It is not often that a movie about the real wine industry is produced, but this was the case this week when American Wine Story was released. It is a film focused primarily on the life of Jimi Brooks, Oregon winemaker and founder of Brooks Winery. The movie twists around the life of Jimi, his son and sister, some of the best known names in the industry, as well as some more out of the way American wine producers - who all make the American wine industry so compelling.
Click here to find American Wine Story on Amazon
Jimi Brooks was an energetic, passionate, "punk" winemaker, who came into his own in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He studied in Europe where he found his passion and drive, which eventually rolled into his pursuit to create outstanding wines in Oregon - many of which were made from varietals that went against the norm. Unfortunately this passion was cut short, and the movie gets around to the fact that Jimi passed away in 2004, cut down by a heart attack.
Filmmaker David Baker spent nearly 5 years making this film, originally conceived as a view of the American winemaker, but re-visioned as a focus around Brooks, whose story is both compelling and heartbreaking. Ultimately this is a story about the passion and drive of the American winemaker and often includes a vision that means more than just making money - it means making wine. To tell this story, Baker gives us a glimpse of the root of a winemaker's journey into wine by telling the story of a number of wine people from Oregon to Virginia, California to Missouri, and beyond. Many backgrounds, many journeys, but all with a moment of discovery where wine fills a spot and is able to touch a person and (theoretically) change lives. This is the compelling drive of the industry that outsiders sometimes don't get.
Jim Brooks' unintended lesson was not that you should be afraid to die, but that you should not be afraid to live. What is apparent by the end of this film is that wine is often a story, and people want to hear the story. They want to become a part of what they are literally putting in their mouths - they want to hear the story behind the making of it and where it comes from. American Wine Story tells several stories, all of which really can affect the way wine is consumed when it touches the right person. This is a phenom that is repeated every day, but does not touch everyone equally. Some simply want to drink wine and have an enjoyable beverage, while others take it much more personal. These folks fall deeply for the passion needed to make or discover wine and it becomes their lives. This is what happened to Jimi Brooks and many others in this movie.
The documentary style of the movie is a little quirky and mellow, but ultimately your heartstrings are pulled simply by the fact that these people have spent so much of their lives following their passions and building something that does not give instant reward (from a business standpoint, at least, and often more). To make a winery succeed you need an 8-10 year business plan - not easy to fulfill. There are few shortcuts and the permanence of the vines and the winery needed to produce wine is what makes this so much different than many other industries. I have had winemakers tell me similar versions of the story, about the fact that they only get about 30 opportunities (vintages) in life to practice their trade, and that you have to make the best of each one, or else you reduce your life's impact.
The film ultimately focuses on success stories, although successes are gauged and often not as dramatic or publicized as top name producers in the industry. The subjects featured in the film are often successful on different levels. This comes through with the underlying story of the film, which is about Pascal, the son of Jimi Brooks, who is a young man when his father dies. The films comes back to him often, but we do not know if he will succeed his father, if he has the drive or the passion his father had; that part of the story is yet to be written as Pascal is only about 21 or so at this point. What we do see is Janie, Jimi's sister, who essentially knows nothing of the wine industry, yet is thrust into it because of her brother's untimely death. In fact she succeeds, and perhaps well beyond the expectations of just everyone. We see that she has built what could be a great legacy for Pascal, with the winery now producing more than 12,000 cases per year.
Perhaps the most compelling piece of the story of Jimi Brooks is when his friends get together the day he dies and decide how to manage his harvest, which is just a few weeks away. There is no question about saving his vintage, making wine to keep his name and legacy moving. His sister is tapped to take control of the business side of things, but it is the strength of his passion and friendships that really were able to save his business, allowing it to potentially be passed along to his young son.
The movie finds it pace and finds it intent through the stories of Jimi and Janie, but also through the stories of Dick Erath, Henry Peterson-Nedry and other winemakers and distillers from Oregon, California, Arizona, Virginia and other places across America. This is where the story of passion really gets driven home, because no matter where in America you might be making wine (which is after all the name of the movie), if you are successful, you are doing it with an incredible level of commitment, drive and passion.
The movie is telling at many levels, and for those in the industry can be a favorable lesson into why we do what we do and how connected we can be by wine. Perhaps the unintended moment of passion came for me when the roll-call of winemakers at the end of the film is presented, and you really get a sense of the smallness within the industry, yet depth of passion these people have in literally every corner of the country. For me it is a re-enforcement of why I buy wine from people, not corporations.
From what I can tell, release and screenings of this film were shown earlier this year in April, but the online releases (I viewed it on Amazon) seemed to have been finalized very recently (10-14-2014 officially), as there are references in the movie all the way through September 2014. Released under Three Crows Media.
American Wine Story link on Amazon by clicking here.
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