Crozet Filmmaker Showcases Local Wine Industry to Nation

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Crozet Filmmaker Bill Reifensberger
Crozet Filmmaker Bill Reifensberger

Vintage: The Winemaker’s Year, is an observational documentary by Crozet filmmaker Bill Reifensberger that tells the story of the growth of the Virginia wine industry and its growing economic and cultural impacts while tracing the development of the 2008 vintage among wineries in the Monticello Wine Region.

The film will have its local debut at the Paramount Theater Nov. 6 as part of the Virginia Film Festival.

“We had been out of state for several projects in a row. We keep hearing about Virginia wines and the more research we did the more we wanted to do it,” said Reifensberger.

In filmmaking for 20 years now, Reifensberger started Silverthorn Films, with offices in Charlottesville, in 2000. He was joined in the making of Vintage by sound recorder Ben Clore, Will Musser of Afton, who wrote the lovely score, and cameraman Terry McArdle.

“The worst case scenario for the film for us is that viewers come away knowing we make wine here and it looks beautiful. Then we’re happy. Most people out of state are still surprised to find out that we make wine in Virginia.

“Most of the people who make wine around here are into its cerebral aspect of trying to figure out how to make wine here better, and then there’s the physical, that agricultural aspect. One thing that surprised me is the amount of labor that goes into it.

“You have all that risk and you don’t know if it’s going to pay off. The business model is based on agritourism and visitors want to taste a variety of wines. To a winery they will tell you that viognier has the potential to be our breakout wine. Cabernet Franc and Merlot have also done well here.

The movie poster for Vintage: The Winemaker’s Year, which will have its local debut on November 6.
The movie poster for Vintage: The Winemaker’s Year, which will have its local debut on November 6.

“The wineries have a commitment to quality and to doing it right on the piece of land they are. They understand their name depends on putting out the best quality they can. It’s hard to do. If someone gets a bad local wine, they are less likely to try other local wines. We can do it in western Albemarle, but really only in specific spots.

“Wine is giving our area a chance to keep its agricultural heritage. Grape growing is hopefully something that will be passed down in families.”

Reifensberger said wineries expect to lose money for about 10 years, but he believes most of the local ones have now reached breakeven.

“We tasted a lot of wine. Not being a connoisseur, they are all really enjoyable. I started to appreciate the whole wine thing.

“We liked making the film because we found so many similarities to film making. We have that risk and effort too.” Reifensberger made the film truly independently, he said, a spec project, and found a distributor after it was made.

The film’s many gorgeous aerials were courtesy of King Family Vineyards owner David King, who owned and piloted a small helicopter at the time. “It took two flights per route, once for sound and once for photos,” Reifensberger said. “You see the patchwork because they are looking for special elevations where air drains away and reduces the pooling of cool air.”

Among the area wineries appearing in the film are White Hall Vineyards, Veritas, King Family, Jefferson, Pollack, Cardinal Point, Blenheim, Kluge, Sugar Leaf, Keswick and Barboursville, as well as Sweely in Madison. The principal spokesmen for the industry are Andrew Hodson (Veritas), David King (King Family), Gabriele Rausse, Chad Zakaib (Jefferson) and Chris Hill, a local wine consultant. The film also includes footage of the late Dan Neumeister of Crozet, a winemaker who was killed October 4 on Earlysville Road.

Filming began in March 2008 and wrapped up in November of that year. The film was assembled in 2009 and then offered to PBS. It had an industry premiere at the Byrd Theater in Richmond in September.

Intelligent in its story development and fun to look at and listen to, it is being distributed by American Public Television, with underwriting from the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. It had its national debut on 150 PBS stations across the country in October, which is Virginia Wine Month. That covers about 70 percent of the national market, including the West coast markets that Virginia winemakers want to be known in.

A wine tasting will precede the film’s screening at the Paramount Theater. Tickets for the tasting are $10, as are tickets to see the film.

Reifensberger said he now working on a documentary about Lincoln Perry’s murals in U.Va.’s Old Cabell Hall.