by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/10/16
The buzz is building over “SOMM: Into the Bottle.” And it’s no wonder. Its 2013 cinematic predecessor, the documentary “SOMM,” garnered wide acclaim for its intimate peek at four men studying to pass the nearly-impossible-to-pass Master Sommelier exam. It pulled back the curtain on this very lucrative test (there are only 230 Master Sommeliers in the world) and gained unprecedented access to the guild that governs it.
The new follow-up won’t be released until February 2nd, although it’s already doing gangbusters on pre-order, through i-Tunes. And the documentary is already sizzling on the circuit: it was the sell-out opening night screener at November’s Napa Valley Film Festival and currently has its stars on a media tour that includes showings in Seattle, New York City, San Francisco and Austin. Locally, Bacara Resort & Spa will host a screening of “SOMM: Into the Bottle” on Saturday, January 16, at 2:30pm, followed by a Q-&-A with cast members and a wine-and-food reception.
The key players in both films are quick to point to out, though, that the two docs are very different.
“The first SOMM is a human story – a David-and-Goliath story,” says Brian McClintic, 39, the Santa Barbara resident who’s one of those hopeful four. He ends up passing the exam on the first try – only two of them do – and went on to help found the popular Les Marchands wine bar in the Funk Zone. He’s now focused on Viticole, an innovative online wine retail venture launching this spring.
In an interview this week, he adds, “This new SOMM is a more intellectual documentary than the first one, more educational than personal. “
“The first film is really not about wine,” says director Jason Wise, 35. “Now, it’s a story all about wine, which is a daunting task, but told from the perspectives of sommeliers.”
Mr. McClintic, in fact, returns as one of several sommeliers (including major players like Fred Dame and Rajat Parr) who offer industry insight into things like point scores, wine prices and restaurant wine lists. His scenes were shot over two days in late 2014 and early 2015 at both the Les Marchands store and Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. That’s a big change from the first film, which followed his exam prep over four years, with a reality show-style focus on the two weeks that led up to test day.
|Brian McClintic on location at Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley|
|Brian McClintic on location at Santa Barbara's Les Marchands|
“SOMM: Into the Bottle,” though, succeeds on its own creative and artistic merits, which make this a meaningful movie.
The 90-minute film is broken down into 10 chapters, which enhances pacing and makes the subject matter easy to digest. “A restaurant wine list can be so confusing, it’s such a chaos thing, that it’s really a storybook that only certain people know how to read,” says Mr. Wise, referring to sommeliers. “So that’s how we approached the movie – like a storybook with chapters.”
|SOMM director Jason Wise|
The sections tackle practical consumer topics and offer myriad perspectives. For example, in Chapter 6, “The Cost,” Mr. McClintic calls the $20-to-$50 price point a sweet spot for wine. “You know it’s hand crafted and that a lot of work and effort went into it,” he says in the film.
In Chapter 8, “The Point Scores,” Mr. McClintic breaks with many fellow experts who bash the popular system of judging wines on a 100-point scale; he credits publications like Wine Spectator and critics like Robert Parker with stoking his curiosity and being “a huge part of my beginning” in the wine industry.
Other chapters explore the critical roles played by winemakers and the weather. Among the film’s biggest merits is its look at wine’s role throughout history, from Caesar’s requirement that his soldiers prepare for battle by drinking three liters of wine per day to the fascinating impact that back-and-forth border battles between France and Germany have had on winemaking just in the last century. “History naturally forges the great wines of the world,” says Mr. McClintic in the film.
|DRC's Aubert de Villaine|
California’s own fresh take on winemaking is explored, although much of the film delves into the Old World wines of Europe, introducing the viewer to wineries that stretch back many generations and diving deep into centuries-old cellars. Mr. Wise succeeds, once again, in giving the viewer unprecedented access. Several minutes are spent with legendary vintner Aubert de Villaine at Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which Mr. McClintic describes in the doc as the best expression of pinot noir in the world and “the holy grail of winery appointments.”
Mr. Wise also manages several rare, if not anxious, moments in which rare bottles that are coveted within the industry – like a 1969 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage from France’s Northern Rhone and a 100-point 1962 Bin 60A Penfolds Cabernet-Shiraz blend from Australia – are popped open for the first time on camera.
The viewer’s vicarious enjoyment is enhanced even further by sweeping cinematography that was shot using a prototype of Sony’s high-end 35mm 4K Camcorder, described by Mr. Wise as “one of the best cameras in the world.”
|Filming on location in Alsace, France|
In the end, Mr. Wise’s new film delivers what the title promises: it takes viewers deep “into the bottle” for an up-close look at the layers – the many people, places and circumstances – that influence wine, and at the nuanced rubrics that dictate how we enjoy it.
The January 16th Santa Barbara screening of “SOMM: Into the Bottle” will take place from 2:30 to 6pm at Bacara Resort’s 211-seat surround-sound screening room. Mr. Wise and Mr. McClintic will both take part in the audience Q-&-A that follows. The event will conclude with a gourmet food reception by Executive Chef Vincent Lesage and tastings of several Santa Barbara area wines, including Palmina, Silver, Pence, Presqu’ile and Lucas & Lewellen. Tickets are $80 and can be purchased through this link to the Bacara website.
To view the "SOMM: Into the Bottle" trailer, click here.
To pre-order "SOMM: Into the Bottle" through iTunes ahead of its Feb. 2 release, click here.
To join the mailing list for Brian McClintic's upcoming Viticole project, click here.