Wil Fernandez’s innovative Vintage 2014 film-photography-podcast project cuts through a spider’s web of cultural conundrums. By covering the entire grape-growing season that just culminated, it shows the world that truly fine wine is made in the vineyard. By presenting that coverage in a multimedia mix via Vintage2014.com, it gives chewable content in varying lengths through whatever medium you fancy, all adding up to about 90 minutes of exploration. And by touring the country with a series of events that pair short documentary segments with focused wine tastings, Vintage 2014 will leave a lasting impression on people about the unique magic of Santa Barbara wine country, where passionate vintners who toil in both the soil and the barrels are happy to share their triumphs and tragedies with all.
That openness is really what allowed Fernandez, a marketing expert from Pennsylvania who formerly worked in advertising for New York and Los Angeles firms, to embark on the project at all. “There were a lot of early supporters who didn’t know me from anybody and took a leap of faith,” said Fernandez, who hopes to challenge the “same-same-same” promotional strategy of the wine industry. “A little bit of innovation could elevate this whole area, and I think everyone knows that, but we don’t know what that is.”
Fernandez first learned of Santa Barbara’s farm-to-everything ethic around 2005 while living in L.A. and eating the frozen flatbread he found in his grocery store from Los Alamos, which touted its ingredients coming from less than 40 miles away. “I thought the pizzas were good, but I thought the marketing stuff was B.S.,” said Fernandez. “So I wrote to them and told them just that.” True to regional form, Full of Life Flatbread owner Clark Staub invited him up. “I saw he was the real deal,” said Fernandez, “and I fell in love with the area.”
After nearly four years in L.A., Fernandez hit the road for another four, living for a month at a time in different cities on a personal vision quest of sorts, and began peddling Santa Barbara wines he liked along the way. “I had 40 cases of wine in the bedroom of my RV,” he recalled. “It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.” But he kept coming back to Staub’s parking lot and realized that Santa Barbara County was where he wanted to be, especially after a movie night under the stars at Zotovich Vineyard. “It just felt like home,” he explained.
So on a diving trip to Key West last December, he decided to test the crowdfunding waters. “My future was based on that Kickstarter campaign,” he explained. “If it was funded, I was coming back. If it wasn’t, I was up in the air.” He asked for $20,000 and received $25,000, which provided the “fuel to start doing something in the wine industry.”
He chose to cover the vineyards rather than the wineries, following happy-to-teach luminaries like Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe, Ryan Carr of Carr Winery, and Dick Doré of Foxen. “In documenting a wine season, people normally think of things that happen in the winery,” said Fernandez. “This whole thing takes place before that. As soon as it hits the winery, we’re actually wrapping.”
In fact, Fernandez returns from his first few screenings in New York City this week just in time to reveal the project to the Santa Barbara masses on October 29 at the Museum of Natural History. In addition to the offerings of the website, which anyone can access for free, this sort of screening event features a half-hour reception followed by 10-minute short docs that are interspersed with relevant wine tastings. In addition to a massive and strategic social media presence, Fernandez is submitting the project to various film festivals under the new “transmedia” category, but expects to break even on the whole deal, with some possible additional wine-industry film projects to come.
“To me, this shows that someone with a small budget can tell a story using a variety of mediums and have people propel it on their own,” said Fernandez. “Everything we’ve done in this project was a vehicle for getting people involved.”
Vintage 2014 premieres in Santa Barbara at the Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol) on Wednesday, October 29, 6:30 p.m., with wines from Carr, Clos Pepe, Foxen, and more and food from Bob’s Well Bread and Chef James Gentry. See vintage2014.com.