Reel winemakers of VA


 It’s a dark moment indeed when “Virginia wine country” is cursed with a representative like hopped-up, anorexic goofball Michaele Salahi. The White House party crasher, who through her status-happy husband is connected to Oasis Winery in Fauquier County, “stars” in “The Real Housewives of D.C.,” a show that has about as much to do with reality as the hair extensions that sprout from Michaele’s scalp like capellini on steroids. Fortunately, a much worthier antidote, at least as far as the state wine industry is concerned, is coming soon to most major PBS markets.

Bill Reifenberger’s and Ben Clore’s two-year labor of love, Vintage, will premier in October in Richmond. Following that, it will air across the country on PBS stations.

I speak of Vintage, a feature-length documentary from Charlottesville-based Silverthorn Films. Bill Reifenberger’s and Ben Clore’s two-year labor of love will premier in October in Richmond, where the state’s biggest wine supporter, Governor Bob McDonnell, is expected to be on hand. Following that, it will air across the country on PBS stations and Virginia Film Festival Executive Director Jody Kielbasa confirms that he “hopes to show the movie during the festival.” Shot throughout the year in 2008 with a heavy focus on Charlottesville-area wineries, the film follows two threads: the creation of the 2008 vintage and the development of the Virginia wine industry as a whole.

Seems like in no time at all, Virginia wine has become ready for its close up. “There is a feeling amongst the wineries in our film that the Virginia wine industry is at a turning point. We have the quality now,” says Clore. Not only that—feel the pride, Charlottesville!—this area features some of the genuine stars in the statewide industry that now numbers more than 160 wineries. The movie opens with a solitary figure walking through a vineyard, snow at his feet, his body wrapped inside a heavy work jacket, pruning shears clutched behind his back. “In 1976,” his heavily accented voice intones, “it was a very dark landscape.” It is, of course, Gabriele Rausse, the father of the state’s modern wine industry, who traveled to Virginia’s dark landscape from Italy more than 30 years ago to do the impossible. He planted the first vines at Barboursville and has been a go-to figure for incoming winegrowers ever since.

Other local notables who show up in the film include legendary vineyard consultant Chris Hill, industry champion and winery owner David King, winemakers Luca Paschina (Barboursville), Kirsty Harmon (Blenheim), Stephen Barnard (Keswick), Jake Busching (Pollak) and more.
Neither Clore nor Reifenberger knew much about wine, other than enjoying it, when they started this project. But in time, says Reifenberger, they discovered many similarities between their industry and winemaking. “So many people are assuming risks,” he says, “and they bring passion that has to be balanced with reality.” Moreover, from the outside, there’s a sense of glamour to both winemaking and filmmaking, but, he says, “The greatest percentage of the time it’s hard work that makes it happen.”

Not immodestly, he also points out that in both industries, “the people are fun to hang out with.”

But after decades of struggling to tame the wilderness that is Virginia terroir and to unleash the secrets of making good, sometimes great, wines from the fruit that grows in the dirt around here, success is bittersweet: “These guys had to fight for two decades for respectability,” Clore says, “and now the door is open for anyone to come in and make wines of any quality.”

Indeed, anyone.