Saturday, 2 May 2015

Film Review: A Year In Champagne

Last week I was given the honour of watching a preview of a new wine film that's just reached our shores from the US: A Year in Champagne.

Made by the same people who made A Year in Burgundy (which you can catch on Netflix - I highly recommend it if you're a wine geek) the film is such a celebration of Champagne you can barely resist cracking open a bottle of the stuff while you watch.

But it doesn't just cover the way this effervescent drink is created - it also pays a tribute to this famous French region's people, culture, way of life and history. It's classy, understated and smart, but also with snippets of frivolity and joy - all fitting of Champagne - and there's plenty of stunning imagery and grandeur to show off this legendary region.

The film is filled with parallels: there's enough interesting information to satisfy the hardcore wine geeks without scaring away newbies, there's a reverent respect of the centuries-old traditions but also encouraging signs of new techniques and advances that are making Champagne even better, and there's interviews and tours at some of the smallest Champagne houses as well as at some of the most prestigious, such as Bollinger. At each house, we see how every member of the family is involved - even the dogs!

Another juxtaposition is the glorious images of Champagne's successes alongside the region's darkest days. These graver moments were some of the most surprising parts of the film, particularly the section paying respects to the region's desecration at the hands of the First World War, and the generation of lives lost. Not even Champagne is above war - a reminder that really hits home.

There are far jollier aspects of the region's history, however: the archivist at Bollinger takes us through some fun facts, and there's fantastic footage of old marketing tactics and an explanation of how Champagne earned its decadent image.

Of course, there's plenty of footage and information about the work done in the vineyards and the cellars throughout the year, but rather than taking us through it in a 'wine textbook' way, it's framed more around how a vivid culture has developed out of these age-old practices. There's a way of life here - a pattern of living that hasn't changed in generations - and it's fascinating.

The people of Champagne clearly work hard and play hard - by day, they have to jump through the strictest legal hoops to be allowed to make their wine, and by night they appear to drink enough Champagne to give the Department of Health a heart attack.

But the magic of Champagne is that every drop is savoured - as one of the family members announces: "Empty glasses should be pitied. Empty glasses should be filled." At the end of it all, seeing people enjoying Champagne is these families' one motivation - 'the carrot that makes the donkey move' as someone in the film puts it.

The miles of underground cellars filled with mystery bottles (their labels have fallen or rubbed away) are enough to make anyone long to visit - but even if it's beyond your reach, you'll certainly be reaching for a bottle to open by the time the credits roll.

A Year in Champagne is available on iTunes for £7.99 (that's less than a bottle of the real thing!)

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