There are very few films that authentically portray California’s wine industry. In terms of successful motion pictures, there are only two recent movies that even highlight the subject. 2004’s Sideways depicts two middle-aged men drinking their way though Santa Barbara County. 2008’s Bottleshock tells a fictionalized version of the Judgement of Paris, a blind tasting that took place in Europe and put the Napa Valley on the world map as an influential wine-making region comparable to the best areas in the old world. Then there is the documentary Somm, which came out in 2012, and follows the trials and tribulations of four vinopholes as they try to pass one of the most difficult tests of all time, the Master Sommelier Examination. But no film accurately illustrates what it is like to be a winemaker—until now. Late last month at the Clay Theater on Fillmore Street, Decanted, a new film from Digital Cave Media, made its San Francisco premiere.
Although Decanted made its world premiere last fall at the Napa Valley Film Festival, the film only recently became widely available on Amazon. Anyone interested in wine, Napa, and the grape-growing process should download and watch the fascinating documentary. The feature follows a Texan family, the Martins, as they develop a new winery with acclaimed winemaker Steve Reynolds. Their story of developing a brand in Coombsville, Napa’s newest appellation, is juxtaposed with established winemaker’s personal accounts of a grape-growing year. Winemakers Heidi Barrett, Aaron Pott, Philippe Melka, Julien Fayard, Michael Scholz, and Anthony Bell share the trials, tribulations, and everyday happenings of life on a vineyard.
The film is filled with revelations. When Bell, the most seasoned character portrayed—he has spent his entire life working in the wine industry—remarks that he’s “only made wine 30-some times in his life. That’s not very many,” the viewer is given a mind-blowing perspective into the raw talent that goes into making a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Compared to the repetition found in professional athletes (how many times has Stephen Curry shot a three-pointer or Hunter Pence slammed in a home run? Perhaps hundreds, maybe even thousands.), a mere 30 is practically nothing. Winemakers only get one chance per year to create magic and this is what Decanted highlights.
One of the things that makes Decanted so unique is its point of view. The film was not shot by a team of locals who know everything about the wine industry. It was made by four guys from Baltimore who have no direct ties to the valley. Director Nicholas Kovacic, producers Matthew Riggieri and Todd Yuhanick, and cinematographer Nate Pesce, are four friends who came together originally to make a documentary about the history of beer in Baltimore, Brewmore. They had a chance meeting with Reynolds at a neighborhood bar back east. When Reynolds found out that Kovacic and Riggieri were filmmakers, he told them about videos he had shot of his vineyards in Napa Valley. One thing led to another and before they could finish a bottle of St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc, the Digital Cave Media team had set up shop and started filming Decanted in California. Another refreshing quality to the film is its lack of pretention. Although the winemakers that are profiled are some of the region’s best and most-sought after producers, they are all presented in a humbling light. They are up against uncontrollable natural elements and yet, they accept this and that’s what makes their stories, histories, and ultimately the film, incredibly interesting. Check out the trailer below.