We spent a good chunk of the last couple of weeks talking and debating about what the message of our documentary should be. What topics should make the cut and what topics should be left out. We came up with the first draft of a document we are calling our storyline. In that document we specify the topics we want to discuss and the bits of footage that we already have that can talk to those topics. We also write down ideas that should be conveyed in the voice-overs.
Of course, that storyline is a work in progress. But we are hoping to get some feedback on that as early as possible. We are looking for feedback from anyone. Be they winemakers, filmmakers, wine enthusiasts, natural wine bloggers, or kickstarter backers.
What follows is a simpler version of our storyline. Please let us know what you think, in the comments section below or by email.
1 – Context
Introduction to the wine country + locate the documentary in California
Voice-over: The United States produce more than 1.3 billion bottles of wine every year. And 90% of that happens in California. In January 2010 there were 198 American Viticultural Areas. These areas will be printed on the bottle and inform you on where the grapes come from. The most famous american viticultural area is probably Napa, although lots of other areas stretch out all over California. From the Santa Lucia Highlands in the South through Monterey to the Sierra Foothills in the East. From Sonoma Coast through Alexander Valley to Mendocino County in the North.
With that much wine being produced, the shelves of the wine stores are flooded with an incredible variety. Variety is good but it can be overwhelming to anyone interested in choosing a good wine. What makes a wine good is a very subjective topic. What makes a wine not good might be a better question. And to that question, there is a growing number of people in California proposing the answer: what makes a wine not so good is the inclusion of something other than grapes.
2 – Why you should care
Explain why the topic is important
- Care because it’s good for you. People are looking for certain things in food – wine is the next step
- Care because it’s interestingly unique
- It’s possible to make a wine with great technique that is appealing to loads of people
- And there’s nothing wrong with that except wine can be generic. Especially in California
- Difference between generic and non-generic wines
Voice-over: It might be hard to believe to newcomers that wine can be seen as generic. After all, there are loads of bottles available on the shelves so how can they all taste the same? But that’s not really what the experts mean when they talk about generic wine. The winemakers we’ve met told us about the usual offering of California: big wines with lots of alcohol and a jammy fruit taste. The wines don’t all taste the same but they are all made from the same mold.
3 – Natural wine
Describe the two pillars of natural wine
Voice-over: This might come as a shock to some people but wine is liable to contain a lot of ingredients besides grapes. Some popular additives include extra sugar, processed yeast, sulfur, or coloring. Add to that the compounds coming from the fertilizers being spread in the vineyards and the wine is suddenly a far cry from being just fermented grape juice. In reaction to that, there is a growing movement in California: making wine out of grapes only, as much as possible.
- Most wines contain a lot of chemicals but it doesn’t have to be that way
- Some natural wine definitions and perspectives
- Growing natural wine movement in California
Voice-over: The sense of place is what most people refer to when they use the French word “terroir”. The terroir is where the wine comes from. The type of soil the grapes are growing in, the rainfall and the temperature during that season, all characteristics of the vineyard which will affect the taste of the new grapes. And thus the taste of the wine. A different terroir will yield a different taste. The same type of grape can taste completely different when grown in France, in Australia, or in California. Terroir brings variety, interest and individuality to the world of wine.
- The place where the grape is grown will affect its taste
- New trend in California
- People are developing a taste for natural wine
4 – In the vineyard
Explain how to express the terroir and avoid anything but grapes in the vineyard
Organic and sustainable farming
Avoid anything but grapes and source the compost from the terroir
Voice-over: In order to have the terroir decide on the taste of the grapes, the main goal should be to grow grapes in a natural environment. Let the grapes be grapes and don’t add something that is exotic to their environment. Spraying the vines with chemicals and shooing the bugs and animals is drastically changing the environment in which the grapes are grown. By contrast, acquiring manure or fertilizers from the local farm or the actual vineyard site will strengthen the sense of locale. A lot of farmers we met had decided to farm their land organically. A lot of them also emphasized sustainability.
- There is such a thing as organic farming which contrasts to conventional farming
- Organic farming keeps the terroir intact
- Organic farming is more sustainable
- Dry-farming is also more sustainable
- They do not see an organic certification as an end in itself
- The legal definition is not so useful but the concept is
- They care about a healthy environment
- Ashley explains that they raise their family on the vineyard so they don’t want chemicals
Voice-over: Focusing on the vines will help the plant produce compounds that naturally help it evade outbreaks of insects and disease. The idea is to keep the human footprint on the grapes as small as possible. One way to achieve that goal is to go against the monoculture. It is to have the nature around.
- Napa-style conventional farming is destructive
- Most organic farmers of grapes we met are small scale
- Small scale helps since it allows hand picking which leads to better wine
- Small scale helps as it goes against the monoculture
- Monoculture is wrong
- Natural winemakers care about environment sustainability
- Gideon on why he wants the surrounding nature
- They care foremost about making a good wine. The approach to natural wine should be to do as little as you can get away with. But look at the trade-offs.
Voice-over: Even if natural wine producers do not own any of the vineyards where the grapes are from, they still want to control how those vineyards are farmed. They will seek a close relationship with the vineyard managers. They will give them instructions as to how to farm the land, striving to have the terroir as authentic as can be.
- Why natural wine producers do not own their vineyards
- Relationship between vineyard managers and winemaker
Voice-over: this focus on the ecosystem translates into a better quality product
- Several passes while harvesting in order to pick ripe grapes only
- Healthy plants produce natural, disease free fruit which tastes better
- They care about organic farming because they know it will produce better grapes
Expressing the terroir
Voice-over: Once we’ve acknowledged the terroir as the one thing that brings interest and variety to the wine, we need to ask ourselves how we can have the terroir come through as much as possible. How can we produce a wine that is telegraphing the terroir where it is from? How can we produce a wine that wears its origin on his sleeve? It all starts in the vineyard. Winemakers are meticulous about where and how they cultivate their grapes.
- The soil and the environment influence the grapes and the wine
- There is a correct place to plant a grape
- What makes NPA different? “mother nature, no intervention” – Kevin
- The ultimate goal is to make an expression of terroir
- The wine will taste different from one year to another (not like a can of soda)
- “I hate the term “Burgundian”. What part of Burgundy is that, since it’s so different!” – Hardy
- wine is not a manufactured product “this can only be made right there” – Hardy
- “California expression is about the fruit, not the place, and we need to get passed that” – Hardy
5 – Terroir blind tasting bridge
Entertain and prove that the terroir is present in the glass
Voice-over: In order to understand how the terroir plays a role in the final taste of a wine, we decided to put a couple of experts to the test. We chose 6 bottles from the whole of California’s wine country and hid them in brown paper bags. Our experts did a blind tasting around the table. We asked them to guess where each bottle was coming from, in a form of a discussion.
- Blind tasting game. Shots of us buying the wine, explaining to the tasters, and collecting reactions, excerpts of the discussion around the table.
6 – In the winery
Explain how to express the terroir and avoid anything but grapes in the winery
Voice-over: The objective of natural wine is to be as transparent as possible when it comes to the handling of the grapes. And once the grapes are grown and picked, the story continues in the winery. What we found interesting and what surprised us was that the fermentation of wine can be spontaneous. There is a lot of hard work implied in making a good wine but there is no recipe involved. Most of the winemakers we interviewed are adding nothing to their grapes and they still end up with great fully-fermented wine in their barrels.
- The importance of transparency
- Lots of things like micro-ox and reverse osmosis can alter the taste/color/texture of the wine
- Extreme compared to modern but traditional really
Voice-over: There are lots of things that can be added to the average wine. It could be sugar, tartaric acid or good old coloring agents. But the natural winemakers keep it as natural as possible.
- But little manipulation in the winery leads to true expression
Express the terroir through native yeasts
Voice-over: In order to go from grapes to wine, the grapes need to ferment. There is actually two types of fermentation but only the first one will turn the juice into alcoholic wine. And in order to do that winemakers use yeast. Yeast are bacteria that take the sugar from the grapes and produce alcohol from that. Most winemakers will wait until the wine no longer contains sugar and will put that into barrel. They say the wine is now dry.
Yeast is a contentious thing though because it is present naturally in the vineyards. It is also present in the winery. There are yeasts everywhere. Industrial wineries might add commercial yeast to their grapes to help the fermentation, a little like a baker adding yeast to the flour in order to make bread. But most natural wine makers trust the yeast from the vineyard to do the job. Natural yeast is coming from the terroir and will help in conveying the actual taste of the land.
- Native yeasts seem to be a very important part of the natural way
- Commercial yeasts are usually bought and make the fermentation predictable
- Commercial yeast lends a flavor
- Native yeasts make the wine more representative
- Native yeasts vs commercial yeasts
Avoid anything but grapes
Voice-over: Once the grapes are fermented the juice is put into barrels for a while. Most winemakers use barrels made of oak which usually impart a hint of oak flavor to the wine. The newer the oak the more flavor it will transfer onto the wine.
- Oak gives you a bigger obvious wine
- Winemakers eschew oak
- Food pairing
- Acidity in wine is good
Avoid anything but grapes
Voice-over: Winemakers will use sulfur to help their wines go through different stages of the winemaking process. Adding sulfur to the grapes when they are coming from the vineyard will kill a lot of bacteria and yeasts so as to prevent rot and off-odors. Most importantly though, sulfur is added to wine before it is transported so that the wine can bear shocks and shakes. A little sulfur will also make the taste of the wine more uniform over time.
The downside of sulfur is that it might make a wine less aromatic, more quiet. Natural winemakers then obviously strive to add as little sulfur as possible. Sometimes none.
- Sulfur is a normal by-product of fermentation
- Sulfur is useful as it helps remove unpredictability
- Without sulfur, the wine is stable but much more sensitive to heat and oxygen
- No sulfur tastes fresher and does not prevent wine from aging
- NPA technique to add as little sulfur as possible
- Organic wine is tough as it means no sulfur can be added
Express terroir through little manipulation
Voice-over: Following a philosophy of minimal intervention means that some natural wines are not filtered to remove sediments that are natural by-products of the fermentation. These sediments are a part of the wine and natural winemakers believe that removing them from the wine would strip away a bit of character. Even if it’s only a tiny bit.
- What does it mean to sit on lees? Why are there sediments in the wine? Why not filter/fine?
- Sitting on lees give the wine more authenticity
- Lees are dead yeast and sediments and are totally normal
- Eschewing fining/filtration makes the wine truer to the terroir
- People should educate themselves and accept sediments in their wine
Explain the fuzziness around the term natural wine
Voice-over: Natural wine as a concept is a social construction. There is no authority stating what is natural wine. No one is following a certified definition. Each winemaker works with his or her own definition of what makes a wine natural.
- Definition of natural wine
- We have no certifications but are very natural
- Natural wine is not an agreed upon term
- There is a continuum in the definition of “natural wine”
- Being transparent is key
- 2 philosophies for natural wine
7 – Story behind the bottle
Explain how to appreciate the experience of drinking wine
Voice-over: Once the wine is made and put into bottle comes the time to enjoy it. To do that, it’s important to remember that wine is a very subjective drink. Each palate is unique and part of the appeal is to explore and figure out what we enjoy.
Every palate is unique
The taste is subjective
- And for some, what’s interesting in a wine is a story
- Palates aren’t all the same
- Be open, try some, decide for yourself
- Customers have become more educated
Voice-over: There are lots of publications flashing point scores for each bottle of wine but it is very important for each wine enthusiast to be independent. Everyone’s palate is different and part of the attraction of wine is that we get to explore different tastes and figure out what we appreciate the most. In that respect, marks given to wine are not that helpful and it makes a lot more sense to rely on experience and recommendations from experts who know what we like but also know what kind of food we will eat with our wine.
- Wine scores should not be solely relied on to choose a wine
- Choosing a wine can be made easy by good wine specialists
Good wine is available at different price points
Voice-over: Wine comes at different price points but the price is often not a good indication of how pleasant the wine will be. If you’re looking for a good everyday wine, there is no reason to splurge.
- Natural wine can be good wine at good price
A unique story
Get to know the vignerons and their wine
Voice-over: There is a lot of different wine available on the shelves and it can be hard to choose a good wine for dinner. A good rule of thumb is to rely on the story behind the bottle. By asking questions about where the wine comes from and how the grapes were farmed, it is easier to narrow the choice down to a wine that will be interesting. A wine with a story to tell.
- A bottle of a natural wine has a unique story
- Curators for those vignerons – Ian
8 – Messages
Sum up the documentary messages
Voice-over: To sum this story up, let’s say that there is an increasing amount of people in California who care about natural wine, that is, a wine which expresses the terroir where the grapes are from and which is made of grapes only. Those people are winemakers, wine directors at restaurants and wine aficionados in general. More people want to know what they are drinking and they find pleasure in learning the story behind the bottle.
Maybe the best quality of a natural wine is its honesty. Many times, we heard that “natural wine is honest!”. And we believe this is accurate in the sense that the goal with natural wine is to express the terroir, which entails that the wine is devoid of artifices, chemicals, and marketing concerns while making it. This is a wine made out of passion!
9 – Epilogue
Voice-over: And let’s take a minute to talk about the accessibility of wine and the enjoyment of wine. There is a snobbism in some circles of the wine world that is revolting. Drinking wine does not make us smart and it does not make us better people. But it might make us happier people and that’s what wine is about.
So cook yourself some good dinner and open up a bottle of natural wine. Put on your most casual jeans with holes in them and an old t-shirt from 1995 and enjoy your drink. If you want to drink from a balloon-shaped thin-lipped glass so you can swirl it, smell it, and feel it: do that. If you don’t care about the glass, then don’t care about the glass. If you want to drink white wine with beef do it. Try new things, and explore your palate. Drink some wine for the fun of it!