Interview: filmmaker Jason Wise (SOMM: Into the Bottle)

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Photo courtesy of Forgotten Man Films/Samuel Goldwyn Films

SOMM: Into the Bottle is filmmaker Jason Wise’s follow up to SOMM, a dramatic study of what it takes to become a Master Sommelier. The story’s divided into 10 chapters, each built around the opening of a special bottle of wine. I recently interviewed Wise by e-mail, and he shared insights about his connection to wine. Also, both SOMM films are available for purchase through iTunes and on the movie’s website. Each film is well worth watching.

Josh Lurie: Was the first SOMM more of a story about wine or achievement? Please explain your goal.

Jason Wise: SOMM’s main story actually had very little to do with wine, it is easy to say it did in retrospect, but the film was about ambition to accomplish something at any cost. I believe that story could have been set in many different worlds and would have been successful, but what made it so fascinating was that it was set in the world of wine. You had all of these people speaking very normal, sometimes swearing and making fun of each other, within a subject that is normally held as such a proper thing. You have to understand that SOMM was the first film I had ever made so my main goal was to actually finish it. My goal within the film was to make a movie that showed these sort of “normal” guys going through intense pressure together and dealing with the outcome.

JL: What continues to inspire you about wine?

JW: I am in love with history and the way things change over time to become the world today. Wine has one of the longest memories of anything that touches my daily life and the greatest thing about wine is that it is so many things, and you can travel so far down the rabbit hole only to realize that there is no end. If you want to talk about religion, war, politics, marketing, almost anything, you can do it through wine.

JL: How did you decide which interview subjects to feature in SOMM: Into the Bottle?

JW: The bottles we open and people we interview were as planned as possible. The very first winery I asked to be in the film was Ruinart in Champagne, and they agreed to open one of their greatest vintages on camera (a 1969 Dom Ruinart). After that I tried to pair the greatest bottles I could get access to with topics I was unable to put in the first film and for the most part, all were my first choice. It took me 6 months to convince Jean Trimbach to open that 1962 Riesling, but Chave agreed to open a bottle of 1969 the day after I asked him. Two of my ultimate wishes for Into the Bottle were to film at Domain de la Romanée-Conti and to open Mondavi’s first vintage, and because of my Co-Producer Geoff Kruth and the success of the first film, both happened.

JL: What was the biggest challenge while filming SOMM: Into the Bottle?

JW: While filming, some of the biggest challenges involved the amount of travel back and forth to Europe and having a relatively small budget. We had to be on the schedule of the wines being able to be opened when people said yes, so that meant a lot of spur of the moment trips across the ocean, to New York City, or up to the Bay Area.

The biggest challenge overall with the film was creating the structure of the movie. We had such an enormous amount of footage, it was so wildly different from the first film, and there was a lot of pressure for it to be good. My wife who produced and co-wrote the film and the film’s artist Brandon Lee Wise get a lot of the credit for that success.

JL: Are there still aspects of the wine universe that you haven’t explored to your satisfaction? What are the chances SOMM will become a trilogy?

JW: There absolutely are entire worlds within wine that I haven’t touched. The second film has been a success and when that happens people ask about another one, but I would only do another film if I can make something better and more beautiful than the the previous films. Let’s just say I have a few ideas.

JL: What do you drink when you’re not drinking wine (or water)?

JW: I really like Scotch whiskey and Mezcal, I almost made the second SOMM film about Mezcal and Tequila.

JL: Do you have a first wine memory? If so, describe the wine and experience.

JW: Besides communion in church, the first life changing wine memory for me was when I was a freshman in college and I went to visit my cousin Ross in Washington, DC. We walked past a wine shop and he bought me my first wine key, a solid metal polished pulltap, and a bottle of older Mondavi Cab. I had never had anything like that and never felt so interested and intimidated by anything like that. The way he talked about the wine was pretty mind blowing.

JL: If you were limited to one last glass of wine, what would it be and why? Also, where would you enjoy it, and who would join you?

JW: If I were limited to one last glass of wine, It would be that 1969 Chave Hermitage we opened in the film and I would drink it with my wife who wasn’t able to be there for filming. That wine was probably the most complex, beautiful, and yet simply delicious thing I have ever tasted in my life and my only regret is that Christina didn’t get to try it. There is nothing like drinking a bottle in the cellar it was stored so I would wish to do that.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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