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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Natural Wine Movie Comes with Real Wine

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 9:50 AM

click to enlarge "Wine From Here" director Martin Carel - W. BLAKE GRAY
  • W. Blake Gray
  • "Wine From Here" director Martin Carel

"Wine From Here": First public screening

Where: Victoria Theatre

When: Thursday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m.

Cost: $15, includes wine AND there's a discount for SFoodie readers (see below)

"Natural wine" is one of the most interesting, ill-defined movements in the food world. A software creator from Quebec came to California to make a documentary about it, and the film's first public screening is Thursday.

Martin Carel won't call the showing of his film "Wine From Here" a premier because film festivals might want to use that title. So put it this way: nobody has seen it yet. And there's a great bonus: six of the winemakers he interviews will be at the screening, and will pour their wines later at Heart wine bar, with $5 worth of wine included in the film ticket price.

The six winemakers scheduled to attend are:

Michael Dashe, Dashe Cellars

Kevin Kelley, Natural Process Alliance

Steve Edmunds, Edmunds St. John

Tony Coturri, Coturri Winery

Darek Trowbridge, Old World Winery

Gideon Beinstock, Clos Saron

Hank Beckmeyer, La Clarine Farm

So what exactly is "natural wine?" Carel says the best definition he's heard is this: "It's a traditional view of a wine where wine is an expression of terroir and a grape variety with minimal intervention from a winemaker."

However, there's strong disagreement among winemakers about exactly what "minimal intervention" means. At one extreme is Tony Coturri, who farms organically and adds no sulfites to preserve his wine. That's purist, but makes the wine prone to losing its fresh fruit flavors over time. (FYI: If you think you're allergic to sulfites, you're most likely wrong.)

At the other are a legion of winemakers who say all winemaking is intervention, because even the choice of which day to pick grapes is a human's decision with tremendous consequences for how the wine will taste. They differentiate themselves from corporate winemakers who might think of grapes as nothing more than ingredients, using reverse osmosis to reduce the alcohol in their wines to lower the tax rate, for example.

I have spent a lot of time talking about natural wine, and to me, it's fascinating but impossible to characterize. Should a farmer throw away his year's crop if it develops mold, or spray it with a compound -- organic or not -- to rescue it? What happens if a yeast that gives off bad odors takes over fermentation?

The fact that these are complex questions with no easy answers makes it a good topic for a film, even for an unlikely first-time filmmaker.

Carel, 34, lost his tech job in 2008 in the economic downturn, so he decided that rather than going right back to work, he'd make a movie. He read a blog post by Remy Charest in 2010 about natural wine and that inspired the topic. But rather than do the film in France, he wanted to shoot it in northern California, mostly because his brother Matthieu was here, but also because, "In California, the natural wine movement is budding. It has some momentum right now. People are arguing about the topic."

Carel and his brother worked together for a couple of months. Then his brother got a real job and wanted to finish the film. "He said, let's do something 10 minutes long and put it online," Carel said, over a vegetarian sandwich from Out the Door. "But I kept being told, 'You really need to see (Ridge Vineyards president) Paul Draper. You really need to see this person or that person. I wanted to go further."

The end result is exactly 60 minutes, long enough for feature length in festivals, but short enough to sell to television. Carel did his own cinematography and editing, which gives the film a DIY aesthetic not unlike that of the winemakers he interviewed.

And also just like a natural wine -- they're known for unusual, non-fruit flavors -- I can't say whether you or I will like it, but hopefully it will at least be interesting.

Now about that SFoodie Reader discount: Tickets for the film are available here. Use the code "SFWEEKLY" (one word, all caps) and you'll get $5 off the ticket price. Keep in mind that the ticket includes $5 worth of some of the wines talked about at the tasting afterward at Heart wine bar.

You might bring your own wine glass: Heart insists on pouring wine into Mason jars, placing hipsterism above aroma. Fortunately the winemakers we'll see in the movie take the opposite approach.

You can watch a trailer for the film here.

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W. Blake Gray

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