Two Films that Finger Lakes Wine Lovers — and Finger Lakes Winemakers — Should See

Posted December 19, 2012 by Evan Dawson in Regions

If you love wine — if you even like wine — there are two new movies coming out just in time for the holidays that you should see.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. I’ve only seen one, so I can’t give a full review of both, and neither will be in theaters. You have to make an effort to find these films, which are documentaries.

And you should. I’ll take it a step further: It would be wonderful if Finger Lakes wine industry professionals took the time to watch both films.

The reason is simple, and goes back to the affliction that hits every wine region. If you work in the wine industry, it is easy and common to develop what is often referred to as a house palate or regional palate. You drink and taste so much of your own wine, or your own region’s wine, that you don’t have a wider sense of what the wine world is doing.

This is not meant to lecture or condescend. There are many talented wine professionals in the Finger Lakes who simply love wine and eagerly taste wines from around the world. The fact remains, though, that there are many who do not. These two new films are enlightening on many levels. Perhaps most importantly, the films focus on the two grape varieties that are most thriving in the Finger Lakes right now: riesling and pinot noir.

The first, Leading Between the Vines, is worth seeing for the cinematography alone. It’s an extension of wine importer Terry Theise’s book, Reading Between the Wines, though Theise points out that this is not the film version of the book. And he’s right; it’s not. In fact, given how colorful Theise is in his writing, he is almost shockingly dry and subdued in the film. But perhaps it’s just as well, because the film is almost entirely about the land from which German winemakers produce their stellar rieslings. It’s an examination of the soils and the way the vines work to produce grapes. It’s about multi-generation families who have committed themselves to the land.

Let me emphasize again: the visuals are breathtaking. You would be thrilled by this film if you watched from across the room with the sound off.

But there is bound to be some controversy on the subject of terroir. Theise stresses that the vines drill down into the soil, and the wines absorb the flavors of the earth from which they come. Theise does not say that the vines are actually imbibing tangible mineral elements, which are then transported to the wines. We know this isn’t the case. But Theise is very clearly saying that the resultant wines bear the scents and flavors of the specific soil types. Theise says that there is no other explanation but terroir at play here. The wines taste like the land. He doesn’t care how it happens; he just eagerly points out that it does.

Clocking in at just under one hour, it’s probably a touch longer than it needed to be, but I didn’t mind. I love German riesling, and Terry Theise has done great work to identify passionate producers. The film is dry, and yet a joy. We are seeing an intimate portrait of how some of the finest wines in the world are made.

The second film is called A Year in Burgundy. I haven’t seen it, but will do so very soon. The film seeks to tell the story of the 2011 vintage, the challenges, the weather, and the art of winemaking passed on through the generations. It goes without saying that Burgundy is the spiritual home of pinot, and any insight into this riveting variety is sure to be valuable.

Finger Lakes wine lovers shouldn’t be expecting local rieslings and pinots to mirror the wines of Germany and Burgundy. Instead, they should enjoy exploring the differences that happen naturally when the same variety thrives in different places.

To watch the documentaries, you have to purchase a DVD. What better evening than to get wine lovers together, crack a few bottles, and take in these films? Leading Between the Vines will be released on Friday for $19.99. A Year in Burgundy is available now for $24.95.