I'm a movie buff and can churn through two or three movies a week, but it still takes time to get to everything I want to see (I'm one of those Netflix people with 400 movies in their queue). So, apologies for the lack of timeliness here, but I finally got to sit down and watch A Year in Burgundy, which has been available on pre-release DVD for a while but won't be in theaters until December. Director David Kennard has already shot his second movie in the series, A Year in Champagne, set for release in early 2014, and he's currently shooting footage for A Year in Port.
A Year in Burgundy hasn't gotten much attention yet. That's a shame, because it's actually a wine movie worth watching. You can get a copy at www.ayearinburgundy.com.
Wine movies of course are a fickle lot. There's the character-driven Sideways, easily the best-known wine movie, and it certainly had an impact. Bottle Shock is entertaining, but only because Alan Rickman's facial expressions are brilliant. A Good Year is a miserable sap fest, but hey, at least it's got Marion Cotillard and Albert Finney in it. And then there's the current movie darling of winos, Somm (more on this later).
A Year In Burgundy was produced by longtime U.S.-based importer Martine Saunier (who recently retired). As she drives her Citroën deux chevaux around to visit with her growers, you figure the cliché machine is about to kick in. But then the movie turns genuinely interesting. Basically a documentary, the movie covers the travails of several domaines, including Dominique Cornin, Michel Gay, Morey-Coffinet, Bruno Clavelier and Christophe Perrot-Minot, during the 2011 growing season and harvest, a tricky year marked by rain, hail, heat and more.
There's a nod to Burgundy's history, and the cinematography captures the charm and feel of the region. Several aerial shots are impressively rendered, while closer shots within the vineyards and cellars put you right there. When a vigneron scoops up the soil with his hands, or strikes a flinty rock against another to create a spark and aroma for Saunier, it feels genuine despite it basically being a set piece.
The scenes shot around the Sunday lunch table at chez Morey-Coffinet are enchanting, as two sides of the family relax over their own wines and the narrator notes, "It's quite something to drink a wine you made yourself 35 years ago."
There are a few talking-head shots, such as of Lalou Bize-Leroy thumping her chest over her draconian pruning practices while lambasting her supposedly slipshod neighbors. But overall, the camera follows its subjects more than stays put, which gives the movie a calm, steady energy while keeping it balanced.
The movie also pulls in other aspects of the wine world, from the pomp and circumstance of conspicuous consumption at a Chevalier de Tastevin dinner in Clos de Vougeot to a high-end collector dinner at Tennessee's Blackberry Farm. There's also a nod to how wine gets to and moves through the market. But these are minor parts, which keep things just grounded enough while letting us still relish in the romance of the subject matter. There's a good dose of reality too, as when the French police show up right at harvest time to inspect all the pickers' paperwork, whose official forms must be filled out fivefold.
No, A Year in Burgundy is not a great movie in the big scheme of things. It's a simple, direct bit of work. There are a few hiccups, such as an opening scene where the narrator talks about a Burgundy tasting going on while Paul Amsellem and Christine Vernay of the Rhône Valley's Domaine Georges Vernay are in the shot. Or the claim that Saunier knows some domaines through five generations.
But the movie is lovingly shot. It's tender and real. It shows the hard work, the travails and tribulations of working the soil for a living. It captures the romance and allure of the wine business without an overabundance of schmaltz.
Which left me wondering if A Year in Burgundy will receive the same amount of attention that has been lavished on Somm, a much-hyped wine film that glorifies a newly popular segment of the business, but fails to delve deep. A Year in Burgundy actually curates the long-standing reality, difficulties and romance of the type of small, family-fueled businesses that collectively form the backbone of the wine industry. For me, Somm is a movie that does a good job of showing inflated egos and the superficial sizzle of the wine business. A Year In Burgundy is a quiet movie that actually delivers the steak. I know which one makes me want to drink more wine.