Burgundy: People with a Passion for Wine

It was a beautiful evening in Beaune. We had checked into our small hotel and headed downstairs for dinner. Many memories of that summer in France as a college student studying French have faded with time, but not this meal and not the wine. This red elixir moved me. I had never had wine like this before. Our hosts kept bringing us bottle after bottle to the dinner table. We drank well into the night. Our dinner celebration spilled into the streets near our hotel, where you could hear our laughter before a backdrop of a clear, starry night. My best friend on this trip, who never drank wine, was giddy with delight. She said, “I don’t even like wine!” But that night, we all fell in love with Beaune, with Burgundy, with pinot noir.


The award-winning documentary, Burgundy: People with a Passion for Wine, a film by Rudi Goldman Productions released October 13, 2016, captures a similar sense of celebration. Through a series of video snapshots across time and place, the door into Burgundy’s wine, culture, and lifestyle is opened to us. For one hour, we become Burgundy. We experience the excitement of harvest. We learn of the power of Mother Nature’s wrath when hail damages precious grapevines. We listen to the wisdom of notable producers such as Maison Alex Gambal, Domaine Huber-Verdereau, Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Coffinet-Duvernay, Maison Olivier Leflaive, Château de la Crée, Domaine Vincent Bouzereau, and Château de Santenay. Other perspectives of Burgundy, such as those from Laurent Peugeot (Michelin Starred Chef/Owner of Le Charlemagne, Pernand-Vergelesses), Jérôme Brochot (Michelin Starred Chef/Owner, Jérôme Brochot Hotel-Restaurant Montceau-les-Mines), Willy Roulendes (a grape harvester from New Zealand), and Romain Schneider (Tonnelerie François Frères Saint Romain), are intertwined to give us a comprehensive portrait of the wine, food, and people of Burgundy. Scattered amongst these renowned tastemakers, we catch a glimpse of other cultural aspects of Burgundy. Especially captivating for me was Burgundy truffle hunting with Karine Magnin of Les Truffières de Crépey, Aubaine.

During this hour inside of Burgundy, we attend celebratory events such as a traditional harvest lunch, the Great Burgundy Wine Festival, the Confrérie des Grumeurs de Santenay, the Hospices de Beaune Press Tasting, the Semi-Marathon de la Vente des vins de Beaune, the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction, and La Paulée de Meursault.


As states the film, Burgundy winemaking is like Baroque music. It possesses a duality of complexity and simplicity. Its minimalist approach and great diversity of terroir result in some of the world’s greatest wines, exhibiting exemplary structure, acidity, and balance. Vintage variation means that these wines are never duplicated again.


As explains Cécile Mathiaud, press contact for the Bureau interprofessionel des vins de Bourgogne, there exists a word in French that we do not have, gourmand(e). It means to eat, drink, and enjoy with pleasure. With this one word, she identifies the essence of Burgundy. Across these portraitures of Burgundy, one begins to feel the humanity and passion that is Burgundy. This film took me back to that evening in Beaune years ago. In that moment and during this viewing, nous sommes gourmands. Nous sommes Bourgogne.

Video and photos courtesy of Rudi Goldman Productions

Reflections on A Year in Champagne

Champagne was once elusive to me. I had tasted sparkling wines à la méthode traditionelle, but never had tasted Champagne until a few years ago. My first Champagne was a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut NV Yellow Label in October of 2012. I had purchased it to participate in my first #ChampagneDay virtual tasting and so I could practice opening the bottle, as I had just completed WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 1 Foundation and was taking WSET Level 2 Intermediate. I had never opened a sparkling wine bottle before. My ex-boyfriend told me I was awkward and I could never learn to do it correctly. As karma would have it, I nailed it, and I have never failed since. Since then, I have grown to love and appreciate Champagne.

A Year in Champagne Poster (ayearinchampagne.com)
A Year in Champagne Poster (ayearinchampagne.com)

I have had a few passions in my life: music, French, travel, and wine. For me, A Year in Champagne showcases all of these passions as renowned importer Martine Saunier pays visits to six Champagne houses: Champagne Saint-Chamant, Stéphane Coquillette (S. Coquillette), Gonet-Médeville, Bollinger, Diebolt-Vallois, and Gosset. Written and directed by David Kennard, the movie is the second in a series, the first being A Year in Burgundy, which I also reviewed.

The musical score is abundant with classical music masterpieces, such as Gabriel Faure’s Sicilienne, Op.78, a piece I immediately recognized as one of my best and favorite flute performances from my high school years.

A family celebration dinner (ayearinchampagne.com)
A family celebration dinner (ayearinchampagne.com)

Then there’s French, the first great love of my life. I taught French for 24 years, so any time I’m given the opportunity to immerse myself in the language and culture, I dive in headfirst. The movie captures many of the nuances of French culture, both at work and at home. It touches on winery and family life, meals, winery family dogs, traditions, religion, and even basic greetings and politeness. If I were still teaching French, A Year in Champagne would be a part of my lesson plan.

As to travel, I envisioned myself through the eyes of the cinematographer and cast, riding in the hot air balloon, walking through vineyards and cellars, toasting at mealtimes, and flying on the crop dusting helicopter. Perhaps someday, I will visit Champagne.

Explaining remuage (ayearinchampagne.com)
Explaining remuage (ayearinchampagne.com)

Most importantly, there’s wine. The creation of the wine we know as Champagne is presented à travers the very challenging, mostly sunless, cool, and wet 2012 vintage season: spring, summer, harvest, and winter. The viewers receive a veritable lesson in history, terroir, vineyard management, and winemaking. The movie captures both the magic and the technology of Champagne production, including vineyard pruning choices, harvesting, fermentation, remuage (often by hand), dégourgement, dosage, and second fermentation in the bottle. If only my WSET instructors could have demonstrated Champagne production the way A Year in Champagne does.

A hot air balloon ride in Champagne (ayearinchampagne.com)
A hot air balloon ride in Champagne (ayearinchampagne.com)

Champagne is not just any wine, but rather is the thread that weaves the tapestry of life in this northernmost winemaking appellation in continental Europe. From death and destruction, the war-ridden region of Champagne has survived, making some of the world’s most celebrated wines for hundreds of years.

As movie bonuses, the Gonet-Médeville family dog, Bouchon (Cork), steals his scenes, and the best quote comes at the end of the movie:  It [Champagne] makes women lovelier and men wittier. I couldn’t agree more.

A Year in Champagne will be available to the public starting March 6, 2015. For a complete list of showtimes and locations, visit this link. To pre-order the film on iTunes, visit this link.

Santé, bonheur, et prospérité!

Wine and a Movie: Under the Tuscan Sun Paired With Wines of Tuscany

Under The Tuscan Sun
Under The Tuscan Sun. Source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/16395986118151053/

You know when you come across one of those empty shell people, and you think “What the hell happened to you?” Well, there came a time in each one of those lives where they are standing at a crossroads…someplace where they had to decide whether to turn left or right. This is no time to be a chicken-shit, Frances. ~ Patti, Under the Tuscan Sun

How I missed watching Under the Tuscan Sun, I’ll never know. Well, I do know. I’ve never been much of a movie person. Combine that with an all-consuming relationship that I thought would last forever, there just wasn’t time. In retrospect, this movie would not have meant to me then what it means to me now.

If you’ve seen the movie and you know me, you will understand the uncanny parallels of a female professor and writer unexpectedly betrayed by her life partner. After living for a while as a shell of the person she once was, she takes a leap of faith and does something crazy, she travels to Tuscany and buys a villa, Bramasole, in Cortona. Or in my case, she takes a leap of faith and does something crazy, she moves across the country to Napa, California to start a new career in the wine business. Once there, she throws herself into restoring her life, but it is slow going at first. She does not immediately find a romantic relationship, but she does have a cat and begins to connect with the people around her. Unbeknownst to her, everything she wishes for comes true, just not exactly how she planned.

Of course, there are differences. One finds the relationship she desires, the other still awaits that moment. One of us is an amazing cook; the other is a budding oenophile.

2011 Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo
2011 Frances Mayes’s Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo, Toscana IGT

The recurrent themes of the movie – rebirth, renewal, growth, love, family, friends, food, and wine – are essential to living a fulfilled life. It’s in that spirit that Frances Mayes developed her Tuscan Sun brand to include these elements, most recently, Tuscan Sun Wines.  The movie and wine were not my first exposure to the Tuscan Sun line of products. Fewer than two years ago, I reviewed the olive oil.

One of the two wines provided to me by Banner Media Group was the 2011 Frances Mayes’s Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo, Toscana IGT, which means Just perfect. This Sangiovese is delightful, especially at the price point of around $14. It’s feminine, floral, and fruity, with loads of bright cherry, raspberry, and strawberry flavors. It finishes with soft tannins, spice, and a bit of acidity. It’s aged in stainless steel, so the berry flavors have a starring role.

One of the Tuscan Sun Wines is still available at wine.com. The others can be found through retail locations or by contacting Tuscan Sun Wines.

2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot Cortona
2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot, Cortona DOC

The other wine that paired well with the movie was produced by Baracchi Winery, located just east of Cortona overlooking Valdichiana Valley. The estate villa once belonged to 17th century poet Antonio Guadagnoli. The Baracchi family restored the property and today 22 hectares of the 60-hectare property are vineyards. Also located on the estate is Relais Il Falconiere, a luxury hotel, spa, and restaurant.

The 2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot, Cortona DOC ($35.99) is aged 12 months in small French oak barrels. It’s deep garnet-red in color, with a medium body and mouthfeel. The dominant aromas and flavors are cedar and cherry and still has high tannins and a peppery, minty finish. I suggest decanting this and drinking it now.

After watching the movie and tasting the wines, my next step is to finally read the book that brought life in Tuscany to the forefront (I just purchased it!) and to always remember this,

Unthinkably good things can happen even late in the game. It’s such a surprise. ~ Frances, Under the Tuscan Sun

Cortona is now on my bucket list. And maybe, just maybe, I will learn to cook, too.

American Wine Story: A Review

I had the opportunity to preview American Wine Story the weekend of October 10-12, 2014, and after viewing it, I saw bits and pieces of myself in the movie. I moved to Napa, California nine months ago, my own leap of faith after a divine storm that shook me awake from my comfortable, yet unsatisfying life, and led me to a career in the wine industry after an initial wine epiphany in 2008.

In my mind, I also envisioned some of my wine friends in this movie: Cindy Cosco of Passaggio Wines, Mike Anderson of MTGA WinesMichael Westerberg of Hardball CellarsKim and David Vance of Zoetic WinesWilliam Allen of Three ShepherdsCarlo Razzi of Penns Woods WineryBrad and Lele Galer of Galer Estate, and Anthony Vietri of Va La Vineyards, just to name a few.

The primary focus of the movie is Oregon winemaker, Jimi Brooks, and the pursuit of his American dream. When Jimi suddenly dies in 2004 at the age of 38, the impact of his legacy is felt as a community of winemakers come together to work his harvest. Subsequently his sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, and winemaker Chris Williams save and grow Brooks Wines into the business it is today. The winery is now owned by Jimi’s son, Pascal, who at age 18, plans to join the business after college and traveling.

Passaggio Wines: Passion In A Glass
Passaggio Wines: Passion In A Glass

The supporting cast of passion-following winemakers, owners, wineries, and distillers includes other Oregonians such as Sam Tannahill of Rex Hill/A to Z, Jim Day of Panache Cellars, Dick Erath of Erath, Scott Wright of Scott Paul Wines, Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas of Boedecker Cellars, Airlie Winery, Chehalem Wines, Bull Run Distilling, Ransom Spirits, as well as those from other states, such as Alan Baker and Serena Lourie of Cartograph Wines (CA), Mike Officer and Kendall Carlisle of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards (CA), Drew Bledsoe of Doubleback (WA), Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards (VA), Cindy and Al Schornberg of Keswick Vineyards (VA), Michael Amigoni’s Amigoni Wines (MO), and Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks (AZ).

I was happy to see some wineries from nontraditional wine states included. However, I kept thinking, “What about the Finger Lakes and other areas of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, etc.? ” There are so many American wine stories to be told.

While on the surface, the movie is about the irresistible, career-changing call to make wine, it is ultimately a movie about living life in the moment, listening to your heart, and following your passion without hesitation, regardless of your career choice. As Pascal Brooks says near the end of the movie, “I’m not afraid to die, but I’m really afraid not to live.”

The movie will be available for purchase on October 14, 2014.

A Year in Burgundy: A Film Review

Gorgeous Burgundy
Gorgeous Burgundy

A Year in Burgundy follows San Francisco-based wine importer Martine Saunier and seven of her wineries – Domaine Leroy, Domaine Perrot-Minot, Domaine Morey-Coffinet, Domaine Bruno Clavelier, Domaine Mortet, Domaine Michel Gay & Fils, and Dominique Cornin – across the 2011 vintage year. Saunier is unique in her business, as she only imports wines from people and wineries she knows personally and visits frequently, some of which have been making wine for five generations.

The film begins with a wine trade show in San Francisco to introduce us as to why wines from Burgundy are some of the best in the world: they’re a balance of nature, terroir, and human artistry.

Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy
Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy

From that point on, the film itself resembles the birth, growth, and development of a Burgundian wine – a delicate balance of education, history, humanity, nature, and personalities – as we learn about each winemaker-artist’s approach to both life and winemaking and follow them through the four seasons of the year: spring, summer, harvest (not autumn or fall), and winter. The 2011 vintage year was a challenging one, which began with an early heat wave and bud break, continued with a summer drought, and then concluded with wet, cold rains at the end of summer close to harvest that precipitated the risk of mildew and rot to the grapes.

Tastevinage at Château du Clos de Vougeot
Tastevinage at Château du Clos de Vougeot

The viewers also learn a little about French culture especially as it concerns the importance of meals, as they witness a four-generation family meal at Domaine Morey-Coffinet, the annual Tastevinage of the Chevaliers du Tastevin at Château du Clos de Vougeot, and one of 14, four-course harvest meals at Domaine Morey-Coffinet prepared by Thibault Morey’s mother, Fabienne.

An added treat is that the movie’s music is composed by one of the younger-generation winemakers, Thibault Morey of Domaine Morey-Coffinet.

Composer and Winemaker Thibault Morey of Domaine Morey-Coffinet
Composer and Winemaker Thibault Morey of Domaine Morey-Coffinet

Like life and wine, the movie is very cyclical and circular, and holds you in its spell until the end when all comes to fruition, both literally and figuratively.

As someone who studied abroad in France and had my first wine moment in Beaune at age 21, as well as someone who has been tasting and studying wine both formally and informally for five years, this film is not to be missed, especially by Francophiles, those in the wine business, or those who study and/or love wine.

The cellar at Domaine Morey-Coffinet
The cellar at Domaine Morey-Coffinet

Information about the DVD release of the film can be found at this link, while the VOD version will be released Tuesday, November 5, 2013 via Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, and other VOD platforms.

(All photos courtesy of www.ayearinburgundy.com/gallery/film-stills/)