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 Filed as : News

An Interview with Filmmaker Jason Wise

Jun 19, 2013
An Interview with Filmmaker Jason Wise
Life with Wine: SOMM

sommThe number of documentaries released in theaters each year can be counted on one hand. After earning rave reviews at the Napa Valley Film Festival, SOMM is now one of them. The film offers an intimate and often hilarious look into what it takes to pass the gargantuan Master Sommelier Exam, the sole gateway to membership in the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers. Since the court was founded in 1977, fewer than 200 candidates have passed. Filmmaker Jason Wise followed four friends through six countries for three years as they prepped for the big test. He talks to The Daily Sip about the process.

TDS: Cooking has fire and knives. What did you see in blind tasting that was obviously dramatic?

JW: I went to a study session and saw Master Sommelier Michael Jordan break down a glass of wine. It was like playing baseball for a long time then watching someone take the game to another level. I knew I had to show this to the general public. Yet it wasn’t until I saw the candidates acting like normal guys, talking in the vernacular and swearing even as they used very technical terms to describe wine, that I knew I had a story.

TDS: It took you two years to get permission from the Court of Master Sommeliers to film. What finally made them acquiesce?

JW: Getting permission to film was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. From their perspective, I was a recent film school graduate from Cleveland with no money and no track record. They wanted to know what kind of story I was going to tell. So I went to the Master Sommeliers Michael Jordan and Peter Neptune and said, “I don’t really have permission but I want to put together a promo.” They both responded, “Okay, but only because I want my wife to know what the hell I do.” I did a five-minute piece, which was not from an angle anyone expected, and slowly but surely the organization came around.

TDS: What was the most important thing you learned about tasting wine while making SOMM?

JW: I think the number one thing I took away is that good wine doesn’t have to be expensive. I also discovered that there is a lot to the process of tasting wine that is learned. I used to think it was BS when someone said they got flowers or berries. Now I’m getting pretty good. I can easily spot a white Bordeaux or Sancerre. I’ve learned about presence in the glass.

TDS: What sets SOMM apart from other wine films?

JW: The majority of wine films are too in love with the majesty and beauty of wine. Wine is all that, but it’s also a lot of other things. I mean making wine is dirty and gritty and it takes a long time. And ultimately, I didn’t make a film about wine. I made a film about people trying to be the best in their field. After the Napa Valley Film Festival, an attorney came up to me and said, “That’s what it was like to study for the bar exam!” A pianist said, “That’s how I prepare for concert!”

TDS: What are you going to drink on opening night?

JW: Toward the end of the film, there’s a scene where the candidates mistake Beringer chardonnay (a wine they all know), for a Burgundy. To celebrate humility of that moment, on opening night there will be plenty of Beringer for everyone!

SOMM opens in theaters and will be available on I-tunes on June 21st.

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Jun 19, 2013
Can't wait to see this. I've met a few of the people in the movie around SF. It'll be showing at Kubuki in Pac Heights.

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Jun 19, 2013
like wine

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