Saturday April 8th, the second annual Film Festival at Little Washington took place in the Rappahannock town of that name. Scott Elliff, proprietor of DuCard Vineyards, was one of the event’s organizers and poured samples of his wine prior to the screening of the documentary “Decanted, a Winemaker’s Journey“, by Nicholas Kovacic II.

The documentary examines the challenges, goals, struggles and long-awaited release of the wines of a group of dedicated, focused and patient winemakers of small, ultra-premium artisanal wineries in Napa Valley. The primary focus is on Steve Reynolds of Reynolds family Winery and his protege Mike Martin of Italics Winery, but includes interviews with six other Napa Valley winemakers; Heidi Barrett (of Screaming Eagle), Michael Scholz, Aaron Pott,  Julien Fayard, Philippe Melka, and Anthony Bell.

The documentary opens with Heidi Barrett commuting to work in her two-person helicopter, which naturally has gorgeous views but seemed a bit, ah, “over the top” for me. This turned out to just be a way to showcase the valley and grab your attention; shortly after the film moves into reality, and stays there.

Napa Valley of all wine regions (possibly due to its knack for attracting people with lots of money, and also for the Hollywood factor) likes to stage its industry carefully and glamorously. As Jancis Robinson says, “The Central Valley of California is 85% of the state’s wine production and two percent of its public image.”

Once Heidi’s helicopter lands, however, we go behind the glamorous show curtain and pretty much stay there for the rest of the film, following the winemakers and vineyard managers in the picking of the grapes, pruning, winery work, bottling and all the many other unglamorous and tedious tasks that go into making a fine bottle of wine.

Running the Eastern Winery Exposition conference program, I’ve had a lot of wine education, but I was impressed at how this film revealed so much about the hard work and fickleness of the wine industry, in ways that were easy to understand, with cinematography that showed every dimension of the winemaking scene across the seasons, and from macro to micro.

After the screening of the film, I was on a panel with Scott Elliff of DuCard, and the two cinematographers, Nate Pesce and Matthew Riggieri. Matt said that he learned how long and painstaking the process of making fine wine is. “Napa reds take two and a half to three years from harvest to release, and this film was made over two and half years.”

When I asked the audience how many had learned something in the movie, they all agreed. One man said he now understood what went into making expensive wines, and would be more willing to pay for that now.

For more information on Decanted, visit