Reviews

'A Year in Champagne' Is All Fruit and No Acidity

There's plenty of dazzle but little depth in this champagne documentary.


A Year in Champagne

Director: David Kennard
Cast: Martine, Saunier, Xavier Gonet, Julie Médeville, Jérôme Philipon, Stephane Coquillette, Christian Coquillette, Jacques Diebolt, Isabel Diebolt, Arnaud Diebolt, Jean-Pierre Mareigner
Distributor: First Run Features
Rated: Not Rated
Year: 2014
US DVD release date: 2015-05-12

A Year in Champagne is a fruit-forward film. Captivating and entertaining as it is in the moment, once you get past the initial rush of flavor, there isn’t much complexity to entertain the palate. Part documentary, part tourism puff piece, part industry PR film, A Year in Champagne follows several champagne makers over the course of 2012, in a narrative structured by the seasons that explains each step in the champagne-making process, the current state of the champagne business, and the history of the region. David Kennard co-produced, wrote, directed, and also narrated the film.

A Year in Champagne is packed with information and trivia geared to a general audience; much of it is likely old news to oenophiles. Champagne is the northernmost wine-producing region in France, where the soil is chalky. There are a billion bottles of champagne cellared there, all accounted for by the data-crazy community of winemakers. A négociant makes wine from grapes or juice produced by others. Britain is responsible for the current preference for dry champagne -- it used to be sweeter. There are strict rules for how grape vines can be pruned, for when and how long winemakers many harvest their grapes, and for the amount of juice that may be squeezed from a mass of grapes of a given weight.

The film is beautiful to behold. Long shots of the gorgeous vineyard-filled countryside and picturesque towns of the region complement interior sequences of winemakers cleaning vats, crushing grapes, and inspecting their cellars. The result is a rich, evocative picture of the wine world. One stand-out scene follows octogenarian winemaker Christian Coquiette as he takes importer Martine Saunier on a tour of his cellar.

All the subjects interviewed for the film are informative, articulate, and charming. So what’s not to like?

Covering a year of winemaking from the perspective of multiple makers and explicating all facets of the business is an ambitious itinerary for an 82-minute film. The opening scene of A Year in Champagne reveals the problem with such an exhaustively inclusive approach. As part of the celebration of his 40th birthday, winemaker Xavier Gonet takes an early-morning hot-air balloon ride, from which vantage point he views the vineyards of the region. It’s a striking and commanding perspective, but also a superficial one. Despite all the shots of mud puddles and close-ups of glistening grape clusters, A Year in Champagne never leaves that surveyed-from-above view of the industry.

One lesson we learn from the winemakers interviewed for the film is that well-made wine requires a component of acidity that balances out the rounder flavors.

A Year in Champagne lacks that acid component. You can imagine that every frame was approved by the winemakers and by the Union of Champagne Houses spokesman Ghislain de Montgolfier, who makes several appearances in the film. Surely there are rivalries and jealousies among the wine houses of Champagne. The notorious regulations of the region: do these not chafe at the winemakers? You won’t learn of it in this film.

The makers are presented as a chummy, unified group of like-minded artisans whose only struggles are with nature, climate, and the business of wine, here represented rather abstractly, perhaps to draw attention away from the fact that the appearance on screen of importer Saunier, who co-produced the film, skews the documentary toward the promotional. Saunier and Kennard also produced A Year in Burgundy (2013).

To his credit, Kennard includes a section about the toll taken on the region by centuries of invasions, but he does his best not to let this sober intrusion bring the audience down. Why else compare the remembrance of suffering as a “ghost at a party”? Worse still, especially for a film released during the centennial of the Great War, he observes late in the film that the “the incessant rain is turning the fields into a mudbath, reminiscent of the trenches in World War I.”

Another quibble: the soundtrack, made up mostly of popular classical pieces, is predictable and uninspired. Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz” plays during the balloon scene, for example. It’s one of the many ways the film concedes that its only surprises are carefully calculated ones, played out within the safe confines of History Channel-friendly fare.

Extras include scenes that expand upon topics covered in the film, which is none the worse for their exclusion.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.