sought after zinfandels. And the Schornbergs established Keswick in Virginia, where they're helping to put the state on the fine wine map. And there were other stories.
The DC audience was fully into the film. They roared when Wright said working with Britney Spears helped convince him it was time to get out of the business. And they grew hushed when Tad Seestadt described finding JImi lying on the floor--dead of a heart attack. Some locked eyes, silently acknowleging the connection to the evening's purpose.
At the end of the film, Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre led an interesting Q&A with Baker, Janie, the Schornbergs and Barboursville winemaker Luca Paschina. Then it was back into the lobby for more wine and a chance for audience members to chat with the folks from the film.
It was a night about the power of dreams. And one of those dreams is winning the fight against heart disease. The screening contributed ~$10,000 to that goal.