The International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon's Willamette Valley traditionally kicks off with a series of private events spread out across the valley the night before the official opening. This year, I attended the Oregon premiere of An American WIne Story at the Evergreen Air Museum. The documentary chronicles the lives of perhaps a dozen men and women who are so captured by the dream of making wine that they give up their professions and their previous ways of life (and in many cases, risk everything) to pursue it. Following the movie, some of those winemakers whose stories were told poured their wines for guests in the museum while everyone enjoyed a gourmet buffet.
I found the film both interesting and touching. It's made by Three Crows Productions. Producer/Director David Baker began the with the basic idea of weaving together the dozen or so narratives that he had picked out. But as he began to get deeper into one of his subjects--Jimi Brooks and Brooks Wine--he began to sense that there was special power and emotion in the story of a young man who had been a bit lost, but found himself in making wine...influenced the Oregon wine industry with his passion...who died young of a heart attack...and whose family and friends came together to keep his dream alive after his death. And that story became something of a central theme, with the others wound around it.
And those other stories are also fascinating. Mike and Kendall Officer--who gave up a career in software development and gambled everything to produce old vine zinfandel and syrah. Their Carlisle zins and syrahs are now some of California's finest. And Drew Bledsoe--who, after a career as a Pro Bowl quarterback in the NFL, wanted to make wine in Walla Walla that was equally as good. And Al and Cindy Schornberg, who--after a near plane crash experience--sold their high tech business and started a winery near Charlottesville, Virginia. Dick Erath, who gave up a career in engineering in California to help found Oregon's wine industry. And a number of others.
Like many documentaries, the film uses a minimum of narration and carries the themes forward primarily with the characters themselves telling their stories. Those who saw the popular film Somm that chronicled the attempts of several sommeliers to pass the Master Sommelier examinations will recognize the genre. But I think An American Wine Story is better made and more interesting. And because the story of Brooks Wine is so well told--particularly by his son and his sister--it really touches your heart.
There will be more premiere events--one in Arizona and one in Alabama are currenlty scheduled, and an East Coast premiere in Washington DC is under consideration. And then the film should go into national distribution and be widely available by the holidays this winter. When you get the chance, see it. You'll be glad you did.