Unfolding with the steady, seasonal pacing and down-to-earth descriptions of a wildlife documentary, this year-in-the-life of France’s renowned wine region — to which pinot noir and chardonnay are believed to be native grapes — follows legendary importer Martine Saunier during her visits to vintners, revealing the faces and places behind some of the world’s most expensive wines. It’s a treat for wine experts and neophytes alike.
Filmmaker David Kennard recently answered some questions via email.
The pacing and narrative telling of the film is very much like a wildlife documentary, where you follow a lion family through the seasons. Was that intentional?
You’re the first person to see that. Actually, it’s a classic structure for artists: think of Verdi’s “Four Seasons.” It allows the audience to experience people over time, making it possible to reveal more of their characters, till they become like friends, and you don’t want to say goodbye at the end of the film.
My experience in France’s wine country is that access to wineries and winemakers is tougher than here. Did you find it hard to get in touch anyone or were all open to the process?
We got in touch with them through Martine Saunier, who has known some of them for 30 or 40 years. That’s why they were so open to us. Lalou Bize Leroy never normally agrees to filming at all. French critics were astonished that she agreed.
Martine is a legend. Was it hard to convince here to be the subject of a documentary?
No. She understood the idea behind the film immediately. She loves showing the humanity behind the winemaking: These are her people!
There is a continual rise of science in the world of winemaking. Does that threaten the artistry, or can the two live hand-in-hand?
They absolutely must go hand-in-hand. Christophe Perrot-Minot, featured in our film, is a classic example of someone who does both: indeed, during the film, we learn from him how he developed his artistic side.
Won’t a more formulaic process at some point reduce the romance and drive down the price of Burgundy?
Yes, it would! That’s why there has to be both. Plus all sorts of secret “heritage” tricks of the trade that are passed on from generation to generation.
The grape pickers seems to range from students and tourists to what appear to be immigrant day laborers. That must make for a very engaging talk around the dinner table, yes?
No tourists. No day laborers. People compete for these jobs in Burgundy, because the perks (the wine!) are so good. And they are very loyal and come back to family winemakers year after year.
And I hear there is more on the horizon?
This is the first of three films. We have shot A Year in Champagne and are editing it now. And we start shooting a Port Wine film in Portugal in March. We hope to bring #2 & #3 to SBIFF later.
A Year in Burgundy screens on Sat., Jan. 26, 1 p.m., at the Museum of Art, Sun., Jan. 27, 4:30 p.m., at the Lobero Theater, and Fri., Feb. 1, 7 p.m., at the Museum of Art. See ayearinburgundy.com.