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Kissed by the Grape

By |  March 3 2014

Fred van Dijk (director)
Kissed by the Grape
Released by Bonnature Holding BV €19.95 (available from www.kissedbythegrape.com)

Reviewed by Stuart George

Described by its ambitious creator Fred van Dijk as a "filmic ode to organic wine growing," Kissed by the Grape is a 61-minute film on the joys (and perils) of vinous organics and biodynamics that premiered in Amsterdam on November 28, 2008. All of the photography, interviews, and editing were done by van Dijk himself. The handheld camerawork is sometimes fidgety, especially when somebody is being interviewed, as with the Fasoli brothers in their vineyard. The tracking shot of a bottle traveling along a bottling line recalls Godard’s virtuoso take of a traffic jam in his film Week-end, though mercifully the shot here is not 20 minutes long. Together with Thomas Bank, Candy Dulfer recorded the soundtrack, and her sultry saxophone floats above the images throughout the film.

Kissed by the Grape begins with frantic and joyful scenes of foot-treading grapes during the harvest festival at Curicó in Chile, then cuts to a more somber scene of vine pruning (using battery-powered secateurs — not very environmentally friendly!) at the Las Torres vineyard in Catalonia, Spain. The film’s introduction captures two sides of wine — the one, involving the product itself, intoxicating and pleasurable; the other, at the start of the process, laborious and intense. Even harder work than usual is needed to make organic wine.

There are four talking heads in particular that van Dijk interviews: Miguel Torres of Spain, Alvaro Espinoza of Antiyal in Chile, and the Fasoli brothers Amadio and Natalino, who make Soave and Amarone in northeast Italy. Natalino recounts how pesticides harmed the health of his father and affected the flora and fauna in their vineyards. For him, pesticides are "like having a wife, giving her nice clothes, then cheating on her. That’s senseless." But then he forgets organics briefly and reverts to being an Italian: "There is some sense to it, but I don’t want to talk about it here," he smirks, while Amadio chuckles beside him.

When filmed in Spain, Torres is more formal than any of the other interviewees. Seated, and dressed in jacket and tie, he speaks in Spanish and delivers a masterclass in PR soundbites — though his declarations on his firm’s environmentally friendly projects are undoubtedly sincere and well intentioned. In Chile, Torres speaks English and is altogether more relaxed and informal, ditching the jacket and tie in favor of a thick sweater.

The effects of global warming are hard to deny when Torres recounts that his Spanish estate has had no spring frosts for six years and rarely experiences hailstorms, both of which were until recently common challenges for winemakers in Catalonia. Torres has taken measures that he claims would cope with a future temperature rise of up to 4°F (2°C), such as buying land at higher altitudes in the Pyrenees. In the meantime, grafting methods and planting density can be used to keep vines balanced. He is critical of the EU and its "outdated" view of water usage. It is a scarce commodity, says Torres, before explaining his company’s water-recycling processes.

Alvaro Espinoza’s explanation of the use of silica and cow horns might test the attention span of some viewers, but his passion and sincerity are beguiling. He speaks of the "vitality" of biodynamics and even calls it "voodoo." "It is not understood by science. But it works" would be for many a perfect summary of biodynamics.

This thoroughly enjoyable and wellmade film ends with the Fasoli brothers and their harvesters enjoying bread, salami, and wine in the vineyard after a day’s harvesting and looking immensely contented. As Torres remarks, wine is "the nicest and most inspiring commodity of all."

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