“And the Oscar Goes to”: Wine Masters Documentary

I’m a sucker for wine movies.  Fact or fiction, drama or documentary – if it’s even remotely related to the world of wine, sign me up.  However, even though I will watch most anything about wine – I’ll also know within ten minutes whether I’m going to keep watching it . . .

So when a few minutes into my first episode Marcel Guigal talked about how his father, winery founder Etienne, saw his family’s future on the steep hillsides of Côte-Rôtie, I knew that I was all-in on Wine Masters.  Wine Masters is a cinematic documentary series that aims to tell “the stories about terroir, taste and tradition through the experience of some of the most prestigious wine producing families from each wine region.”  Currently shooting their second season in Italy, with Spain already chosen for the third season, the producers plan to shoot a total of seven seasons for the series (fingers crossed for a Pacific Northwest season!)

The producer of Wine Masters, Klaas de Jong, provided me with a complimentary screening link to watch the first season of the series in exchange for an independent and honest review.  My thoughts are as follows (spoiler alert: I enjoyed the series so much that I ended purchasing it so I could watch in the future when my temporary link expired!).

The first season of Wine Masters covers five different wine regions in France: the Rhône, Loire, Alsace, Burgundy and Bordeaux.  In each episode, a local wine producing family is featured who share their winemaking stories – including their family’s history, plans for the future, unique styles of wine and challenges faced.  The series does an excellent job of taking wine regions that are rather intimidating (Burgundy and Bordeaux – I’m looking right at you two) and making them more approachable through these winemaking families. These are very recognizable names like Guigal, Trimbach and Drouhin.  Families who truly ARE Wine Masters.

Although each family is unique, a major overarching theme is the relationship between the generations and the passing of the baton from one to another.  This was probably my favorite part of the series – the interaction (and sometimes subtle conflict) between the traditional/formal older generation and the more experimental/innovative younger one.  While the younger generation is focused on issues like internet sales and online presence, the older concentrates on – as Bordeaux winemaker Hubert de Boüard de Laforest so eloquently puts it – “keeping the soul” of the winery.

One of the great things about Wine Masters is that in order to enjoy the series you don’t need to know anything about wine.  This is thanks in large part to two very important supporting roles featuring Tim Atkin and Jeannie Cho Lee. In fact, since this IS Oscar season, let’s just go ahead and give these two – and others – their awards…

Outwines Oscars

Live! From the Red Carpet – Outwines is proud to present the Wine Masters Oscars! 

Best Supporting Roles.

In addition to the winemaking families, two Masters of Wine are present in each episode to help guide the viewer along the way: Tim Atkin and Jeannie Cho Lee.

These two MWs help set the scene of each region by discussing its location, varieties grown, climate, food pairing (particularly interesting in the Alsace episode!) and more.  They also add various anecdotes throughout the series – my favorite being that Napoleon’s troops used to salute Le Montrachet when they went by the famed vineyard (who knew?!).

Tim and Jeannie’s commentary not only make the regions come to life a bit more, but they also explain concepts on a level that even a relative wine newbie can understand (Hubs can attest to this!).  From the myriad of soil types in Sancerre to the rather confusing sweetness levels of Alsatian Riesling,  the MWs do an excellent job of analyzing these issues in plain English.

Technical Awards.

The cinematography was absolutely gorgeous throughout the series.  I’ve only been to two of the five regions (Rhône & Burgundy), and the scenes very much reminded me of being there – particularly Côte-Rôtie. And for the three regions I’ve yet to visit, the producers did a VERY good job of making me want to go there.

Guigal vineyards
I stood right in front of Guigal’s vineyards in 2016!

The score was beautifully done as well.  For the majority of the series, it was a lovely, melodious part of the background.  Except for that one cooperage scene at Guigal – have your volume button on the remote handy for that one.

And now for some other Awards  . . . and yes, I realize these sound more like High School favorites than film categories:

Best dressed.  Marcel Guigal is the consummate gentleman.  Especially with his jaunty beret and suit jacket traipsing through his vineyards alongside his more casually dressed son, Philippe, who was sporting a Seattle Mariners baseball hat.  Which of course gets major props from this Washington native! 🙂

Best line.  Hubert de Boüard de Laforest on why Cabernet Franc makes up such a large percentage of their blends: “it makes your mind more happy.”

Most Athletic.  The entire Bourgeois Family.  There’s a scene where they’re tasting and evaluating their wines – and their beautifully accurate projectile spitting was flat-out impressive.  I still have to have a cup literally RIGHT in front of me, and even then there’s the occasional dribble.

Best Foreign Language.  Many of the older generation.  So unless you’re fluent in French, make sure to have your subtitles turned on so you understand what they’re saying (something I unfortunately figured out once I was well into my first episode).

Most Likely to Succeed.  Anne Trimbach.  Well aware of the challenges that Riesling has on markets due to lack of clarity as to how sweet the wine will be, Anne discusses implementing a “sweetness scale” on Trimbach bottles in the future.  Something like this will definitely help consumers embrace this often misunderstood variety.

Best Scene. Family dinner with the Drouhins where they open their bottling of a 1978 Grands Échezeaux.  Seeing some of the family member’s expressions of pure delight after sipping this wine is . . . well, delightful. They’re sharing a simple meal of cheese and bread with a bottle of wine that would cost well over $1,000 in today’s market.  Just enjoying an afternoon and each other’s company – and isn’t that what wine should be all about?

I’m already looking forward to seeing what Wine Masters has in store for their second season in Italy.  If you’re a fan of wine (if you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming the answer is yes!) – check out the Wine Masters documentary series.  To conclude, in the spirt of Sally Field on her Best Actress acceptance speech: you’ll like it, you’ll really like it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Wine “Best Of” 2018 – With Nary a Bottle in Sight

As 2018 comes to an end, many wine enthusiasts/geeks/bloggers put together their “Top Bottles I Drank this Year” lists.  While I do enjoy reading these posts, when I personally think back to my year in wine what comes to mind first isn’t the bottles that I drank, but my wine experiences: the places I’ve traveled, people I’ve met, events I’ve attended.  To me, these are more memorable then the wine I’ve consumed – and that includes the (purported) DRC.  I suppose this train of thought is keeping in line with me attributing my wine “a-ha” moment to a person as opposed to a bottle. 🙂

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 wine experiences of 2018:

My First Sabrage.  This “top moment” wasn’t so much about the actual sabering itself, but the fact that it occurred at my work goodbye party just before moving down to Southern California.  I’d been an employee of Capri Cellars for almost four years – it was my first job in the wine industry and will always hold a special place in my heart.  As a going away present, the owner and staff gave me a gorgeous saber and a bottle of Blanquette de Limoux (a sign perhaps?) to try it out on.  For my first attempt – I think I did quite well!

Starting the WSET Diploma.  Shortly after moving down to Southern California, I started my WSET Diploma studies at Neptune School of Wine.  (Oddly enough, even if we hadn’t moved here I was still planning on taking my classes at Neptune since there wasn’t anywhere in the Pacific Northwest that taught Diploma).  Over the past several months, I feel like I’ve become exponentially more well versed in Viticulture, Winemaking and Sparkling Wines having taken and passed Unit 2 (with distinction) and taken (and hopefully passed!) Unit 5.  I’ve likely got a couple more years before completing the entire program, and after that . . . who knows?

Joining The Vintner Project.  I discovered The Vintner Project (TVP) after seeing their post highlighting a winemaking couple in my hometown.  It’s not too often that something crosses my Instagram feed with the hashtag #Richland, so needless to say I was intrigued.  The goal of TVP is to focus on the stories and people behind the wine as opposed to scores or ubiquitous tasting notes.  Since these are the types of stories that I’d like to focus on myself, in May I joined The Vintner Project as a contributing writer.

Meeting Online Wine Peeps – In Person.  This was definitely a highlight of 2018 – and one I hope to add more names to in 2019!  I met several online wine people face-to-face this year, but two in particular stand out for me:

I followed Winetravel on Instagram for quite awhile before realizing that she lived in Orange County (where I was moving to) and was originally from my beloved Washington state (where I was moving from).  Since relocating, we’ve gotten together several times and have become fast friends – bonding over wine and travel (her online name obviously suits her).  We live close enough to one another that I could probably walk to her house in an hour . . . less if I knew she was opening a bottle of wine from her recent trip to Italy.

I can’t recall the first time I came across Spitbucket – it might’ve been the “60 Second Wine Review” she did on one of my favorite Washington wines: Gramercy Cellars’ Picpoul.  In any case, we discovered that we’d both been students at Northwest Wine Academy, and although we knew many of the same people, our paths hadn’t crossed yet.  I finally met her at the Wine Bloggers Conference in October and immediately knew we were members of the same wine tribe – she is equally as passionate and geeky about wine as I am!  Even though we’re not within walking distance, I’m hoping that our paths continue to cross – because she’s pretty damn awesome.

Buty WineryAuction of Washington Wines.  You know that feeling when you come home for Christmas break after your first year away at college?  That’s how I felt attending the Auction of Washington Wines this year four months after moving to California.  I ran into so many familiar faces: my old neighbors, Capri Cellars customers, people Hubs used to work with, my favorite wine photographer, and a couple that I see annually at this event – where we usually end up competing for the same wines!  This year was no different – we all fell in love with a new release from Buty Winery: Rockgarden Estate Grenache.  I left the evening one of the winning bidders on a case of this lovely wine – as did my favorite competing couple.  Who says you can’t go home again?

Trip to the Finger Lakes.  I’d heard a lot about the Finger Lakes wine region (also known as FLX) over the past few years, so I was excited to visit this past summer.  And who better to go with then my Best Galfriend with whom I could have fun in a cardboard box with.  Now, I’m not equating FLX with a cardboard box – but it IS rural (and I’m FROM rural).  So if you’re thinking you’ll catch an Uber to scoot out to dinner – learn from our mistake, and think again.  Nonetheless, the region’s reputation for delicious Rieslings is well founded – FLX is absolutely knocking it out of the park with this variety.  Hubs and I have already plowed through every bottle that I brought home.

Linus and IWSPassing the Italian Wine Scholar Exam – Part 1.  After months of studying, with some major time-outs for moving and WSET, I finally took and passed the first part of my Italian Wine Scholar exam.  For Part 2 (Central & Southern Italy), I’m doing a weekend intensive class next month in Portland (taught by two of my favorite wine instructors!) and am scheduled to take the exam in early February.  Although Italian wines will always be more challenging for me to wrap my brain and palate around than French wines, I’ve learned a ton through this program.  And more importantly, I have a better appreciation for Italian wine.

Becoming a San Diego Chevalier.  Shortly before we moved, I joined the Seattle chapter of La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.  This was a fun bunch of Burgundy wine lovers and I was disappointed to be leaving them before I really had a chance to experience what the group had to offer.  Fortunately, I connected with (and joined!) the San Diego Chevaliers chapter and attended a fantastic Paulée earlier this year with my 1998 Vosne-Romanée in tow.  The next Chevaliers event is in a couple of months (it’s white tie – don’t tell Hubs or he’ll find an excuse not to come with me!) so I’ll be sure to post how that event goes.  And maybe with pictures this time. 😉

Learning From a Master of Wine.  It’s often said that in order to become better at something, you need to practice with, and learn from, someone who is much better at that “something” than you are.  A few months ago, I signed up for a series of blind tasting classes with Lindsay Pomeroy – a Master of Wine in San Diego.  In the short amount of time I’ve spent with her, I have learned so much more than I could have studying on my own with my nose in a book (or a glass).  She’s easygoing and friendly, but challenging. After I told her I was studying for the Diploma, she had higher expectations of me in her classes and would put me on the spot more often.  Which is good – because I usually don’t push myself outside of my comfort zone.  She’s giving me a level of confidence that I didn’t have before.

WBC remnantsAttending the Wine Bloggers Conference.  I know I said above that my Top 10 were in no particular order, but the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla was definitely my wine highlight this year.  It was my first year attending and it was incredible to be surrounded by so many other wine writing enthusiasts – especially in a wine region located just an hour away from where I grew up.  Bonus:  Hubs attended the entire conference with me and provided our wine “quote of the year”.

Next year’s location isn’t quite as close – the conference will be held in Hunter Valley, Australia.  However, it’s recently come to my attention (thanks Hubs!) that this can be my birthday present if I’d like it to be . . . and I think I might go for it. 🙂  And if I do, I have no doubt it will be at the top of my 2019 list!