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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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A Year in Burgundy World Premiere in Santa Barbara

Documentary filmmaker David Kennard first came to LA in the seventies, when he worked with Carl Sagan on Cosmos, the biggest documentary series that had ever been done any where in the world at that time (which I just found out from Wikipedia was as of 2009 the most widely watched PBS series in the world!) From stars to wine, Kennard's latest film, A Year in Burgundy, had its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last weekend. I had the chance to sit down with Kennard the morning the movie was premiering (too early for a glass of wine), and he told me a little about himself and his project. 

Kennard has worked in many subjects over the years, including a John Cleese film about food and wine, before getting to this subject. "I thought it would be nice to make a film about wine that actually goes to the heart of why winemakers get so passionate about it."

The film follows a year with winemakers. Kennard describes it as “A 90 minute family saga of these people, and how a year hits them.”

I asked Kennard, who went to business school and started at the BBC as a management trainee, then went into production for 3 months just for perspective and never went back, why he makes documentaries. “I love it. I love it. One of the most exciting things for me is learning about a subject which I know zip, and then trying to communicate it with some fun and excitement and energy and having people go "whoa!"

When I sat down to watch A Year in Burgundy the real question in my mind was, “Am I too broke to enjoy this film?” Everyone knows wine is a habit of the rich. On my aspiring director's bank account, will I be able to relate?

I poured myself a glass of classy the two-buck chuck blend and by 18 minutes in, I was moved. Let me just first say that the narration, I believe by Kennard himself, is very similar to that of David Attenborough.  I'm sold already!

From a man who cuts each of his vines by hand… to a woman named “LaLou," known as “The Queen of Burgundy,” the characters are quite awesome -- too original for fiction.

“When they don’t see me, they’re unhappy. When I arrive, they’re happy,” LaLou speaks of her vines. “You really have to put yourself in the place of the vine. You have to understand why they’re not doing well.” LaLou is awesome and I want to be friends with her. “We should stop killing things, and give them life force instead,” she says. She doesn’t believe in pesticides or anything that ends in “ide.” “It sounds like homicide!”

LaLou lets her vines grow instead of cutting them.

"Being a winemaker, for me, is to be in touch with nature," says another winemaker. "I'm the one who decides what to do. If I want to work, I work. It's above all, to be in control of your life. To be outdoors, in the sunshine - free!"

Lovely as it may seem, it’s not all drinking and frolicking. Winemaking is a way of life, and it’s important to know your vines. “Even if there’s no work to do on a Sunday, you must go and visit your vines. There’s always something you’ll discover."

“A vine has to suffer in order to make great wine. You can’t coddle it, or it becomes lazy like a couch potato,” another winemaker personifies his wine. “He sits there and you feed him, he doesn’t have to work.” (Vines are male apparently).

“Wine is alive. From the moment you pick the grapes til you drink the glass. The music calms it while it matures," said one winemaker while playing classical music for his barrelled wines.

Alas, it turns out wine making is really interesting… not just for the wealthy.  Because I mean, what IS it that makes good wine? The same question could be asked of any art… according to A Year in Burgundy it seems, the answer lies in science, and in love.

I will leave you some facts, but for more, I suggest you catch the flick.

Don’t pick your grapes during a full moon.  

When you prune branches before next season you can burn the wood right in the field to make natural fertilizer from the ashes.

“A vine can live 100 years if you treat it right.”

I asked Kennard if after making the film he felt like he had indeed gotten to understand the passion, and he said yes, he did…And he learned there are more stories to tell. A year in Champagne, and A Year in Port are now works in progress.


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About Elisabeth

Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

Los Angeles

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