What would a top sommelier do if he lost his palate? That premise is the foundation of a new film attracting international attention. El Camino Del Vino (in English, “The Ways of Wine”) is a promising Argentinean drama making the round of International Film Festivals, with plans for an American release sometime this year.
El Camino is the directorial debut of 30-year-old filmmaker and wine lover Nicolás Carreras and stars Miami-based sommelier and wine educator Charlie Arturaola. His co-stars are a cast of wine-and-food pros playing themselves, including Bordeaux enologist Michel Rolland, sommelier Andreas Larsson (named best sommelier in the world in 2007 by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale), chef Donato de Santis (former personal cook for Gianni Versace) and some of the Mendoza wine region’s more influential winemakers, including Susana Balbo, Raul Bianchi and Jean Bousquet.
The storyline starts with a frightening prospect for a wine taster—Arturaola shows up in Mendoza to participate in a food-and-wine conference only to discover that he has mysteriously lost his sense of taste and smell. After Rolland counsels him to reconnect with the terroir and wines of Mendoza, Arturaola begins a pilgrimage of working in the vineyards, tasting and drinking. Ultimately his journey brings he and his wife, wine broker Pandora Anwyl, to his birthplace in Montevideo, Uruguay, to rediscover himself along with his first wine memories.
“Charlie loses his palate,” Arturaola told Wine Spectator in an interview at Berlin’s International Film Festival in February. “And to find it, he goes searching for his soul, his beginnings.”
Carreras and his team began filming El Camino del Vino not as a drama but as a documentary about Arturaola and other sommeliers in Mendoza for the Masters of Food and Wine gathering. “It was going to be about sommeliers around the world and we got the dream team together, but the dream team was really boring,” Arturaola said. “People weren’t going to want to watch six sommeliers going around Mendoza drinking wine—that is a really boring documentary.“
To spice up the film, Carreras said, “We just happened to get this idea of: What if we introduced an element of fiction?” The director proposed the palate-loss idea to Arturaola who, after some initial shock, accepted the idea of working on a fictitious drama with only a loose script.
Arturaola, 49, has no training as an actor, but is a natural showman who speaks five languages. The 95-minute film is shot in documentary style as it follows Arturaola on his journey. As a sommelier playing the role, Arturaola said making the film presented several challenges—not the least of which were pretending not to smell and taste some great wines. “It was like starting from zero again,” he said. “We’re not glorifying the job of sommelier. We’re letting people know that the sommelier is flesh and blood like everybody else.”