We’re about to launch our new VINOBO website. The initial feature will be a series of free, ‘taste along’ lessons about California terroir. That’s the concept that two wines, made from the same grape variety grown in separate vineyards, will taste differently. Not necessarily better or worse; just differently. Moreover, that those taste characteristics will be predictable, and that they will re-occur vintage to vintage. This concept is fundamental to the way Europeans think about wine. Not so much in the US. Americans are more likely to embrace the competing concept that a talented winemaker can blend grapes from several vineyard sources in a creative manner that is more pleasing than the sum of its parts.
In other words, top European vintners think of themselves as craftsmen. They don’t call themselves winemakers because they believe the vineyard makes the wine. They call themselves cellar managers. They are like baby-sitters, keeping the child from injuring itself, but allowing it to develop its natural characteristics on its own. American vintners are more likely to think of themselves as artists, molding the development of the child ~ like the French think of chefs, assembling a dish from items found in the marketplace. Both of these concepts can exist side-by-side. Neither invalidates the other. The competition has to do with what you think wine should be. It’s a philosophical discussion.
Eventually our hope is to produce seven short videos (six to nine minutes) providing examples of Europe’s terroir concept, only applying these principles to grapes and places in California. Each video will illustrate a general aspect of climate or topography which affects wine taste: terroir drawn broadly. Our first effort is going to be a comparison of Cabernet in a cross-section of Napa Valley drawn west to east through Oakville. This lesson will apply to lots of other grape varieties as well, and to lots of vineyard districts around the world, because it demonstrates the effect of steep hillsides vs. benchlands (i.e. piedmont, or foothill) vs. valley floor sites.
About half of each video is devoted to tasting wines which illustrate our point(s). In fact we’ll recommend examples for you in a range of price points, so you can ‘taste along’ if you wish. Invite some friends over. Make an evening of it. Do the tasting along with the video, then have some food with the remainder of the bottles.
From our production standpoint, the tasting part of each video is fairly easy. It’s indoors. The discussion is open form; we don’t need to get specific information into precise spots. The explanatory, or lesson part, of each video is another matter altogether. We’re usually trying to integrate blackboard-like charts or maps with outdoor landscapes. Outdoor scenes require good weather. They are usually much better in the early morning or late afternoon, when the light arrives horizontally, rather than the sun being directly overhead. In a valley such as Napa, it is important to account for the sunlight coming from the west or from the east, because you would prefer the sun to be behind the camera. Our video partner, James Forbes, is very creative, and every bit the professional, but you can’t ask him to compensate technically for ‘talent’ that likes to sleep ‘til noon (that would be me). Bad lighting is the signature of an amateur production. Ask anybody who has even a nodding acquaintance with porn.
Finding an appropriate location to illustrate our academic points is one thing. Getting permission from the property owner is software from a different programmer. You can run through armies of gatekeepers, vineyard managers, and Administrative Vice Presidents before you get to someone willing to make a “Yes – No” call. One rule of thumb seems to be, “If they feel sufficiently authorized to make a decision, they won’t be available this week.” Most often our best outcome is, “Shoot quickly, and get the Hell outa here.”
Then there is the question of sound. Birds chirping in the background don’t bother us too much, but nearby traffic, or (God Forbid) a tractor, can ruin any take. Even wind whistling past the microphone can make matters difficult. We’ll see. Forbes is editing now. Voice Over sections and musical interludes are always a possibility.
Wardrobe is an on-going debate. I’ve been told to seek female assistance. Story of my life. With a physical presence best suited to radio (Rush, are you paying attention?), I prefer to show up for these shoots in a De La Salle Football T-shirt. I mean, De La Salle does own the national high school record for longest winning streak. But Forbes feels an upgrade may be in order. Trouble is you want to maintain the same outfit when shots are cut together within a single video ~ even though they may have been shot on separate days. In part it’s a shopping issue. Mostly it’s a laundry issue. I thought I could pull off the cowboy / vineyard manager look ~ you know, long-sleeve, solid color shirt, with blue jeans, maybe a gigantic belt buckle, perhaps even a hat. No go. Forbes demanded the same black pullover I’d worn the day before so the shots could be cut together. It’s a lot to remember. Especially for a guy who deep down doesn’t really care.
My main personal problem is standing motionless long enough to get each shot set up properly. I now grasp why movies employ stand-ins for this task. We shot one scene last week in a very steep hillside vineyard. By the time we’d captured the shot, my downhill foot (the one with all the weight on it) was asleep. I tried to casually saunter away from the perch I’d assumed, composed as always, but couldn’t quite gain command of my right leg. Which sent me careening down the slope, upright albeit out of control, and bearing a close resemblance to a balloon you inflate and then release without a knot in its neck. I stumbled like an hysterical chicken for about twenty yards, and at least 20 feet of elevation, before I could arrest my departure with a not-so-casual wrap-around technique on a vine-row end-post. You know the feeling: Too fast to stop; no where to go. Very amusing to all the other parties involved (that would be Forbes). Up to this point I hadn’t understood why vineyard managers kept telling us, “Don’t hurt yourself.” Forbes claims, if he hadn’t been putting the camera back in the case, we’d be viral on YouTube right now. I just can’t catch a break.
Stay tuned. We’re doing these Fine Wine apps across two or three generations. We’ve been trying to pick a musical theme, and to make the occasional movie reference, only to realize our Marketing Partner was 3-years-old when the movies I were quoting came out. Looks like we may need an Out-Takes Reel.