Grab a bottle of bubbly and head to France. Film critic Roger Ebert called A Year in Champagne “a cinematic vacation.” So, relax. Enjoy! Through the magic of film you can be back at your desk within 90 minutes.
With the success of A Year in Burgundy behind them, Martine Saunier and the production group were eager to begin filming in Champagne. Unfortunately, The weather was abysmal when the team arrived in the spring of 2012. Cold temperatures, rain, wind and gloom had plagued the region for over three months — literally one of the worst seasons on record for Champagne.
Director David Kennard and Cinematographer Jamie LeJeune used the time as best they could. The bleak skies and storms made an ideal backdrop for Champagne’s early history — 2,000 years of death on an unimaginable scale — from Atilla the Hun, through the Hundred Years War, Napoleonic Wars, Franco-Prussian War and two World Wars.
“We were frustrated with the terrible weather — as were the winemakers, obviously!” Martine recalls. “But in the end, it helped us to portray not only the history of Champagne, but the spirit of the Champenois — their love for life and incredible resilience.”
The camerawork in the film is superb. A moonrise photographed by Jamie LeJeune is particularly spellbinding. “He was relentless,” says Martine. “He spent hours shooting the moon. He would be up in the middle of the night, then again early in the morning. And in the end he got exactly what he wanted and it’s fantastic.”
During the endlessly dark spring, the crew also spent time with the winemakers in their cellars. After all, much of Champagne making requires time in the cellars. The film covers the many complicated steps required to produce Champagne, from the second fermentation, remuage or riddling, to disgorging and dosage. And since Champagne is known for it’s miles of cellars, viewers also have a chance to see some of the 250 kilometers (155 miles) of cellars containing over a billion bottles. A lot of bubbles!
Winemakers for the Champagne production included small family houses, as was the case in Burgundy, as well as two large properties:
Champagne Bollinger – James Bond’s favorite Champagne and the preferred brand of the British Royal Family, Bollinger is known for its marketing prowess and high quality.
With roots dating back to 1585, Bollinger is one of the older houses in the region. In the fact, within the estate at Aÿ, there is a Clos (walled property) near the Bollinger house, where pre-phylloxera vines are still producing a Champagne.
Champagne Gosset – The oldest winemaking house in Champagne has limited vineyards and therefore works with local growers to purchase large quantities of grapes. “We were keen to include Gosset,” Martine explains, “because we wanted to show how a negociant functions in the winemaking process.” As a negociant, Gosset receives wines from many different vineyards and parcels, while other properties have only a few to choose from.
A particularly fascinating scene from the film is Jean-Pierre Mareigner, winemaker at Gosset — or Wine Sorcerer, as he was known on the estate — happily blending from a selection of over 200 different wines. Mareigner, who passed away in 2016, was Cellar Master at Gosset for over 30 years, so scenes of him are especially poignant and meaningful.
Champagne Gonet-Médeville – Some of the film’s livelier moments are centered around the 40th birthday celebration of Xavier Gonet, including a hot air balloon ride and dance. Gonet’s wife Julie is also from a family of winemakers who own Château Gilette in Sauternes.
Champagne Diebolt-Vallois – Consists of 19 hectares (47 acres) of Chardonnay vines, divided between Cuis, a Premier Cru village, and the Grand Cru village of Cramant. Jacques Diebolt, along with his son Arnaud and Isabelle typically produce non-vintage Champagne, but hope to create a vintage wine in 2012.
Champagne Saint-Chamant – Located in Epernay, the property seems fairly ordinary. But in fact it holds a labyrinthine cellar — a mile long, built in the early 19th century. Owner Christian Coquillette is a firm believer in aging Champagne and estimates he has close to a million bottles.
Champagne Stephane Coquillette – Stephane, the son of Christian Coquillette, left the family to create his own label. He works primarily by hand and is deeply committed to sustainable farming.
As the rain and storms persisted, winemakers begin to see insects and mildew threaten their vines. Martine’s conversations with the families reflect their despair, as many believe they’re likely to lose their entire crop. Mozart’s soulful Requiem plays softly on the film soundtrack.
By mid-June, just when the situation seems the most dire, the sun arrives and 2012 is saved. Then it’s a mad dash to bring in the grapes. Winemakers train staff, deal with endless government regulations and, as always, keep an eye to the weather.
Ultimately, the 2012 Champagne season produced a smaller crop than previous years. However, the sugar to acidity ratio was perfectly balanced. Bollinger’s president Ghislain de Montgolfier, who also represents the Union of Champagne Houses, officially pronounces that “miraculously, the vintage was one of the best ever.” Martine and Kennard couldn’t have scripted a better ending.
Reviews of the film were enthusiastic and included critiques from big-name writers, such as Justin Lowe and Roger Ebert:
The Hollywood Reporter – “A Year in Champagne entertainingly guides viewers through the winemaking process and behind the scenes to hear from the vintners who put the magic in the bottle. Quality production values, engaging scripting and fascinating characters.” Justin Lowe
Roger Ebert – “The reasons why, and many other seeming mysteries of process and designation, including the secret of how those bubbles come to animate a beverage that is not, in fact, carbonated, are provided in this brisk, entertaining film, directed by David Kennard.”
“Spectacularly photographed throughout by Jamie LeJeune…the movie has some compelling content to share. And the views of the French countryside it offers, not to mention of pleasant villages whose populaces seem refreshingly tied to the land rather than to their digital devices, constitute a kind of cinematic vacation.”
Wine Searcher – “Beautifully shot and edited, the film follows the gradual awakening of the vineyards from their winter sleep, through flowering and fruiting, and then lifts the lid on what goes on behind the elegant Champagne houses once the grapes come in to be crushed…Overall, the movie is as sumptuous as vintage Champagne, and offers a nice insight into the land and the people behind the wines.” Don Kavanagh
With the success of both A Year in Champagne and A Year in Burgundy, Kennard and Martine decided to focus on fortified wines for their third project. Since still wines and sparkling wines had been the focus of the previous projects, it made sense to present a completely different style. Moreover, executive producer Todd Ruppert wanted a film outside of France. Ultimately, Portugal, was chosen for the next destination.
Copies of A Year in Burgundy and A Year in Champagne are available on DVD, iTunes and all other leading platforms.