There are plenty of reasons to move to Minnesota: 10,000 lakes, two cities, lutefisk, a mall with a roller coaster inside. Less common: To make wine. Yet here's Sonoma wine vet and Kasota, Minn., transplant Mike Drash in the trailer for the new documentary Wine Diamonds: Uncorking America's Heartland: "I got to put on Facebook to all my California friends, 'I walked uphill in 40-below-zero weather to work today,'" at Chankaska Creek vineyard. "They really thought I was crazy."
The film, its title a reference to the tartrate crystals that can develop in wine in frigid environments, gives a look at a wine movement that's quietly coming up at the extremes of viticulture in the upper Midwest. “One of the challenges in non-traditional wine regions is [the notion] that good wine is made in a couple of places in the world, and that in every place else the wine isn’t good,” film director Brad Johnson told Unfiltered.
The film spotlights five winemaking families in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota who share the struggles and successes of winemaking at the fringe. “These are brand-new grapes that in some cases have only been hybridized and planted in the ground for six years to 20 years,” Johnson explained. “The winemakers are taking 2,000 years' worth of winemaking knowledge and applying it to these grapes that typically are a challenge to make into an exceptional wine.”
Since its completion in 2016, the film has appeared around the festival circuit and was released this month on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime and Vimeo. “I hope that people see this and say, ‘You know what, there’s a winery down the road, and it may not make Cab, it may not make Pinot, it may not make Chardonnay, but they make a heck of a Vidal or really amazing Brianna, and I want to try it; I want to appreciate it and I want to serve it for Thanksgiving dinner,’” Johnson said. We'll skoal to that.
When director Bruno Sauvard came across a community of renegade natural winemakers in the Occitania region of southwest France, he was initially inspired to write an original screenplay based on their practices and lives. But after spending time with the winemakers, he and producer Nicolas Manuel decided their stories would be better told unscripted. “We decided that they were so incredible that there was no need to put any fiction around them, that they would make a perfect film by themselves,” Manuel, of production company Pintxos, told Unfiltered. Thus, Wine Calling was born, joining the ranks of 2018 wine documentaries like Uncrushable, Somm 3 and Wine Diamonds.
The film follows eight natural winemakers during the 2016 and 2017 harvests, all of whom “are kind of forming a group because they help each other in their work, they know each other, they ask questions to each other and are more or less friends,” said Manuel.
One goal of the documentary was to shed light on common misconceptions tied to natural winemaking, like the idea that it’s easier to do than "conventional" winemaking. (In the trailer, one of the vignerons reads off a recently published indictment of natural wine: "They're lazy wines, full of flaws, but they appeal to 'neo-winemakers' and 'neo-consumers' who see these fake flavors as an expression of the terroir. It's a regression." He makes a face.)
“The winemakers we have here are really high-level winemakers,” Manuel said. “They have a lot to say about their hard work and their passion for natural wine.” And they clearly have fun on the job, as the trailer follows them from vineyard to cellar to party to … one fellow surfing atop a moving tractor in his skivvies. The film debuted in French theaters last week and will be released in the U.S. in spring 2019.
Watch out, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade: There's another basketball player vying for the title of MVE (Most Valuable Enophile). New Orleans Pelicans power forward Nikola Mirotic is making a name for himself both as an athlete and wine spectator thanks to a vinous bet made with fellow Pelican Jrue Holiday.
When Mirotic scored a hefty 30 points in last Wednesday's game against the Houston Rockets, Holiday promised to buy his teammate a bottle of wine every time he repeated the feat. Mirotic, who only hit the 30-point mark once last season, responded to the incentive by scoring 36 points during the very next game—a career high! Holiday was later spotted taking wine suggestions in the Pelicans locker room.
"I don’t even drink," Holiday said, according to local news outlet Nola.com. "I don’t even know what to get him."
He eventually made good on his end of the deal: A bottle of McEvoy Ranch Montepulciano 2014 was waiting in Mirotic's locker on Sunday. The bold choice of a lesser-known Italian grape planted in Marin County aptly reflects the scrappy style of play that has led the Pelicans to a 3-0 season so far, while a wine-less LeBron led the Lakers to a winless 0-3 start.
McEvoy Ranch expressed excitement over being chosen as the Pelicans player's reward, but for now, the North Bay winery and farm remains loyal to its own Golden State Warriors.
"We’re impressed to hear about Nicola’s 36 points and even more impressed with Jrue’s astute taste in wine," McEvoy Ranch general manager Samantha Dorsey told Unfiltered via email. "We’re looking forward to seeing the Pelicans here at Oracle Arena on Halloween night for a good scare from our hometown Dubs!"
If Mirotic scores another 30-plus and helps the Pelicans win against the reigning NBA Champs on their home turf, perhaps Holiday should make a quick drive up to California wine country to get the next bottle straight from the source.
We're always pleased to report when the wine world's seasoned vets and success stories give back to the community by donating to educational initiatives for tomorrow's young minds of fine wine. This week brings news that the Sichel Family Foundation is making a $100,000 contribution to Sonoma State University in support of the new Wine Spectator Learning Center for SSU's Wine Business Institute (WBI).
"Our small family foundation has become more focused on education as my generation of family members have become parents," Bettina Sichel, president of Laurel Glen Vineyard in Sonoma and daughter of Germany-born winemaker and merchant, 1989 Wine Spectator Distinguished Service Award winner and living legend in the biz Peter M.F. Sichel. "In the case of the Wine Spectator Learning Center, there were so many great overlaps that the gift seemed like a no-brainer: I am so proud of having the Wine Business Center in my back yard; Marvin Shanken and my dad have been good friends for decades; [and] my father has been an advocate for and a leader in wine education his entire career. "
The $11 million, 15,000-square foot facility opened in May, backed by a $3 million contribution from the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. It houses three contemporary classrooms, a student commons, faculty offices, meeting rooms and a café for the WBI, which is part of the university's School of Business and Economics.
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