American Wine Story is a fascinating, gritty and ultimately bittersweet movie about the people who give up their day jobs to make wine in unexpected places across the United States. It focuses on the story of Brooks Wines, a small but fast-growing winery in Oregon founded in 1998, and the outpouring of support from others in the industry on the untimely death of its founder in 2004.
The documentary is playing at film festivals, including Mendocino and Newport Beach, and it will get a special showing, appropriately enough, prior to the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville, Ore., on July 24. Negotiations are in the works for a wider September release.
It's worth seeing for two reasons. The story of Jimi Brooks will tug at your heart. The Portland native, bit by the wine bug, dropped everything and spent several years doing menial work at wine estates in France before planting his own vineyard and starting his own winery in Oregon. When he died of a heart attack at age 38, his sister was initially reluctant to get involved, but we see her running it as his son grows into adulthood in the business he inherited. The story gains added depth from the warmth and generosity of the wine community around them.
Other interviews in this movie reveal a range of winemakers, wine sellers and commentators who leave behind lucrative careers to pursue the magic of wine. Their stories are set in Virginia, Arizona, Missouri, California and Washington, where Drew Bledsoe, the former NFL quarterback, born in eastern Washington, started Doubleback vineyard and winery as a sort of homecoming. Dick Erath talks about being a pioneer in a new region, something he did in Oregon and now, again, in Arizona. Harry Peterson-Nedry reflects on how the wine community comes together when it needs to.
Although the trailer promotes the film as a broad look at stories across the country, it's the Brooks tale that dominates. David Baker, making his directorial debut, sprinkles it throughout, so the film comes off as more of an impressionist mosaic than a straight narrative. There are lot of talking heads, as they say in the moving-image business, but there are also stunning shots of vineyards and people at work in wineries. Without having seen the trailer, you might wonder why a piece that starts in Willamette Valley is suddenly telling us about Monticello and Tucson.
Some may find that a shortcoming, but the individual passions for wine come through. It's a movie any winemaker—heck, any wine lover—can easily relate to.