Napa Valley Film Fest: Eat, Drink, Savor Movies

“Somm,” Jason Wise’s documentary about four men studying to become master sommeliers, appeared to be a perfect fit for the Napa Valley Film Festival where it premiered in 2012. Variety reviewer Justin Chang described it as “crisp” and “quaffable,” even though the film, in the long run, had little to do with wine.

“It’s people obsessing, it’s about the pursuit of an obsession,” says Wise, who has followed up his documentary debut with “Somm: Into the Bottle,” a film most definitely about wine, specifically 10 unique bottles and the stories that surround them. It will open the fifth annual Napa Valley Film Fest (Nov. 11-15).
“We take people from the first film and put them in their natural environment,” says Wise, noting the provenance of the first film had uncorked opportunities for “Into the Bottle” to premiere at other festivals. “(Viewers get to) understand why they would want to go on that quest.”

“Into the Bottle” stands out from the 100-plus offerings at the showcase held throughout Napa Valley. Since its inception in 2011, the festival has focused on bringing together the worlds of wine, food and film with little regard to crossover programming. That changes a bit this year with cooking events tied to films and filmmakers; the read-through of “Bottle Shock: The Musical” and, most prominently, the world premiere of “Somm: Into the Bottle.”

“Every year we get more people from the film industry, more filmmakers,” says fest co-founder Brenda Lhormer, who adds that wineries “say ‘we’re getting something out of this. We’re seeing an audience we don’t usually see.’”

When Marc and Brenda Lhormer launched the Napa Valley Film Fest, their interest was a valleywide film celebration, much like what they had done for the Sonoma Film Festival between 2001 and 2008. The couple, whose backgrounds were in startups and event planning, then ventured into film producing with the Napa-set “Bottle Shock,” which led to 18 months of meetings with the valley’s movers and shakers in wine, restaurants and hospitality.

“Every year we get more people from the film industry, more filmmakers.”
Brenda Lhormer

“We did our homework,” she says. “We wanted to be grounded in the community to make sure the community felt they owned it. Without the support of the chefs and wineries it wouldn’t have worked.”

Brenda Lhormer estimates every element of the festival has grown annually by 20% and this year sees the addition of Variety’s 10 to Taste, presented by Food Network and Cooking Channel, an event featuring 10 Napa Valley chefs — among them former “Top Chef” contestant Elizabeth Binder, Heritage Eats co-founder Jason Kupper and Barry Shinto of the 6-month-old RaeSet Asian Grill & Craft Brew — cooking dishes associated with films such as “Big Night,” “The Godfather” and “Pulp Fiction.”

“I got peach pie from ‘Labor Day,’ ” says personal chef Misty Phelps, who is promoting the expansion of her Getting Fresh With Misty business. “I had never heard of the movie and I’m not a pastry chef so I have my research to do. I look at it as a challenge.”

A panel that includes chef Bobby Flay will sample the dishes and discuss culinary trends, opportunities and challenges in the industry today.

Film and food converge at several demonstrations: Valentina Guolo-Migotto will make traditional pasta with “Friends and Romans” director Christopher Kublan; Clif Family Winery chef John McConnell and SPQR chef Matt Accarrino, both avid cyclists, will produce dishes for energy recovery for athletes with “Personal Gold: An Underdog Story” director Tamara Christopherson. In addition, chefs Blake Elsinghorst, Rodney Worth of the Peasant & the Pear, Nick Ritchie of Atlas Social, Jake Rand of Eikos and others will stage cooking demonstrations.

At the high end of the festival’s offerings is a Vintners Circle, now in its second year, that offers private dinners put on by wineries in association with the 20 competition films. Among the participating wineries are Stag’s Leap, Grgich Hills Estate, Hess Collection and Matthiasson. Eleven Eleven is joining for the first time, and also pouring — serendipitously — at the party for “Somm: Into the Bottle” on Nov. 11.

Wine geeks are in for a treat with “Somm: Into the Bottle,” which focuses on a question the original ignored: Why people become so obsessed with wine. Wise traveled to six countries, using specific bottles as entry points into stories about wine, its history and politics. A 1962 Trimbach Clos Ste. Hune Riesling from Alsace is used to used to explore 100 years of the relationship between France and Germany; a 1966 Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon — Robert Mondavi’s first vintage — gets into myriad issues surrounding the wine world; a 1985 Elio Altare Barolo sets up an exploration of the use of oak in wine and how that would affect so many people’s lives.

“I’ve put a lot of effort to try to make it as an outsider,” says Wise, who adds that the 1969 Jean Louis Chave Hermitage rouge seen in the film is “the greatest bottle of wine I ever tasted.”If someone said a topic sounded boring, I took that as challenge to make sure it wasn’t.”

At least one of the Vintners Circle wineries, Priest Ranch, is using the festival to get all attendees to taste their different levels of wine.

“They said to us ‘We want to be everywhere,’” says Lhormer, who uses a blog on the fest’s website to promote wineries. “Every vintner has their own objective.”

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