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Many times over the last five years or so, David Baker and his colleagues laboring on a documentary film about wine have had opportunities to ponder the similarities between winemaking and filmmaking.

Winemaking, said Baker, is “definitely a labor of love, and it takes a long time.” Often, it takes many years after vines are planted before you start to see results.

“Kind of like making a documentary,” he said.

For Baker, Justin Smith and their colleagues who labored on “American Wine Story,” the work started to bear fruit this weekend. The movie was selected for California’s Newport Beach Film Festival and had its official premiere on Saturday.

When I last wrote about the effort, the filmmakers had just completed a Kickstarter fundraising drive for the movie, which then was called “Vino Veritas.” (The title changed after the filmmakers discovered the existence of another movie with that “Vino Veritas” title.)

That was in 2011.

Now, Baker and Smith – the two men work at Oregon State University – have a finished 80-minute film to show, whittled down from 100 hours of footage. (Baker is the movie’s director; Smith, Kegan Sims, another OSU employee, and Truen Pence of Portland served as producers and cinematographers.)

The prospect of watching the movie for the first time with a paying audience, Baker said, is “equal parts exhilarating and nerve-racking. We’ll be listening to their responses. Will they be laughing at the same parts we found amusing? Will they walk out?”

Judging by some of the earliest reactions to the documentary, which tells the stories of winemakers who ditched their previous lives in order to pursue the wine dream, it seems unlikely that anyone will be walking out.

“Wine is a mid-life crisis industry,” Baker said, and it draws refugees from other careers – “people who used to be doing something else.”

That’s one common theme in the six different stories the documentary tells. Baker said there’s another one: “Everybody had kind of an epiphany moment when they really became intrigued by wine. In some ways, it’s like a religious conversion.”

One of the six stories, about Brooks Wines in Amity, serves as the movie’s unofficial heart: It traces how Jimi Brooks, a bohemian wanderer, became one of the state’s most respected winemakers. But when Brooks died of a heart attack at the age of 38, his sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, had to decide whether to step in to help save the winery for Jimi’s 8-year-old son, Paco.

Heuck was planning to make the trek to Newport Beach and will be at the screenings during the festival to answer audience questions.

Baker said it’s possible – although a definite long shot – that “American Wine Story” could find a distributor at the Newport Beach festival. The only scheduled Oregon showing for the film now is in late July, at McMinnville’s International Pinot Noir Celebration. But Baker said he’ll schedule a showing closer to home for the mid-valley when the festival season winds down.

Baker said the next project for Three Crows Productions also might have a wine theme: The filmmakers are kicking around an idea for a documentary about wine and climate change.

And he said the group might try to line up funding for a feature film about wine, an adventure comedy called “Vintage.”

“There’s a lot of interest” in wine, he said. “We’re just starting to scratch the surface of the stories that can be told.”


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