What is natural wine? What does it mean to make a natural wine? And how is natural wine taking hold in the vineyards and wineries of California? Those are the questions that Wine From Here, a documentary by Martin Carel and his brother Matthieu that is premiering on Thursday night in San Francisco.
Wine From Here certainly has the tools to give any wine lover a good look at what natural wine is in today’s American wine production. It relies mainly on interviews with several of the winemakers who have been championing a natural approach to wine, meaning organic in the vineyard and minimally interventionist in the cellar (chiefly using fermentation without addition of cultured yeasts, and generally avoiding or minimizing the addition of sulfur in the wines).
Among those who contribute their knowledge and point of view are Tony Cotturi, a veteran and one of the most vocal champions of organic wine in California, Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyard (where the approach is presented as a form of pre-industrial winemaking), Kevin Kelley of Lioco and the Natural Process Alliance, Hank Beckmeyer of La Clarine Farm, Steve Edmunds of Edmunds-St John, Jared Brandt of A Donkey and Goat and Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron. These vignerons are joined by Hardy Wallace, at once a commentator and now winemaker, Ian Becker of Arlequin Wine Merchant and, especially, by Alice Feiring, the wine writer most dedicated to the cause of natural wine, with her simple definition of what natural wine is: nothing added, nothing taken out.
It is interesting that Wine From Here is premiering just as Alice Feiring is releasing her new book, Naked Wine, and touring California to present it, and also just as Jamie Goode is releasing his own book, Authentic Wine, co-authored by Sam Harrop. An alignment of planets and stars worthy of the best moments of the biodynamic calendar?
In any case, I’m particularly happy to see Wine From Here come to fruition, on a rather personal level. I had the pleasant surprised of being contacted, late last year, by filmmaker and fellow Quebec City native Martin Carel, who told me about his project and about the fact that this post on this very blog had given him the original impetus to start the project. That one of my posts could lead someone to start a movie project is extremely flattering, to say the least.
Since then, Martin Carel and I have exchanged emails and met once to discuss the project, and I had the chance to see rough cuts and the final cut online. I think there is a great amount of knowledgeable information in the movie, and some fascinating points of views from the vignerons who seek, first and foremost, to express the particular sense of place of the vineyards from which they draw their grapes. To make wine from “here”, in other words – wherever their “here” may be.
It’s hard for me to give the documentary an actual review, having followed its development as a close and involved observer. But what I can tell you is that I did learn things, listening to the interviews, and found some well-informed points of view on what terroir means and how you should seek to express it. I am confident that others would find it similarly stimulating and enlightening.
If you’re in San Francisco this Thursday, August 25, you can get to see the very first public screening of Wine From Here, at the Victoria Theatre on 16th Street. The screening is at 7 p.m., and it will be followed by a natural wine tasting, so you can join practice with theory. Tickets can be bought online right here. If you go, please comment on this blog. I’d love to know what other people are thinking about this movie.