Quite honestly, there aren’t many high quality wine wine documentary movies out there. The wine industry is awfully hard to create high quality film, in large part because so much of what actually happens in the industry is contained within a small segment of the year: harvest. For a documentary filmmaker, having to film the 16 hour days that accompany harvest can be almost impossible. It’s hard to build trust with winemakers quickly enough to have unfettered access during harvest.
Plus, if you’re trying to make a wine documentary, it’s hard to know where to start. Too often those in Hollywood, don’t know how the wine industry works and vice versa.
Somm: A wine documentary that’s about the people studying for the Master Sommelier exam. With less than 200 Master Sommelier’s in history, the documentary filmmakers are creating drama by saying that not everyone studying for the exam, will pass. Winemakers and wine regions from California to France and Italy are featured in such a way as to prove that it’s impossible to know everything about wine.
My personal thoughts on the wine documentary Somm: The most popular documentary series about wine, it’s a pass for me. I’d prefer to see more of the people actually making the wine, rather than the people studying it. Think about a documentary about a chef, do the filmmakers follow around the food critic or the chef himself?
Mondovino: Attempts to show how the wine industry is changing based on globalization. There are some cringe worthy moments in the movie, normally held to only American winemakers, largely due to the relationship between vintners and their vineyard workers, often low wage immigrant labor from Mexico. Mondovino is shot in a single camera, interview style and does a good job introducing you to a cast of characters in the wine industry in both France and California.
My Personal View of Mondovino: I like the overall concept enough, there is a very real difference between corporate winemaking and small batch winemaking. But, I think the folks behind Mondovino miss the mark by trying to set the wine documentary up as a California vs France, Good vs Bad thing. There’s plenty of small scale wine in California, even more as a percentage than there is in France, so this felt contrived on a few levels.
A Year In: So, there’s a few of these. There’s a Year in Champagne. A Year in Burgundy etc. I LOVE the concept of showing an entire year of the wine industry in a specific region. In my opinion, it’s the only real way to show what actually happens. After all, it’s not necessarily a skill or any specific task that makes winemaking hard, or nearly impossible. Instead it’s the mental grind of planning ahead and truly being at nature’s mercy all the time. The Year in Champagne, is really the first wine documentary that in my opinion shows how
American Wine Story: This was the first wine documentary that I watched and said, yup….that was awesome! Part of it I’m sure was familiarity. I’ve shipped Brooks Wines before (the story is about the death of the founder of Brooks and how his son, being raised in the midwest owned a winery and how winemakers kept the winery alive until he could take over). Plus, some old friends including Cartograph Wines were interviewed for the project. American Wine Story is a great story of perseverance and I really liked seeing Oregon on film since seemingly, every domestic wine documentary seems to be based in Napa Valley.
Blood Into Wine: Another wine documentary set outside of Napa, which is a good thing. Blood Into Wine is the story of Maynard Keys, the former lead singer of Tool becoming a winemaker in his native Arizona. Having tasted these wines over a lunch with Keys, it was interesting to see him on film talking about his project. If you have any interest at all in wine being made in what is called the “Other 46” this is an essential wine documentary.
Decanted: Ok, so not surprisingly, another wine documentary set in Napa Valley. Decanted does the best job of all the wine doc’s out there at actually interviewing winemakers, however the entire thing feels a bit disjointed. It’s almost like the folks behind it, ran into so many awesome stories that they didn’t feel like they could pick a single one. So they tried to tell them all, at once-which lost some of the appeal for me. The visuals are stunning of course, but it just still feels incomplete.
As more wine documentaries are released, I’ll try and keep this list updated. If I had to make a suggestion, Somm is a fun watch overall if you aren’t expecting winemaking. American Wine Story and Blood Into Wine are the best wine doc’s out there right now though.