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David Baker

David Baker is one of the directors of the new wine documentary, "Three Days of Glory." The film is playing this week in Corvallis. 

It was here where David Baker was first bit by the wine bug: On a train trip through Europe, Baker by chance decided to get off in the town of Beaune, in the heart of France's Burgundy wine country. On a whim, he took a vineyard tour and eventually found himself standing in an ancient stone-walled vineyard.

He felt, as he said later, something electric in the soil underneath his feet.

And that was all it took. Baker, a Corvallis resident, went on to study winemaking — crafting his own pinor noir in his garage — and was inspired to make a documentary film about winemakers ("American Wine Story") and to publish a wine-inspired novel, "Vintage."

Then, one of the winemakers he met through "American Wine Story," Scott Wright, pitched a followup documentary, one that would take Baker back to Burgundy, where it all began for him.

"This is really like coming full circle," Baker said.

The resulting documentary, "Three Days of Glory," is playing through Thursday at the Darkside Cinema in Corvallis.

It helped that Wright, a former music executive whose fascination with wine led him to launch a small winery, had connections in Burgundy and speaks fluent French. That allowed Baker access to exclusive places and events. The documentary's title, "Three Days of Glory," refers to a raucous stretch each November in Burgundy, during which winemakers, chefs, writers, critics and wine fans partake in exclusive dinners, the world's oldest charity wine auction and parties, including one that takes place below the streets of Beaune, in cellars that date back to the Romans. 

Baker didn't need much convincing to sign on and the two men started planning the film, loosely settling on 2016 as the year they would focus on Les Trois Glorieuses (the Three Days of Glory).

But a brutal frost on April 27, 2016, lent urgency to the project. On that day, some of the producers in Burgundy lost more than 90 percent of their crop even before the start of the growing year. Wright started receiving emails from his contacts in Burgundy, outlining the scope of the weather disaster. Wright contacted Baker with this message: "This is the year we have to do it."

"We knew we had to follow up," Baker said. "That storyline can be important."

Baker, whose day job involves making science-based documentaries at Oregon State University, adjusted his schedule and the two men launched work on "Three Days" in earnest. 

The finished 72-minute documentary tells the story of how the producers plunged ahead despite the devastating frost and builds up to the four events that make up the Three Days of Glory. The key events of the celebration, he said, never had been filmed together before.

"For me, it was a complete rush to experience all of that," Baker said. "I learned quite a lot through Scott."

Baker said he was consistently struck by the contrast between the reputation of the wines produced in Burgundy — wines that have the reputation of being a luxury, high-priced product — and the humble nature of the people who grow the grapes and make the wine. "Burgundy is really about small wine producers and small family wine operations," he said. "They probably can't afford to drink their own wines. ... We forget that these folks are farmers as much as someone growing grass seed or hazelnuts in the mid-valley." Those producers featured in "Three Days" are humble, generous and not pretentious in the least, Baker said.

And the small scale of their operations also is reminiscent, to some degree, of the wine industry in Oregon.

But Baker noted that the farmers and wine producers are facing challenges that go beyond the vagaries of weather.

Grape growers and winemakers are facing ever-increasing costs that put the squeeze on their small-scale operations, he said. Those small growers are increasingly tempted to sell to larger producers. "These small growers are really endangered," Baker said, and there is a sense that the Burgundy region might be at a tipping point.

Ironically, the Three Days of Glory celebration was launched to mark an earlier tipping point for the region, Baker said. Decades ago, the French government put into place a series of rules designed to help the small growers of the region. 

The film has shown at a variety of festivals thus far, Baker said, and is in the midst of national screenings like the one at the Darkside. It's scheduled for release on DVD and on demand at the end of November. Baker and Wright are considering another documentary, this one focusing on the Champagne region in France. Baker has another book in the works. And he continues his work at OSU, where he also teaches classes on making documentaries.

He sees parallels between documentary filmmaking and winemaking: Both, he said, require passion. 

And they have something else in common, to paraphrase an old saying: When making documentaries or wine, he said, "The best way to make a small fortune is to start with a large fortune."

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Mike McInally is editor of the Democrat-Herald and the Gazette-Times. Contact him at mike.mcinally@lee.net

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