The One about David Kennard’s “A Year in Burgundy: A Film About Wine”

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David Kennard has worked on television as director and producer for documentaries such as “2001: HAL’s Legacy”, “Surviving September 11th: The Story of One New York Family”, “Journey to the Universe”,  the TV series “Cosmos” and “Keeping Score” to name a few.

And back in 2004, along with actor John Cleese, he worked on the documentary “Wine for the Confused”.  And in 2012, Kennard went to work on another documentary about wine but this time to explore the question of “where does expensive wine come from?” and “how is it created?”.

For expensive wine, those who make it are artists and their process in making of the wine is unique and to help Kennard learn about the process, he worked with Martine Saunier, the first woman to estabish a wine importing company in the United States (Martine’s Wines in 1979) and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, she is a Chevalier du Tastevin and also decorated twice by the French government with the title of Officier du Merite Argricole.

And while Martine’s business is based in San Francisco, she is often in France several times a year to see the various wine making stages throughout the year.

We learn that the most expensive wine comes from the region of Burgundy and those who work with pinot-noir grapes for red wine and chardonnay grapes for white wine.  But in the region of Burgundy, despite certain vineyards being in close proximity, each winemaker has a different process of handling their grape vines, processing their wine but also because of its microclimate in the region, even if vineyards are close to each other, all taste different because of their surrounding area and how they are grown.

So, to best understand the art and also technology that goes into making wine, with the help of Martine Saunier, David Kennard and crew were given a chance to meet with a dozen wine making families in Burgundy and to learn and see the process of making wine during a year’s time.

Because of the personalities of these winemakers are different, we learn how it shapes the flavor of their wine but also the challenges they face, may it be winemaking passed down from generations to generations, those who use old technology versus today’s modern technology to make wine, but also the handling of the grapes, the vines, those who pick the grapes and making sure bad grapes don’t make it into the final stages of making wine or their biggest adversary in the region, storms that produce hail which can easily damage a crop and also a cold spell which doesn’t transition to cool weather but a heatwave leading to quick growth.  So, worries of frost or unusual weather can damage crops or affect the growing process.  And in recent years, farmers have faced drought.

“A Year in Burgundy” introduces us to various wine makers such as Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine de la Romanée Conti (founded in 1968), born into a family of wine and is known as the “Queen of Burgundy”.  But unlike other winemakers, she believes in biodynamic farming techniques.  Where most farmers cut and trim their vines, she believes each vine has a soul and prefers to give them love and tie them up than cut them. She is also hands-on when it comes to every phase of growth, harvest and production.

The opposite is Christophe Perrot-Minot of Domaine Perrot-Minot. Unlike others in Burgundy, his factory is modern and uses the latest technology.  He replaces traditional filtration using cutting-edge “filter-by-gravity” technology and believes in non-intervention when it comes to winemaking and uses no chemical fertilizers.

An opposite of the two are Michel Morey, his wife Fabienne Coffinet and his son Thibault of Domaine Morey-Coffinet.  While given 7-hectares of vines as a wedding present, they farmed the land and produced high quality juice but did not start bottling until 1990.  But this group avoids pesticides, fertilizers and green pruning.  Thibault even plays classical music for the wine and also has a 19th century mansion which sits atop cellars dating back to the 16th century.

Bruno Clavelier of Domaine Bruno Clavelier is a former professional rugby player and amateur geologist and he studies the soils of his vineyard, believes in low-intervention.

Dominique Cornin has learned winemaking from his family passed down from generation to generation and believes in biodynamic practices, low-intervention and nearly everything is done by hand.

For Michel and Sebastian Gay of Domaine Michel Gay & Fils, the family 24-acres of land which is small but is profitable.  And they believe in organic and believe great wine is made in the vineyard as opposed to the winery.  Everything is hand-pruned and practice “green harvests”.

“Year in Burgundy” is a film that captures a year in winemaking, the challenges that various winemakers face but also the deep history and practices that have evolved or are maintained from generation to generation.  And taking a look at why Burgundy wine is one of the most expensive wine in the world.

David Kennard’s “A Year in Burgundy” is a delightful journey to region of Burgundy.

While for wine connoisseurs who treasure the taste the wines of Burgundy and many don’t question the price of wine, especially from Domaine Romanee-Conti which have utilized vineyards since the Romans first cultivated areas of Burgundy long ago, very few cases are made and each bottle easily fetching over a hundred to a thousand dollars easily.

I for one am not an erudite when it comes to wine nor do I drink it as often as some of my friends do, but like the question that David Kennard wondered, “what makes a wine $1000” and “what is the process behind the making of the wine and the people behind it?”, I have wondered about why wine was so expensive from Burgundy and after watching “A Year in Burgundy”, I understand why.

I was captivated, I was entertained and I enjoyed “A Year in Burgundy” because it answers a lot of questions in regards to the different way wine is made in the region but why some taste differently than others and more.  But most importantly, to see the mindset of the various winemakers and their thoughts on the making of wine was very intriguing.

Part of the documentary’s efficacy is the fact that Kennard was able to have French wine importer and well-known Martine Saunier as a guide and connecting Kennard and crew to several wine-making families in the region.  In fact, through this documentary, one is able to personally see how each person approaches their vines, their concerns and the challenges they face but also what goes into making wine.

I love the fact that we get different sides of the making of wine and those who approach their grapes quite differently.

To know the famous Domaine Romanee-Conti, we are introduced to Lalou-Bize Leroy, the co-owner of Domaine Romanee-Conti but a woman that is known as “The Queen of Burgundy”.  But her approach to her vines are treating each vine with love.  She doesn’t trim the vines, she ties them up and she treats each vine with respect.  She is involved in the process and is quite hands on, but her devotion to her vines is amazing.  And at 80-years-old, her passion to her grapes is still there and the stories she shares of how she learned how to make wine and her unique perspective was fascinating.

Whereas Christophe Perrot-Minot, another man who creates expensive (yet a bit more affordable) red wine believes in using modern technology.  From the look of his office to seeing the process of where wine is made, there is no doubt that seeing Perrot-Minot’s segment, he believes in the efficiency of new technology but also respects the technology of the past when it comes to making wine.  But it’s definitely a different take as he manages many vineyards and is more business-minded and serious compared to the other winemakers featured in the documentary.

The film spends a lot of time with Michel Morey, his son Thibault and wife Fabienne Coffinet.  What I loved about this segment is the focus on family and the generations of wine-makers and to see their love of wine, not just in maintaining their vines and taking care of the grapes but their approach to business and also how they take care of the grape pickers who stay with them for the week.  I was amazed to see how upbeat everyone is and how passionate the family but also how they like to enjoy themselves and have fun after harvesting and more.

And there is so much more featured in this documentary that anyone who loves wine, especially Burgundy wine will want to see this film.

Overall, “A Year in Burgundy” is an amazing documentary for anyone passionate about wine.  The research and the access given to David Kennard throughout the four seasons is fantastic and the various and diverse winemakers and watching the different approach to winemaking and also maintaining their vines was fascinating and entertaining.

“A Year in Burgundy” is definitely one of the best documentary’s about wine but what makes  the film so enjoyable is the amount of research done, how much access each family gave Kennard and crew to see the year-long process of making wine and the challenges they faced, it’s an insightful, fascinating and very entertaining documentary that I felt watching over again and again.  That’s how much I enjoyed it and I’m sure many others will as well.

“A Year in Burgundy” is highly recommended!


 

Dennis A. Amith