By Anna Aguillard, Intern
Inspirational, energetic, and modern, the documentary film American Wine Story depicts a side of the wine industry that goes largely unnoticed and underestimated: small, upstart wineries created by the select few people courageous enough to sell their belongings and start making wine, from scratch.
Anchored by the story of the late Jimi Brooks of Brooks Winery in Oregon, the documentary follows dozens of other modern winemakers across America, focusing on their journey towards the art of winemaking – why they fell in love with it, and why they remain dedicated to their businesses, despite the impossibilities that they encounter.
Each winemaker’s journey begins with a “wine epiphany,” the precise moment a person discovers the magic that lies inside each bottle of wine. Grape Radio personnel Jay Selman steps in with a more distinct and humorous definition: he experienced his wine epiphany after tasting a 91 Flora Springs Reserve that “made love to his soul.”
Although each of the many American winemakers featured in the documentary discovered their passion for wine in a different way, they all describe the same instinctive feeling of being compelled towards the art of wine. Once they got “bit by the bug,” they were powerless against their dream.
The film’s mood reflects this innovation, as fast-paced music and rapid, sweeping shots of flat American vineyards echo the energetic young winemakers, especially Jimi Brooks. Fresh out of college, Jimi abruptly packed up and left the United States to study wine in Europe. He returned with dreams of infusing bio-dynamics, ancient style, and against-the-grain production techniques to create a new, better wine. Part of the “young punk winemakers” of the late 90s and early 2000s, Jimi’s enthusiasm was mirrored by his contemporaries, who quit their day jobs after feeling the “stir” deep inside of themselves.
One word keeps reoccurring throughout each winemaker’s explanations for why he or she dropped everything to make wine: passion. Passion drives these once-accountants, electricians, producers, lawyers, and even pro-footballers, providing them with not only the capacity to dream, but the courage to act upon their dreams.
While the documentary does romanticize the wine industry in America, it does not attempt to hide the challenges that modern winemakers face. Mother Nature’s extreme conditions, excessive rain, and early freezes determine the vineyards’ successes and failures. Some years, vineyards do not produce even a single bottle of wine. Instead of focusing on the wineries’ disappointment, however, the documentary celebrates how each winemaker overcomes these challenges. Although there are ups and downs within the industry, there always remains promise.
The ups, down, and future promises of the wine industry are perfectly illustrated as the documentary again turns back to Jimi Brooks. Just as Jimi’s winery, Brooks Wine, was beginning to gain prominence in 2004, he fell victim to a massive heart attack. On September 4, 2004, Jimi left behind his young son, his sister, a promising winery, and a community of fellow winegrowers dedicated to continuing his legacy. His sister Janie determinedly decided that she would not give up what Jimi had begun.
The documentary convinces its audience that promise always prevails. With Jamie’s dedication, Jimi’s wine business grew exponentially, and his legacy has not been forgotten. His son Pascal, whose interview both opens and closes the documentary, is now the youngest wine-owner in America.
This film is about much more than just wine. It’s about the all-revered American Dream that working hard for something you truly love always pays off in time. The winemakers are not working for themselves, they working towards something to be achieved by their children, or their children’s’ children. They are working for the future.
The people in this documentary serve as examples of determination that can be applied to everyone, regardless of whether or not you have had a “wine epiphany” or not. They are people who have identified their passion and given all of their resources – mentally, physically, and emotionally – to pursuing their dreams.
After viewing this film, I understand so much more about what goes into something as simple as a $15.00 bottle of Riesling. A years worth of weather, centuries worth of geology, and generations of human imagination all culminate into the liquid form of the American Dream.
American Wine Story may inspire you to sell your possessions, quit your job, and start your own winery. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
For more information, please visit the documentary’s website.