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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Formerly Unpublished Julia Child Blog Post

A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about the new Julia Child movie on the horizon - it was brief only because the PR team wanted me to wait until it was closer to the release date to wax poetic. (I blogged about the advance screenings of the film at the Mill Valley Film Fest, which ended Sunday). But now that the Julia film release date is coming right up - Nov. 12 - here's the rest of the review.

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Julia has never looked this good before.

In addition to 14 TV series, we've had the 2009 fictional feature film Julie & Julia, in which Meryl Streep played Julia and won an Academy Award nomianation for her performance. In the film, the modern day Julie cooks - and blogs - her way through all 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

But even if you have seen all these Julia's, you have never really seen Julia before, until you have seen THIS Julia. 

That's because, in a word: food. Food photography has come a long way, baby. 

This is the first Julia movie one could say is food porn. Dripping with juices, browning the beef for the famous beef bourguignon, watching this Julia, one can almost smell the delicious liquid in the pan. It's a sensual experience - the most experiential Julia movie of all. 

It's hard to watch without dialing a restaurant delivery service that could provide you with the real thing while you watch. Or without running to your kitchen and trying to whip up some beef bourguignon yourself - from Julia's cookbooks. 


How did the filmmakers ever get food look oh so compelling on the screen?

Says filmmaker Betsy West, “We filmed in New York and in France with macro food photography and with a special lens on the food so it looks very impressionistic. We chose certain dishes of Julia’s specifically, including roast chicken, her pear tart recipe, and boeuf bourguignon. We wanted to really let you feel the food. If people leave this film hungry, we did something right.”

Credit cinematographer Claudia Raschke and Cohen for these sumptuous segments, filmed with that macro lens and played in slow motion to stirring original music. Susan Spunge, the food stylist on Julie & Julia, did the food styling here.

While I was hoping for a bit more footage of wine, which Julia famously loved, I was satisfied enough with what appeared. While Julia is the star of the show, the food segments could almost get an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor. 

The movie casts Julia in a new role - as a woman in the vanguard in the movement of women to professional chef/influencer status. 

It also enlivens speculation about her love life (with her husband) and spicily raises the specter of afternoon delight as a part of their marriage. Her hubby's racy sonnet for Julia speaks of the sensual joy she incites in him:

“For never were there foods, nor were there wines

Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight.

O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!

You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.”


Filmmakers Betsy West and Julia Cohen at the
Telluride Film Festival this summer. The film
also screened at the Toronto International
Film Festival to glowing reviews. The two 
filmmakers also made the documentary RBG, 
nominated for 2 Academy Awards.

I confess I went to the same college as Julia - Smith College - where she is something of a cult figure. 

The college has dedicated an annual celebration day to Child

A Smithie recently purchased Child's home in Provence (called La Pitchoun or La Peetch), and now offers cooking courses (not in the Julia dimension but in a far more contemporary approach the current owner calls Courageous Cooking). During the pandemic, the new owner offered a two hour zoom visit for Smith alumni which I attended, which was spent roaming around the kitchen and the property, showing us the famous peg board, the rooms, the gardens, etc. 

Learn more about renting it on the La Peetch website or in this article.

You can also indulge in more Julia-ana on her foundation's podcast here.

Though the film makes light of Julia's time at Smith, most alumni would not agree that Julia was being frivolous there. Women's colleges are known for turning out independent women as well as more accomplished women (more women doctors, more women lawyers, more women scientists, etc. etc. percentage wise than at co-ed colleges). There is no football and no women cheerleaders for the guy sports; plus women run all the newspapers, student government, etc. and just get used to that sort of thing. 

The film clearly illustrates Julia's personality as a free thinker who matter of factly enters a totally formidable, all male, Parisian, top tier cooking school. 


Since the pandemic sent so many of us back to the kitchen as a creative outlet, it seems the time is right to revisit the story of Julia. 

Now, what wine to pair with that beef bourgignon...?

A Tip: Yes you will be able to stream this movie one day, but with food photography this good, why would you? Okay, whatever. You're the judge. But my advice is simply to go to the big screen and be sure you have a restaurant reservation at some exquisite French place to eat in after the film. You may feel famished.

HBO has announced it will air a new TV series (fictionalized) on Julia, too, which you can stream at home - eventually.

For now, with cool weather cooking in full swing, crack open a Julie cookbook and start chopping some onions...

APPENDIX: If you want more...

THE WHOLE STORY - ACCORDING TO THE SONY CLASSICS PRESS RELEASE

SHORT SYNOPSIS

JULIA brings to life the legendary cookbook author and television superstar who changed the way Americans think about food, television, and even about women. Using never-before-seen archival footage, personal photos, first-person narratives, and cutting-edge, mouth-watering food cinematography, the film traces Julia Child's 12 year struggle to create and publish the revolutionary Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) which has sold more than 2.5 million copies to date, and her rapid ascent to become the country’s most unlikely television star. It’s the empowering story of a woman who found her purpose – and her fame – at 50, and took America along on the whole delicious journey.

LONG SYNOPSIS

“Julia was more than a cook. She was a cultural force.” 

That summation of cooking and TV phenomenon Julia Child begins an exploration into how one of America’s most unique television-era and literary figures jump-started a food revolution. JULIA tracks Julia Child from her well-to-do childhood in Pasadena, California, to the Far East during World War II, where as an OSS worker she met her future husband Paul Child. One of the few women to attend Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu school, 

Julia Child became a bestselling author in her 50s thanks to the seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. An appearance on Boston public television led to her mega-successful public TV show The French Chef, decades of celebrity, and a dedication to teaching Americans the joys of cooking. 

JULIA is the story of a woman conquering the male-dominated food world, but it’s also a feminist love story: Paul Child served as his wife’s fiercest advocate and loudest cheerleader. 

Directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West (RBG), with commentary from Ruth Reichl, Sara Moulton, Jacques Pepin, José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson, Ina Garten, Alex Prud’Homme, and others, a luscious score by Academy Award winner Rachel Portman, and macro food photography filmed in a recreation of Child’s French Chef kitchen, JULIA unwraps how one of the modern era’s most entertaining and vibrant personalities sparked a re-evaluation of the culinary arts and a love of food in the United States as she seasoned her days with romance, curiosity, and a recipe for living life to the fullest.

INTRODUCTION

The love of cooking is now central to American culture, with an appreciation for the artistry of preparing delicious cuisine filling Instagram accounts, Twitter feeds, airwaves, blogs, and bookshelves. It’s a complete generational shift from the way Americans used to see food, which in the Mad Men era of 60-plus years ago ran the gamut from blood-red meat and potatoes to unimaginative processed food. It was a time when Cream of Mushroom soup and Jell-O with marshmallows were dinner staples.

That is, until one woman changed American palettes: Julia Child brought continental recipes and an excitement about the experience of cooking to kitchens across the United States with her bestselling 1961 book Mastering the Art of French Cooking — and then brought her playful and unique personality and her love of food into homes with her groundbreaking syndicated program The French Chef, which ran from 1963 to 1973. It was followed by Julia Child & Company; the series The Way to Cook; a 15-year run on ABC’s Good Morning America starting in 1980; Cooking with Master Chefs; her show with Jacques Pepin titled Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home; and countless appearances on major daytime and nighttime talk shows across nearly four decades.

But as Betsy West and Julie Cohen — director-producers of 2018’s Academy Award- nominated, Emmy-winning documentary RBG — reveal in the evocative and entertaining documentary JULIA, the path that led Child from a well-to-do childhood in Pasadena to fame was a distinctive and fascinating journey. It included Child’s experiences at Smith College; her time in the OSS during World War II and on assignment in Asia; her expatriate life in Paris with her husband, Paul Child, a state department official; being one of the few women to study at Paris’ renowned Le Cordon Bleu cooking school; a chance television appearance on a local Boston TV show that led to fame; a fearless and easy stride into celebrity that allowed for the 6’3” Child to stand tall and lend her distinctive voice to the fight for reproductive rights; and her unerring support for and mentorship of her fellow chefs, especially women.

With hours of audio and video interviews of Julia speaking about her life and career, archival footage and photos, Julia and Paul Child’s letters to each other, research from Julia biographer Bob Spitz, commentary and history from José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson, Ina Garten, Ruth Reichl, Sara Moulton, Jacques Pepin, Julia’s nephew, author Alex Prud’Homme, and others, JULIA is a five-course appreciation of a genuine icon.

“I think Julia’s authenticity always came through in everything she did,” says codirector Betsy West. “She had a calling to help people learn what she knew. There was something relatable about her; she was so open to everything and so welcoming. Adventure and curiosity drove her.”

That sense of curiosity is what brought Child to writing the book that started her fame, 1961’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And as seen in JULIA, when Child was a guest on a low-budget book-review show on Boston’s WGBH-TV — where, in addition to discussing her book, she made a perfect omelet “to liven things up,” as she said — station management at WGBH saw someone with a unique flair who could engage viewers her own way.

“With that book, Julia Child was saying, we’re going to be comprehensive here and do a magnum opus of French cooking as it had never been done before,” says JULIA codirector Julie Cohen.
“And when she bursts onto the airwaves in the 1960s, it was a time people thought there was a certain way a woman on TV was supposed to be — they should have a quiet voice, be demure and petite, preferably blonde, certainly young, and either a sex bomb or a quote-unquote housewife type with every hair in place,” adds Cohen. “Julia was the opposite of all of that, and it was because she became a television star by happenstance. She was a real human being with a great wacky personality — and it turns out, people really liked that.”

“When you think of someone as iconic as Julia, you assume they were always around,” adds Cohen. “Until we started researching the film, I would have thought her origin story was something like, when she was a little girl she dreamed of being a chef and went to cooking school early. But she didn’t even start writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking until she was in her forties and didn’t do TV until she was in her fifties.”

Julia profoundly influenced today’s world of celebrity chefs, many of whom she personally knew before she died in 2004.

“We take it for granted now that we have all of these cooking shows, but before Julia, there wasn’t much,” says West. “She was unique as a personality in the ’70s, and then in the ’80s, as cable television took off and the Food Network and other channels began to see people responding to cooking, the genre grew. It cut across generations to people who aspired to cook and who enjoyed watching other people cook. Julia had a profound influence on that.”

“When you think about the great food personalities on TV now, Julia’s idea about cooking is very much a part of it,” says Cohen. “To her, food was not just a series of steps to prepare a meal. It was about making a festive, pleasurable experience for us all to share.”

CREATING A DELICIOUS DOCUMENTARY

To make Julia Child’s love of food come alive, Cohen and West brought together a team of cinematic collaborators to make viewers’ mouths water as many of Child’s recipes are recreated for JULIA.
“That was important for us, to make as much of the food as we possibly could — we really wanted to make sure there was an emphasis on food cinematography,” says Cohen. Adds West, “We filmed in New York and in France with macro food photography and with a special lens on the food so it looks very impressionistic. We chose certain dishes of Julia’s specifically, including roast chicken, her pear tart recipe, and boeuf bourguignon. We wanted to really let you feel the food. If people leave this film hungry, we did something right.”

Cinematographer Claudia Raschke (RBG, Mad Hot Ballroom) says that she, West, and Cohen discussed creating an “immersive experience” in the macro cooking scenes and other instances.

“The cinematography was meant to capture the sensuality, anticipation, and process of cooking,” says Raschke. “Knowing that the emotional impact of food is huge, we tried to photograph the food in a way that triggers your senses. When you’re looking at food, it’s as a combination of all the senses: The visual, how you’re smelling different ingredients, the way they dissolve on your taste buds, the texture of it. How do you bring that into a film?”

“So, the idea of camera motion was in my mind from the get-go,” Raschke continues. “Because when you’re cooking, it’s about anticipation and understanding how you’re building the meal. Through the macro food photography, we wanted to bring the audience up close and personal in order for them to see the steam, see the bubbles bursting in gravy, see the juices flowing — because all of that is building the anticipation. It is a full sensory experience. Julie and Betsy had carefully selected different recipes of Julia’s that they felt were the best to visualize.”

Adding to the leap-off-the-screen cuisine is a soaring original score for JULIA by Academy Award-winning composer Rachel Portman (Emma, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), whose music highlights the journey through Child’s life as well as the mouth-watering macro food photography.

“Julia Child was really a larger-than-life character,” says Portman. “The score is very closely tailored to all the scenes, and that isn’t always the case in documentaries.

There are themes which are really carried through and then they return and we build on them and develop them throughout the film. From her early days on through, they’re all a progression of her story. We’re setting up a story — and by end, it feels like a whole person’s life.”

“I knew I wanted to have strings involved, because there’s just a whole world in strings, and they’re so adaptable,” says Portman. “The orchestration sort of came out of the musical ideas as I was writing. There’s a harp I use in there as well, and quite a lot of accordion actually for the scenes in France. For the 1960s scenes, there are vibraphones heard to evoke a sort-of up-tempo ’60s cuisine. I even sing in one section, double-tracking myself for one of the period pieces, which was fun. The main themes had to build at the right moments, as if it were scoring a drama.”

Finding the right note for the macro food photography — in which the camera lingers over mouth-watering images — involved a mix of inspiration and images, Portman says.

“The way the food was shot for the film, the colors and the flow, and the fact that the images were slowed down, gave me inspiration,” explains Portman. “I wanted to write something for those scenes that was sort of like a beautiful river, with strings and a melody going through it which would echo what’s onscreen. That’s what those images said to me. Something about seeing those dishes being made just brought to mind a delightful, rolling river.”

West and Cohen recreated Child’s kitchen in her Cambridge, Massachusetts home (designed by Paul Child, and now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History) in a studio space in New York City, complete with period-specific copper pots and pans, cast iron skillets, a recreation of the pegboard plan on the wall that Paul set up for Julia — and a 1950s stove similar to the one Child used, found at an antique sale in New Jersey by producer Holly Siegel. After it was refurbished, the stove was given a removable back to allow for camera shots from that angle. 

“We had a pyrotechnician on set in case anything went up in flames while we were cooking,” laughs Cohen.

Food stylist and author Susan Spungen (whose Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings has just been published) styled the food and showcased it for the camera. Spungen also served as the production chef for recreated recipes with her expertise on display during original in-kitchen footage in JULIA. Spungen was uniquely qualified for the task; she had also served as food stylist for the 2009 narrative film Julie and Julia.

“We used the movement of the cutting with the hands to also provoke an emotion,” explains editor Carla Gutierrez (RBG). “When people discuss Julia cooking a recipe, or making a pastry, a lot of it is the details of the fingers and how the fingers are interacting with the ingredients. It was an enjoyment of pleasure that made Julia Child want to cook. So, how do you capture that visually, or make that come alive with archival? We wanted the experience of tasting and smelling something to be very intense in the film.”

Due to Covid-19, the JULIA team had to have some sections of the macro food photography happen in both New York and Paris — with French filming done by Nanda Fernandez Brèdillard — and then Gutierrez seamlessly blended the two sections as if the dish was being created in one place, on one plate. Every filmmaking ingredient helped.

“Julie and Betsy and I were speaking about sound effects for the cooking of food, and they said, ‘Let’s really work the sound design into the mix,’” says Gutierrez. “In the final film, it’s amazing how alive those food sections feel, partly because of the sound design that we layered in to complement the delicious images. It provides an extra oomph.”
10

BECOMING JULIA CHILD

Child, born Julia McWilliams in 1912, came from an upper-class upbringing in Pasadena, California, the oldest child of a conservative, strict family that expected her to follow suit. That she came to a very liberal, adventurous life no one predicted is a testament to character dictating circumstance.

“By all accounts, Julia had a happy, privileged childhood, playing tennis with her siblings and going to the ocean in the summertime. She had a good and easy upbringing,” says West. “She went to Smith College but wasn’t a super student — she wasn’t particularly academic. She described herself as ‘fun-loving.’ Under that, though, was a sense of adventure, a sense of longing for something else. She thought to herself, ‘Maybe I don’t have to go back to Pasadena, marry the rich guy join the country club, and start to drink martinis at lunchtime ... maybe there’s another way.’ For Julia and many men and women of her generation, World War II offered an opportunity.”

After graduating from Smith in 1934 she worked in New York as a copywriter, then went to Washington, D.C., to be a researcher at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). She volunteered when positions in the Far East became available.

“It was this sense of adventure that propelled Julia, and ultimately led her to a serious purpose,” says West.

Adds Cohen, “Julia wanted to learn. It was a hallmark of a lot of the Greatest Generation, the idea that they wanted to play some role in a larger effort, which was understood by Americans to be the righteous effort at the time. They wanted to contribute something.”

In the OSS, Julia met and fell in love with Paul Child, a state department official in China — she was involved with the Burma Road project; he was a graphics artist in charge of maps — and the two married in 1946. More than just a diplomat, Child, a

New Jersey native, had an appreciation for art, food, and culture, despite not finishing high school. After they married, the couple lived an expat life in Paris, where Paul was stationed and where they subsequently settled.

“There was a period where if you wanted to have delicious food, you had to think about France, Italy, and China, and French food was the first thing that really blew Julia’s mind,” says Cohen.

Child enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, the oldest and most esteemed cooking school in Paris. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, women who attended there were put into specific areas to learn. That pigeonholing wouldn’t do for Child.

“There were women’s courses at Le Cordon Bleu, but they were more like amateur housewife courses, and that’s where Julia was assigned when she went,” says Cohen. “But she was very clear from the beginning that she didn’t want that. She wanted to jump in with both feet into the professional course.”

A RECIPE FOR LIFE, LOVE, AND CAREER

JULIA shows how at Le Cordon Bleu, Child earned her place in a culture and profession that didn’t necessarily think of women as worthy of commanding a chef’s position. In fact, many women were pushed out, as the film shows. Yet Child graduated from the initial course in 1951, then continued to study with the famous chef and teacher Max Bugnard.

“At that time, Le Cordon Bleu was populated by young American G.I.’s who fought in the war and, thanks to the G.I. Bill, were intent on learning a trade,” says Cohen. “Julia jumped into the courses there with French male teachers who were stereotypically snooty and not predisposed to respecting young women. But her teacher saw how spongelike Julia was in absorbing the lessons of great French cuisine, and she got very good at it. She eventually earned respect there, which wasn’t going to be just given to a woman in that circumstance at that time.”

At a cooking club party in Paris, Child met and became great friends with Simone “Simka” Beck, who also attended Le Cordon Bleu and had written cuisine pamphlets in France. The pair opened a small cooking school of their own, and soon decided to write a French cookbook for women and housewives in America — a place where, in the 1950s, a dinner party might consist of beef fondue, frozen fruit with toothpicks in them, cream cheese and oranges, or spaghetti with ketchup. JULIA shows how Child and Beck, along with Beck’s friend, cooking teacher Louisette Bertholle, set about writing the seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Their overarching goal was to include ingredients found in America. Despite both Child and Beck’s strong views, the collaboration clicked, and through 12 years of writing and rewriting (done through the mail after the Childs relocated to Marseilles) and a rejection by its original publisher, Houghton Mifflin, the book found success in 1961 when published, somewhat reluctantly, by Alfred A. Knopf.

“That book was an amazing accomplishment of stick-to-it-iveness — from the writing of it in the face of their geographical and technological challenges to the lack of reception from the publishing world,” says West. When Houghton Mifflin rejected the book, Knopf himself thought it would have only minimal appeal. “But Julia knew they had something important to convey. This was their life’s work, and they had to make it good. They exhibited a lot of determination, persistence, and belief in themselves even when they must have been very discouraged at times.”

Adds Cohen, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking was also a very serious undertaking. So much of what Julia had been trained for was frivolous, something women of her generation were used to. The book, though, was not a light little clip-job, the kind that would be excerpted in a ladies’ magazine — which, as it turned out, some of the publishers they approached had in mind. Julia and Simka had a vision and really kept to it, even when people said they needed to cut it down or make it like something a

housewife flipping through a magazine might enjoy. They were told not to make it so comprehensive. But Julia said, ‘We’ll just stick with it this way.’”

Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a massive success in 1961, flying off bookshelves and getting a rave review in the New York Times. It recalibrated what publishers and the restaurant world considered their core audience, ushering in an era that elevated what cooking and eating might mean to people.
“Julia anticipated a cultural desire to cook in a different way, rejecting what was the push toward convenient, packaged, and processed foods,” says West.

“The book became one of those touchstones for people to learn something,” says West.

Says Cohen, “It was a big, serious book by a woman, an encyclopedia of food from another culture. The book meant a lot to people and symbolized something in the culture and especially to American women.”

STIRRING THE POT ON TV AND IN CULTURE

While promoting the book on Boston public television in 1962, Child — who with Paul had relocated back in the United States, to Cambridge, Massachusetts — discovered quite by accident that she had the secret ingredient in a genre awkwardly coming into being on television.

JULIA shows how the standard at the time for local television programs was low- budget academic shows, with stiff and academic hosts seemingly. When Child came on Boston’s WGBH-TV to discuss Mastering the At of French Cooking, she came prepared to cook an omelet — and the audience responded.
As Child’s WGBH producer Russell Morash says in JULIA about what passed for food culture at the time, “We ate without much style, flair, or imagination.”

“The show’s producers said, ‘Let’s do a few more shows,’” says Cohen. On Child’s own syndicated show, The French Chef, which debuted in February 1963, her unconventional style and genuineness stood out in an era when cookie-cutter-style suburban beauty was the order of the day, Cohen says. “It turned out, people liked seeing real people on TV. The fact that Julia was Julia is what everybody loved about her. Although she was certainly something of a ham, viewers didn’t say, ‘Who is this middle-aged, tall woman with the odd voice?’ They said, ‘This is the kind of person I’d like to see on television.’”
Says West, “A lot of instructional or educational TV, as it was called, was very pompous and stiff and the hosts were kind of academic, sort of above the masses. Whereas Julia’s attitude was, ‘Come on in, I’m going to teach you, and it’s not easy but you can do it!’ That was instantly appealing to audiences. She would practice everything down to the minute of how she would present things. Julia really worked hard behind the scenes.”

The show was done live-to-tape originally — “Giving them a breathless quality,” Child notes in the film — with no teleprompter, requiring long takes. When Child would feature a certain ingredient, that ingredient would often sell out at grocery stores. She considered it a teaching show, and its host’s theatricality, waving her arms and seemingly occupying every corner of the kitchen, caught the imagination of its audiences. The French Chef was on the air for 10 years, ending in 1973, with Child becoming a household name as she helped public television itself take off.
“I appeared at the right time, as people were interested in more interesting cooking,” Child recalls in the film.

In the 1970s, Child’s programs expanded to include Julia Child & Company, Dinner at Julia’s, In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, Baking with Julia, and Julia Child & Jacques Pepin Cooking at Home. And she went on to write The French Chef Cookbook,

Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. II, and From Julia Child’s Kitchen, among others.
Child would win two Emmy Awards and three Daytime Emmys Awards and win a National Book Award, additionally being awarded the French Legion of Honor and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. And she was parodied by Dan Aykroyd in drag in a 1977 Saturday Night Live skit that poked fun at a self-inflicted finger-slice Child made on camera. The real-life subject of the joke loved Aykroyd’s homage, often showing a tape of it to guests.

“For someone who had been brought up in a proper, restrained way, Julia was very loose on camera,” says Cohen. “That was very liberating to her audience in general, and her female audience in particular. She brought a very French philosophy that food is sensual, and eating meals isn’t a boring thing you have to do — it’s one of the great pleasures of the world. That was a fairly new idea for a lot of Americans.”

LIFE WITH PAUL

JULIA shows how throughout Child’s successes with Mastering the Art of French Cooking and on TV with The French Chef, Paul Child was there behind the scenes, aiding her rise as his career in the State Department ended amongst false accusations during the Red Scare and Lavender Scares of the late 1950s and early ’60s. When he took an early retirement, he threw himself into helping in any way Julia needed.
“Julia and Paul had an amazing partnership,” says West. “Paul was 10 years older, and he was introducing Julia to art, architecture, literature, and really tutoring her in a way of life that she took to. He was a renaissance man, a self-taught intellectual who truly opened up the world to her, including, crucially, the world of food, which they enjoyed in China and then in France. Yet as Julia found her calling, Paul had professional struggles.”

“Paul could have resented the fact that Julia became successful just as he was questioning what to do after leaving the State Department. Instead, he wanted to help make her career possible,” says West.

Says Cohen, “In the film, we show again and again Paul’s excitement as Julia finds something she loves and cares about. He wrote letters to his brother saying how wonderful it was to watch Julia perfecting her art. Once The French Chef is on the air, there are pictures of Paul either hunched in the background trying to help the show come together or sometimes literally mopping her brow as she was preparing food. He would wash off the utensils in the restroom. There was no job too small or big for him. He was figuring out everything she might need to succeed, and it’s a touching thing to witness.”

From scrubbing pots to writing cue cards to managing schedules, Paul Child supported Julia in any way she needed.

JULIA also tastefully brings up how Child would make lunches for her husband as he would come home in the afternoon from his job at the State Department, and that the sensuality she exhibited in her cooking was a part of her and Paul’s private life, too.

Those lunches, as personal letters between the two seen throughout JULIA hint at, were likely not the only thing the couple indulged in during their afternoons together.

“We can surmise that Julia and Paul had a very sensual relationship — we show in the film the pictures of them looking at each other, it seems like there was real love there,” says West. “Their relationship certainly opened Julia’s eyes to all of the possibilities in the world, including sexuality.”

Says Rachel Portman, whose score encompasses a romantic theme for the couple, “Julia discovered food and love, and one of the things I really wanted to capture in the music — and which is in the film of course — is how there's something very sensuous about the preparing of food. It was a glorious challenge.”

In 1963, the two built a home in Provence, above Cannes. As Paul’s health declined late in life from a heart attack and strokes in the late 1980s and the onset of dementia, Julia’s strength and love brought him along and buoyed him and kept him safe. He died in 1994 at the age of 92.

A LASTING INFLUENCE

As JULIA shows, Child continued to write bestselling books and host cooking shows as she became a staple on ABC’s Good Morning America, and illustrate recipes on talk shows. In much the same way Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert brought their film criticism from public TV to the national conversation, sparking an industry revolution in the process, Child was making appreciation for good cuisine and cooking not just must-see afternoon TV but a legitimate phenomenon. And beyond the world of entertainment, in the 1980s, Child took a brave step and lent her name and support to Planned Parenthood as reproductive rights came under attack.

“Julia was unafraid of criticism,” says West. “She didn’t hold back from supporting Planned Parenthood in the 1980s when it was under assault from people who may have been part of her audience. But she was so self-confident. And, importantly, she had a maturity when she became successful — she didn’t go on TV until she was in her fifties — and the combo of that and her incredible success gave her a confidence. She didn’t back down about the things she thought were important, especially pro-choice issues.

As former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards says in the film, at the time Julia supported the organization, “It wasn’t something celebrities were doing. But she just decided she was interested in fundraising, and in being a very public face of support for reproductive rights.”

“Julia was going around the country anyway, to high-profile events that people were lining up to attend, so she thought, why not talk about the issues that are important to her,” adds West. “One reason why not might be because she would get blowback — which she did. But she just didn’t care.”
Says Cohen, “Julia Child was a person who let herself inhabit spaces physically and metaphorically. She didn’t ever shrink from anything.”

When her longtime lawyer Bob Johnson died of AIDS in 1986, Child began advocating for gay rights and health care, an issue she hadn’t given thought to. But by the late 1980s, it was another cause she cared deeply about, and she used her celebrity to help bring awareness to it.

Her own health had challenges in the 1960s, as Child battled and overcame breast cancer, undergoing a mastectomy. In 2004, Julia Child succumbed to kidney failure, passing away at the age of 91.
“Throughout her whole life, Julia approached aging in such an interesting way,” says West. “She became famous in her fifties, and that speaks a lot about her view. She felt like she was young at heart, and she always felt she was going to stay in the game. Her work was key to who she was and kept her going.”
Says Cohen, “She loved the things that she had always loved, and she had a magnetic presence and a way with people that continued throughout her whole life. And she was so relaxed about her celebrity — despite the fact that she was an accomplished cook with a superb technique, and wrote an iconic cookbook, she was a very welcoming and relaxed hostess and guest.”

Says West, “People often talked about having Julia over for dinner — which of course would be extremely nerve-racking, to cook for Julia Child! — and yet she was always very open. ‘Just give me good hamburger and I’m fine!’ she’d say. And if something screwed up, it was fine, or she would ask guests to come into the kitchen and help.”

“There was a relaxed joyousness to the way she dealt with cooking. She didn’t feel the need to impress people. She didn’t have to — she was Julia Child.”

Monday, October 11, 2021

Salvestrin's Historic Crane Vineyard Certified Organic



The 2021 harvest marks a special milestone for Salvestrin's Dr. Crane vineyard - it will be the first time the grapes are certified organic. 

Owned by the Salvestrin family for 77 years, this historic Napa site first planted in 1859, achieved organic certification July 21. Pictured here are Rich Salvestrin, an owner, and viticulturist and associate winemaker Natalie Jane Winkler. 

The Salvestrin family purchased 25 acres of the Crane vineyard (which was originally 335 acres with a winery located where the St. Helena High School sits today) in 1932. The site is among the oldest to be continuously farmed in Napa. Fifteen acres of vines are still part of family's holdings of the historic Crane vineyard. 

Uniquely the winery also offers lodging in the historic Dr. Crane house, now the Inn at Silvestrin.

More details to come in a post harvest story...

Friday, October 8, 2021

Wine and Climate Change: What Next for the Flooded Ahr Valley in Germany? Vineyard Terracing, Reorienting Vineyard Rows and Reforestation Under Consideration

If local climate change mitigation experts have their say, vineyards in the Ahr Valley, planted on steep hillsides, may no longer want to keep their row orientation facing downward in long rows that send water rushing down to the river and towns below, says Professor Lothar Schrott, a geography professor at the University of Bonn who heads the university's disaster management program. 

Instead, vineyard owners may consider terracing the steep hillsides. 


Forests composed of a high number of spruce trees and a low number of deciduous trees also pose a risk in the region, says Schrott. 

"Decidous trees retain more water," Schrott says in the new, online, 30 minute documentary, Extreme Weather, Rising Sea Levels and Devastating Floods: The Global Climate Crisis, on Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany's public television network. 

(His comments on this topic begin at 24:24 in the program.) 

According to the documentary, it can take 100 years to transition to a more balanced, mixed forest.



The German government has devoted $30 billion for disaster recovery in the Ahr Valley, which was devastated by severe flooding July 14, damaging more than 46 wineries in the region. Eighty percent of the wineries grow Pinot Noir, which is called Spatburgunder, on the chilly, slate slopes here.

Schrott's assessment is that many mistakes were made in the region. He says preventive measures would have been more cost effective than dealing with the disruption and damage of the flood. 

More than 160 people died in the flood.


In a story familiar to California's growers, insurance companies have agreed to pay only a portion of the damages, so winemakers in the local coop reached out for help and hundreds of volunteers came to their aid to help clean out warehouses and preserve wine that could be rescued. 

See DW's coverage of winery relief efforts Good Samaritan Come to the Rescue for more on that story.

Climate change expert Dr. Kira Vine, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, is also featured in the documentary, which also covers the impacts of climate change flooding in Bangladesh and Mozambique. 


Though Germany provided more than 4 billion Euros to Mozambique for climate mitigation, climate change experts there and in Bangladesh criticize developed countries for not providing more funding to deal with relocation and mitigation efforts, saying the funds Germany gave to Mozambique were 1/8th of the amount Germany gave to the Ahr Valley. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Battle for The Clean, Green Mantle: Bonterra Fights Back Against "Clean Wine" Claims With "Beyond" Video

Dry Farm Wines, WINC, Scout and Cellar, and a host of other direct to consumer wine brands are touting "Clean Wines" as better than anything. 

Why organic certification doesn't count for as much as "clean wine" is a byproduct of the natural wine movement, which has made consumers focus on additives in wine - additives like sugar, MegaPurple and other baddies. Consumers like focusing on additives, because they can read lists of additives on food products. It's familiar ground. 

And natural winemakers like focusing on them, too, since, in the US, very few natural winemakers grow grapes (which was supposed to be one of the essential definitions of natural wine) and focus instead on all the things they DON'T add to wine instead of what they do do - choosing fermentation vessels, aging vessels, deciding on length of various processes, etc. etc. 

The Clean Wine Crowd haven't yet really addressed farming issues. ("Trust us" is a common refrain.) While they often try to avoid the O word - organic - they don't mind if their version of organic is what is increasingly referred to as "non-certified organic." 

(Were there too many sulfite questions from confused consumers over the USDA's idea of Organic Wine being sulfite free?)

This week, an indie vintner and I tasted wines together and she assured me one of the wines was from a "non-certified organic" vineyard. The next day I looked it up on the county's pesticide use report. Not organic. A lot of fungicides. 

She was dismayed and felt betrayed. I've seen the same response from many of my colleagues. "How could someone lie to me?" they say.

I've been dismayed often, too. It's hard not to take it as a sense of personal betrayal when someone is untruthful, as if you will never find out what they are really farming with in their vineyard. Do you really appear to them to be that much of stooge, you wonder? Or, to give some of them the benefit of the doubt, do they themselves not know what their vineyard management company is doing?

I've come to the conclusion over years of researching this topic, that, although there are some innocents out there, many vintners just lie. They are just so used to no one ever reading the pesticide use report. 

Do they must think the pesticide use data stays inside a database in Sacramento for its entire life? 

Apparently they do. I could give countless examples of this phenomenon but I won't - at least not today.

The companies staking their claim on making "clean" wine are often using "non-certified organic" grapes. Some are also buying certified organic - from Bonterra's former growers (who are organically certified) in Mendocino (Bonterra found cheaper organic grapes elsewhere and abandoned many Mendo growers) or from certified organic producers elsewhere, including Emiliana in Chile - without telling consumers the grapes are actually certified organic.

Now Bonterra's taking aim at these green mantle wannabees - certified organic's thieves - and the thieves' soaring sales and popularity (WINC just filed for an IPO this week, meaning it could go public) and fighting back with this new video, released a month ago. Take a look in this Bonterra video below. 

(Bonterra's lawyers must have gotten more powerful, since this video, unlike most wine videos, appears to only be viewable on YouTube - where your age can be confirmed? Pullease. [That is not the spirit of Dionysos, is it?] Still, click on over.)


One quibble: though the Made with Organic Wine standard IS better than 95 percent of the wines out there in terms of the additives that can be used, it should be noted that all organically grown wines in the U.S. can use a LIMITED number of additives, and that list of permitted additives does NOT include MegaPurple, etc. 

On other fronts, Bonterra's sales are going well. Here are the latest stats from Concha y Tora's annual report:


Until now, Bonterra has pretty much had a virtual monopoly in regular supermarkets as the only Made with Organic Grapes brand ($11-16ish), while Bronco brands like Shaw Organic have a captive spot at Trader Joe's for the $4 buyers. Newcomers like Scheid are lining up to fuel domestic organic options at Whole Foods, which has been not stocked much organic for years.

This week, The Drinks Business named Concha y Toro, Bonterra's parent company, "International Drinks Company of the Year." The Chilean based winery became a B Corp this year, a prestigious achievement, which the publication cited as impressing their judges.

Fetzer Vineyards, owned by Concha y Toro, already had become a certified B Corp. in 2015.

While Bonterra's wines are organic, those branded with the name of its parent company, Fetzer Vineyards, are not, although a newly released Fetzer Vineyards brand sustainability marketing video obscures that fact, branding the entire Fetzer Vineyards with the organic halo effect. It's like Coca Cola trying to say it's sugar free - taking a product attribute and applying it to the corporate brand. 

Is this ethical?


Bonterra's case production is dwarfed by that of Fetzer's, which is not clear in the video.

Fetzer Vineyards' branded wines are made from grapes treated with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides primarily from Lodi and Central Valley growers, despite the happy picture the video paints which refers ONLY to its organic estate vines, which all go into Bonterra, not Fetzer Vineyards' other brands.

A frame grab from the video may imply that Fetzer's 
wines all use these practices. Fetzer Vineyards the company has 
certified organic vineyards it owns and uses
for Bonterra wines. But Fetzer Vineyards' (the company) other wines do not.
The 900 acres of estate vines are a fraction
of the grapes the company sources from. 

Fetzer has made much of its "sustainable" sourcing, but sustainable wines may use many toxic substances in the vineyards that, in my humble opinion (which counts for naught), are not worthy of a B Corp award. Consumers will have to learn that B Corp does not mean organic and apparently, it can mean deceptive branding as well.

But many other green halo wine brands do the same. While it is commendable that Boisset and Benziger have biodynamic estates - and Boisset's is growing quite a bit - both of those brands could be painted with the same brush. Boisset makes fewer than one percent of its wines from its biodynamic vines. (For years it prominently displayed the biodynamic calendar on its home page, but has since stopped that.) At Benziger the number is seven percent. At both of these brands, as well as at Bonterra, the biodynamic wines are the most expensive wines. That is not the case for many other biodynamic wineries (Emiliana, Lunaria, Cooper Mountain in Oregon, Montinore Estate in Oregon, and others). 

Good luck, consumers! It's tricky path to dodge the greenwashing and find the truly green gold. Remember it's often the wine, and not the brand, that is organic.

Monday, September 27, 2021

NZ Organic Wine Week: Nigel Greening of Felton Road

It's hard to believe that anyone can have Nigel's real last name, as in Nigel Greening, and be a famous biodynamic vintner. But that's how it goes. 

Greening's Felton Road winery is one of New Zealand's most well known organic and biodynamic producers and during the celebration of organic wine in New Zealand this past week, he weighed in on Zoom for a trade tasting. Here are his comments from the event, which he joined from the UK, where he has been for 16 months, waiting for the rules to be relaxed so he can head home. He responded to questions sent during the online event.

Here's the video or scroll down for an edited transcript.

 

ON THE ECONOMICS OF ORGANIC FARMING

When it comes to the economics of organic farming, it's not really about the cost of one kind of farming versus the other. Because when you start doing organic or biodynamic farming, you change the way you farm. You change the things you want to do. 

And so regardless of the rules, you're not doing the same stuff. With us, it started with Hey, we'll have some chickens, and hey, look, those hills, we need goats on them. And we now only cows to keep the goats company. And, wow, we're gonna have to grow some animal food. And what about making some single vineyard compost? 

So what you're doing isn't the same. And that's one reason why it's very hard to compare the cost. 

But it's surprising - it doesn't go up as much as you might think. 

THE WINE TASTING

The samples of the wines [you all tasted]: I thought all showed that the wines were fairly comfortable with themselves. They weren't trying to prove anything. They were just being what they should be.  

LABELING ORGANIC OR BIODYNAMIC WINE

There were quite a lot of conversations going on about the issues with labeling and standards. 

We're now 20 odd years into organics. And still most of our wine is not labeled organic. 

That's not because it isn't organic. It's because just the sheer grief of trying to deal with all the details of 45 markets, each with their own organic rules and variations - means that in most cases, in this world, people know that we're biodynamic, and have been for 20 years. They know we're organic. So we don't have to put a label on it. 

[But] We do in some markets. 

ORGANIC VERSUS BIODYNAMIC

One little point within all of this is biodynamic versus organic. 

Some people...ask...What percentage is biodynamic? What percentage is organic? You can't really label it or measure it that way because a lot of wineries will be certified in both. And so it's quite hard to pick one from the other. 

But in general, within the EU system, you have to be certified with an organic certifier if it's a New Zealand wine, which is a longer story that we won't go into. 

So that means that even though we've been Demeter certified for a long time, we had to adopt a BioGro [New Zealand's organic certifier] certification as well, simply because that became necessary. It gets very, very complicated. I can tell you, that's the worst bit.

COVID LOCKOUT

I'm in the UK. I've been locked out to the winery now for 16 months, which is Whoa, yeah, that's not easy. But I'm really, really hoping that I'm going to be able to be allowed back in in January. New Zealand has locked out...[while] other people have locked down. While New Zealand is locked out, and trying to get a slot to get back through biosecurity is so difficult...we're waiting for the rules to relax, so I can get back to the winery. And so I have to do everything remotely. 

WHY BIODYNAMIC?

Why did we go biodynamics, not organics, from the start? We started with organics, but I was keen on biodynamics. 

And the reason for that was that I'd worked a lot in my past life with the car industry. And I had been really horrified, by the way that they equated quality with fewer defects. They have this generally accepted idea that if you have no defects, you have a quality product. And I thought, That's nonsense, you can have perfect rubbish, you know, it's about quality is the input in a lot of the defects necessarily that you take out. 

And I felt that was organics was clearly more like a list of it was more like zero defects. These are all the things you mustn't do. 

Biodynamics, for all its flaws - and some of the slightly crackpot areas - was really a philosophy that was focused on here are the things you should do, as opposed to other things you shouldn't do. I liked that.

I'm not sold on all aspects of biodynamics. And that's fine. It's a broad church. And all of us kind of get home or get off the bus at slightly different points. But we all share the same kind of passion for how you manage this ever changing ecosystem of the land. 

CONSUMER DEMAND

What is the uptake on consumer demand for organics? The answer to that is I don't know, because for so long now everybody's kind of known that we were. So it's really, really hard for me to answer that one. You'd think there has to be a greater awareness? But it's difficult to know. I think it varies from country to country. 

THE FARMER'S FOOTSTEPS

I'll tell you the thing that I find interesting - and that's a thing all the way around the world - that essentially, people who are farming organically and biodynamically in most cases, spend a lot more time physically on their land. There's a saying that a farmer's footsteps are the best compost. And I think getting out of a tractor and actually being on your feet and bending over and digging in the soil with your hands, really thinking about what's going around is something that all organic farmers, biodynamic farmers have in common. 

We're trying to unravel this amazing web. Somebody made reference to James Milton's lovely thing, you know: "be careful how you step on my land, you're not standing on the dirt, you're stepping on the roof of another kingdom."

And we're trying to understand that kingdom, the kingdom where one spoonful of soil has more life than there are people on earth. And that's quite cool. 

COVER CROPS

What are the most popular cover crops planted in New Zealand for organic vineyards to bring life back into the soil? We go wider and wider. And often it's based on things that we like.

I was getting the guys to plant peas because I wanted peas to pick for lunch. And then we found pigeons came to eat the peas, because pigeons like peas and then we found falcons came to eat pigeons, because falcons like pigeons. And suddenly you've opened up this whole new little ecosystem that you didn't know was going on just because you added some peas.  

Cover crops are interesting, but it's often most interesting just to do something nice, you know, do things because you'd like to eat them and then see what else the world likes to eat that comes and plays in your vineyard. 

ADIEU

I'll wrap up now. Thanks to everybody for listening. And yeah, I hope to see all of you soon.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Jeremy Cukierman MW's New Book on Wine and Climate Change, What Wine for Tomorrow? Launches

Congratulations to Jeremy Cukierman MW, Michelle Bouffard and Herve Quinol on the publication of their new French language book on wine and climate change, entitled What Wine for Tomorrow?

Cukierman (left) and Bouffard (back row, to the right of Cukierman) are featured in this celebratory photo, commemorating the book's publication at a Parisian wine shop.

(To see a who's who in the photo, go to Cukierman's Instagram feed here for the tagged version).


The book is published by Dunod. It's available in both hardcover and as an ebook. 

The three authors bring a variety of experiences to the project. Herve Quinol is a climate scientist, Bouffard a Canadian sommelier who runs the Tasting Climate Change conference, and Cukierman, a former wine merchant, an MW, and now dean of Kedge Wine Business School in Bordeaux.

In Vitisphere, a French wine publication, Cukierman is quoted as saying, “We are sharing everything that seemed inspiring to us, all the worthy initiatives, the questions and the answers. The book embraces the entire supply chain with a single ambition, and that is to take a positive approach to an issue that is often anxiety-inducing or alarmist."

“Announcing major predictions should be done with caution. The great vineyard sites were chosen for a combination of factors, one of which is climate. Only this factor has changed and Vitis vinifera is a very resilient plant with the ability to adapt. Some ancient forecasts predicted that certain grape varieties would disappear, but they are still here!”

Read more here.

Alas the publisher has no plans to release an English language version, so you will just have to brush up on your French. 

New Zealand's Organic Producers Showcase Variety in Organic Wine Week Trade Tasting - Organic Up 6 Percent Annually

"We're not standing on dirt, but the rooftop of another Kingdom," says biodynamic vintner James Millton, nicknamed The Godfather of organic wine in New Zealand. 

He was quoted by other New Zealand vintners who are certified organic in an online trade tasting yesterday, where participants tasted through six different varieties of wines. 

While most people think of New Zealand for Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Pinot Noir, yesterday's tasting included an Alsatian field blend, a Chardonnay, a Chenin Blanc, and a Syrah. 

Having just cataloged all the organic wines of New Zealand - there are more than 450 - I was interested to see some of the faces behind these wines on the webinar. 

(For the sake of comparison, the U.S. has about 1,600 organically grown wines, all of which come from certified grapes but most of which have no organic labeling on the bottle). 

According to BioGro NZ, the country's sole organic certifier, New Zealand currently has nearly 5,000 acres of certified organic vines and about 1,000 more acres in the three year process of conversion. This acreage represents more than 10 percent of all New Zealand vineyard acreage. There are 102 organic wine producers and 235 organic vineyards, according to Jared White, organic wine specialist at BioGro NZ.

In the U.S., which has more than 550,000 acres of wine grapes in California alone, organic vineyards are  estimated at around 25,000-30,000 acres or around 3-4 percent.

In New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are the most popular varieties by far. As far as regions go, Marlborough and Central Otago have the highest percentage of organic wines, at 48 percent and 22 percent respectively.

The graphics below are available here. (May require free registration).

Northern New Zealand


Southern New Zealand

Pinot Noir acreage - 890 hectares - far outnumbered any other red wine (total of 1,110 hectares), while Sauvignon Blanc similarly dominated the white wine production at 786 hectares (out of 1,282 hectares of whites total). 

During the webinar I attended (there were two sessions to choose from), I was able to chat with a few voices in the room and learn more about what having an organic wineries association did for the vintners involved and which markets were top buyers. 

Very few countries have organic wine associations to help market wines, conduct tastings and educate the trade on organic farming and wine standards. (The rampant misinformation about organic and biodynamic wines and standards in the U.S., even among wine professionals, is a result of the lack of such a group in the U.S.)

I asked if having an organic wine association had been a useful step for the group.

Clive Dougall, chair of Organic Winegrowers NZ (OWNZ) and vintner at Deep Down Wines, said the organization, "has been critical. It has been going for about 15 years and has grown the sector, through education, solidarity and support. It started out small and insignificant, but OWNZ is now incredibly current, credible and powerful."

Dougall said the top markets for organically grown wines for OWNZ members are primarily in the EU, (no one mentioned the U.S.), citing buyer interest in Belgium, Holland and Germany as well as in the Nordics and Sweden (where government policies encourage organic wine imports). 

For me the knockout wine in the tasting of six was the Chenin Blanc from Millton's Te Arai Vineyard in Gisborne, which, I was happy to see, is sold at K & L in San Francisco for about $30 a bottle.

A replay of the webinar is available online.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The All New Julia Child Movie Coming Your Way in November: Food, Glorious Food


I dare you not to salivate.

I just watched the upcoming release Julia about the cook/chef/writer who launched the American food revolution. (Or was it the French food revolution in America?)

Anyway, for the millions of Julia fans, the good news is there is a new documentary to add to the firmament of Julia movies. And this one lets you see food in a way you've never seen before - with luscious shots, filmed in macro, edited in slo mo and set to a score that breathes life into every shot. 

The Mill Valley Film Festival is screening the film in October. There are two dates and neither appears to be sold out yet. Watch for the film to hit theaters Nov. 12.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

World Premiere: Song for Cesar, Tribute to Chavez and Movement's Music, Screens at Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 14, 15 and Online)


Joan Baez, Carlos Santana, and Taj Mahal are just a few of the musical luminaries who pay tribute to Cesar Chavez in this new documentary, Song for Cesar, scheduled to screen at the Mill Valley Film Festival

The movie will play in theaters on Oct. 14 in Berkeley (at BAMPFA) and on Oct. 15 at the Sequoia Theater in downtown Mill Valley. 

You can also see the film online through the festival; tickets are $8 to stream it, but only a limited number of tickets are available.

The Oct. 15 screening will be followed by a live music concert at Sweetwater, a benefit for Cesar Chavez's Foundation and others. Tickets are $285 for the concert.

Some of the stars in the film:


The trailer: 


For more videos on the background of this project, years in the making, see the movie's website

Tickets for the MVFF members go on sale Sept. 12-14. Tickets open for the general public on Sept. 15.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Hanzell Vineyards Certified Organic

Congratulations to Hanzell!

@jasonmjardine - President | Farmer | Director of Winemaking 
@brandon.bredo - Hanzell Farm Manager

Announcement from Hanzell Vineyards' Instagram page: 

"It’s been a long time coming but it’s official…we’re now certified organic through CCOF!! For years, we have been farming this land with intention and commitment to ensure the health of our ecosystem while considering our impact on the tiniest fungi to the grandest of trees, and everything and everyone in between. Care for our vines, the woodlands, native wildlife, grazing animals and more than anything, the health and well-being of the people who make up this Hanzell family have driven every decision we make. It feels good to hold this sign and to be able to say that we’re certified organic, knowing all the hard work over the years means something to people beyond our front gate. We look forward to many more years, farming and sustaining this treasure we all love so much."

According to the USDA organic database online, in addition to the grapes, the winery has also been certified organic, which is usually done when a winery begins to make certified wines (in addition to growing certified grapes).

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Chris Malan on Napa River: "An Ecosystem Like No Other with 34 Native Fish" Faces Challenge from Groundwater Extraction and "Lawlessness in Surface Water Pumping"

Dry Creek off of Pickett Lane 

Chris Malan has been a voice for the environment in Napa County for decades. She wrote the following letter to the editor (see below) published in the Napa Valley Register on Sept. 2. I am reprinting it here as many will not see it on the newspaper site.

For those who want to read the prequel to this modern day disaster, James Conaway's Book The Far Side of Eden chronicles Mahan's earlier fight, with the Sierra Club, to increase environmental protections for Napa's hillsides. 

As the Washington Post wrote in its book review in 2002:

"Led by a community activist named Chris Malan and supported by the Mennen Environmental Foundation, environmentalists girded for battle to protect the Napa hilltops from new vineyard development. Malan sought a moratorium on new vineyards on the valley's steep slopes, citing damage to the Napa River from erosion. She and her supporters felt that prior efforts at regulation -- the 40-acre minimum lot size for the hills set in 1973 and the 1988 winery definition, which restricted business activities at new wineries–simply were not enough. Ratcheting up the rhetoric, "environmentalists [began] calling grape-growing 'alcohol farming,' the act of planting a vineyard 'graping the land,' and wineries 'alcohol factories,' " Conaway writes."

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Fast forward almost 20 years...

Editor's note: text bolding was added by the editor (me).

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

LETTER TO THE EDITOR, SEPT. 2, 2021

The Napa River became a dry river bed with stagnant pools in early July. Many local and state efforts to get the Water Boards to protect optimum stream flows for fish met deaf ears.

I live and recreate on the Napa River. I organized a Napa River scientific collection project in May 2021 that included water grabs, aquatic insects, and the first ever algae collections throughout this river basin. It took my team a year to establish our sampling sites.

Starting the project on May 13, we didn’t expect the streams to drop so quickly from one day to the next. The day we started we were chasing water in order to collect the samples. We had to scramble to find alternate sites as irrigators were dropping the stream flows quickly. Surface and groundwater pumping simultaneously during one of the worst recorded droughts quickly depleted stream flows and by the end of June the Napa River was a dry river bed with isolated stagnant pools.

We did find adequate stream flows above the big reservoirs like Milliken, Bell and Rector because they are steep canyons where diverters can’t pump or extract near the streams. Also, in State Parks like Bothe and Bale Mill the streams had sufficient flows to keep the aquatic ecosystems in good condition, as evidence that surface and groundwater diversions wreak havoc on stream flows. These conditions are occurring State wide as water has been over appropriated long ago by the Water Boards allowing more water to be extracted than what normal rain fall can replenish the streams causing them to steadily drop in flows since 1950. Climate change has caused prolonged drought and water extractions should have been curtailed long ago. 

After studying the Napa River ecology for 20 years, it is an ecosystem like no other, with 34 native fish including California Fresh Water Shrimp, river lamprey, Red Legged Frogs, steelhead and Chinook. We discovered new species of aquatic insects and our studies this year discovered new species of diatom algae. All of this richness in biodiversity is in jeopardy due to a lack of regulated groundwater extraction and lawlessness in surface water pumping.

Groundwater-dependent ecosystems such as vernal pools are allowed to be graded with impunity by vineyard developers throughout the watershed, riparian pumpers secretly hide their pumps and dry up the streams, reservoirs are built without permits, stored water is not used for intended purposes and groundwater extractors pump recklessly all this on top of decades of habitat degradation (deforestation) and pollution are all human impacts collapsing our watersheds. These dry brittle watersheds continue to set us up for catastrophic fires.

Additionally, as streams decline in flows, pollution becomes more devastating such as eutrophication or harmful algae blooms where toxins can kill animals and humans.

Recently, the State Water Resources Control Board curtailed the Delta water diversion permits. A few days ago they added more streams and Rivers to this curtailment order including these two streams in Napa County: Cache and Putah Creek that flow into the Delta.

Later this Water Board approved curtailments on the Scott and Shasta Rivers and settled on voluntary compliance to start the curtailments.

The reason for curtailments is to keep the fish in good condition but on the Napa River most of the fish are now dead because the Water Board failed to protect the public trust which is the right to fish, swim, recreate and use potable water. More and more wells are going dry in Napa County. If we had kept water in our streams, our groundwater recharge would be healthier.

Napa County Board of Supervisors play a huge role in the dewatering of the Napa River be cause they continue to allow approvals of numerous groundwater wells.

The State Water Resource Control Board should immediately curtail the Napa River to allow for recovery of the aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, the Napa County Supervisors must put a moratorium on all new groundwater well applications until the Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Plan, required by the State Groundwater Management Act, gets submitted to the Department of Water Resources by 2022 for subsequent review and approval.

Chris Malan, Executive Director, Institute for Conservation Advocacy, Research and Education, Napa

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Amid Post Fire Regeneration, Newton Vineyard, A Napa Classic, Now Certified Organic (113 Acres)

Newton viticulturist Laura Deyermond
displays the winery's new CCOF sign

After a four year transition, Newton Vineyard has completed organic certification on all of its estate vineyards. 

The last few years have been a bumpy ride for Newton Vineyard. It rebuilt portions of the classic estate, with its underground winery, gorgeous English gardens, and stunning views, only to have much of it destroyed in the Glass Fire (2020) that struck Spring Mountain hard. 

It was a low blow. Newton had just celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019 with much fanfare and a celebration of the very talented team and winemakers who went on to become successive waves of Napa rock stars–John Kongsgaard, Aaron Pott, and Andy Erickson.


But now it's being rebuilt. 

The winery was founded by Englishman Peter Newton (1926-2008) who made a fortune in the paper industry and then again by creating Sterling Winery in 1964 and selling it to Coca-cola in 1976. His love of wine led him to reach for even grander dreams in the then untested wilds of Spring Mountain, where he bought 560 acres in 1977, transforming it into a thing of splendor. 

The 2020 fire took out most of the 73 acres of Spring Mountain vines–all but 6 acres are now being replanted–but the winery still looks to its 23 acres in the Carneros and its 16 acres on Mount Veeder for uninterrupted production. 


LVMH has owned a majority stake in Newton since 2001, bringing in French born Jean-Baptiste Rivail as estate director in 2017.

The winery began the organic certification process in 2018, completing certification on the Spring Mountain estate in 2020 and on its two other vineyards in July of this summer.  

It is best known for its unfiltered Chardonnay, from the Carneros vines (a blend of organic estate fruit and purchased non-organic fruit), and a Bordeaux blend, The Puzzle, from Spring Mountain. 

It also produces a 100% Cabernet from the Mount Veeder estate.

(The winery also purchases non-estate, non-organic grapes for a number of other Newton wines).

Newton's new winemaker, Andrew Hove 
Also this summer, Newton has just seen its former winemaker Alberto Bianchi depart to focus on his own label, Ena, and to become the winemaker for Adamvs on Howell Mountain. The new winemaker is Andrew Holve, who has been the assistant winemaker for the past 6 years, giving him deep familiarity with the grapes, terroir and wines from the property. Philippe Melka continues as the consulting winemaker. 

Viticulturist and grower manager Laura Deyermond (seen above), with Newton since 2018, is overseeing the replanting. Assessment of the vine damage was done with state of the art aerial mapping.

The winery intends to fully rebuild on Spring Mountain, but in the meantime, current releases are all the more precious as the estate grown The Puzzle will be in short supply while replanting begins. It generally takes 3 years after replanting to harvest and then 3-4 years for aging before a fine red wine is released. But these vines will get a nice, fresh start on organic soils this time around as regeneration begins anew.