To be honest, it took a while to figure out exactly what the format was in this up close and very personal look at harvest time at the Domain Jacques Selosse in the Avize region of Champagne, France. Was Wine Crush (Vas-y Coupe!) a Narrative film? Documentary? Docudrama? Cinema Vérité or Observational Cinema? However, as I got into the film, it finally became clear that this delightful journey, capturing the heart and soul of the grape-harvesting season, was shot in the style of Cinema Vérité.*
Wonderfully produced and directed by Laura Naylor, this enchanting film presents an intimate look at the daily lives of a group of working class men, some of whom have been showing up for the harvest drive at the Jacques Selosse vineyards for the last twenty-five years. The film captures the heart and soul of this particular harvest experience, which takes place from August through November, culminating with the bottling of the wine.
Complimenting the excellent direction, the film is exquisitely shot by cinematographer Ryan de Franco, and begins with a series of establishing shots – an outdoor barbeque, men working in the vineyard, a worker tasting a grape, and scenes of women brought in to prepare meals for the workers. As the men arrive from different parts of France, they greet each other warmly as most of them have known each other for years. Sleeping accommodations have been made and after a slight discussion over the arrangements, everything is settled amicably. Soon, we are taken into the vineyard where every day the grapes are carefully cut and placed into crates. It’s backbreaking work, but the men are cheerful, playful, very respectful of each other, and take their work seriously.
These workers are not just pickers. They are wine experts capable of detecting and identifying the inherent complexities of a particular variety. On their cigarette breaks, they lie down amongst the vines and playfully joke with each other or share family stories. The wife of one of the workers is part of the group of women who will be preparing the mouth-watering meals and there are delightful scenes of the cooks comparing recipes, deciding what food items needed to be purchased, and fun shopping trips to the markets. But, with the younger members of the family taking on greater roles in the running of the business, there are occasional culture clashes between the aging pickers and the younger family members who might not embrace all of their traditions. However, at the end of the harvest, they all gather in a beautiful, candle-lit dining room and between the gourmet food, plenty of fabulous wine, and singing, any tensions during the harvest melt away. Brian Bender and Deniz Cuylan’s rousing musical score fully accents the joy and spirit of these people. There are sweet scenes of the workers with their families illuminating their lives away from the vineyard. Director Naylor was meticulous in painting the crew with a fine brush so that they are multi-dimensional showing how they spend their days away from the vineyard. A very delightful scene is with one of the workers playing a variation of bocce ball with his wife, who also happens to be one of the fabulous cooks. At last, with the harvested completed, the dorm is stripped, floors are mopped, pay is handed out, and these dedicated workers, most of whom will return next year, are once more headed home to their families.
For anyone interested in an intimate look at a complicated wine harvest, this film walks you through the process from beginning to end, capturing the humanity of everyone involved as well as the symbiotic relationship between the owners and the workers. It also reveals the pivotal role Mother Nature plays in the final product, which could impact on the level of success of the harvest. However, one can see why the Domain Jacques Selosse, now run by the founder’s son Anselme, has earned an excellent reputation for producing very fine champagne, perhaps due in part to using oak barrels for fermentation rather than the usual stainless steel.
The film features: Miguel Delhaye, Samuel Delhaye, Bastien Favier, Léa Favier, Bruno Santiago, Anselme Selosse, Caroline Selosse, Corinne Selosse, Guillaume Selosse, Michel Waret, and Renelle Waret.
*Cinéma vérité or “truth cinema” was a French film movement of the 1960s that captured people in everyday situations with authentic, unscripted, predominantly improvised dialogue.