Filmmaker Set Out to Capture Passion and Culture of Napa Valley: “Filmmaking and Winemaking are So Similar.”

Nicholas Kovacic’s last documentary was about beer. “Brewmore Baltimore” examined a 200-year brewing tradition and captured the beer culture of the East Coast city.

The next challenge had to be a story about wine, he says, and the obvious subject was the Napa Valley. Kovacic and two colleagues set out in the late summer of 2014 to explore the culture of the nation’s premier winegrowing region.

“Decanted. A Winemaker’s Journey” had its world premiere at last fall’s Napa Valley Film Festival. The film follows a new entrant to the highly competitive northern California region, where breaking into the business is increasingly difficult, and not for  the feint of heart. Vineyard managers, winemakers, and winery proprietors share their stories, and their thoughts about what it takes to succeed now.

The filmmakers met with initial skepticism when they approached members of the close-knit community, Kovacic told Grape Basin News in a phone interview. Ultimately, they connected on a deep level, he said.

Heidi Barrett, of Barrett & Barrett is one of the Napa Valley winemakers featured in “Decanted.”

“Filmmaking and winemaking are so similar,” he said.

“Decanted” features beautiful aerial vineyard shots, and follows the product through the harvest and into the cellars, all the while gathering narrative from the human participants.

The “you are there” moment comes during a scene at the 2015 Napa Valley Premiere, an annual auction produced by the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association. The energy comes across in the packed and noisy pre-auction tasting event.

Several thousand people attend, and it’s one of the few times each year when everyone in the valley comes together, Kovacic said.

“It’s 9 o’clock on Saturday morning,” he said. “They’re tasting unfinished wines, sampling immature wine before it’s bottled.”

To eavesdrop on individual conversations, Kovacic put wireless microphones on attendees, and fed their voices to separate channels. He was able to flip through and listen, then deploy cameras quickly to the locations where the dialog was most interesting.

“It’s fun when you’re in that space, because there’s so much industry jargon going on.” He understood the chatter on an intuitive level, even if the lingo wasn’t entirely familiar, he told Grape Basin News.

Did two years chronicling Napa Valley wines make the film director into a wine snob?

Yes, Kovacic says at first, then pulls back a bit.

“I think so – I don’t know if I want to call myself a wine snob. We affectionately like to call ourselves ‘junior connoisseurs.’ What it’s really done for me is opened my palate up to a wider range of wines from around the world.”

Nonetheless, the next project will take him back to beer. While the northern Nevada screening of “Decanted” is taking place at Reno’s MidTown Wine Bar, Kovacic and crew will be starting work on a new film at the monastery where the Monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey make the nation’s only Trappist beer, an hour west of Boston.


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