Epiphany, Passion & Purpose in American Wine Story

American Wine Story TItle Pascal

“Their stories began with an epiphany, a precise moment when they understood that every bottle of wine contains a little bit of magic.” — American Wine Story

Epiphany: a split second of earth-shaking clarity that allows you to see something you’ve been missing in your life— your true purpose and passion.

According to a new documentary, American Wine Story, there is one wine above all others that is most likely to produce such an epiphany: Riesling. Not just any Riesling, it should be a dry Riesling preferably from the Alsace on the border of Germany and France, and the older the vintage the better. So be forewarned, if you don’t want to risk pulling up stakes and leaving everything behind to pursue your dreams, you probably ought to stay away from Riesling just to be safe.

Dick Erath Riesling Notes AWS

Notes on Riesling from winemaker Dick Erath’s journal.

Nearly five years in the making, the documentary chronicles the lives of wine makers who didn’t simply have an epiphany, they acted on it. They took the leap, started over, and devoted themselves to years of hard work because wine became a life passion they could not ignore.

“You don’t have 100% confidence, but it doesn’t matter. You just have to do it…Do what you are passionate about at a cellular level.” — Jay Selman, Grape Radio

The film dispels the myth of wine making as a glamorous life, clearly spelling out the endless study and experimentation required, the intense hours of labor that are often 24/7, and the years of effort (8 to 10 or more, and that’s if you’re lucky) before you make a profit. But guess what? Instead of glamour, these people all found something far more meaningful: a life’s work that makes them want to leap out of bed each day to get their hands dirty again.

“The American Dream isn’t some abstract idea but something you write for yourself with the faith that if you choose to pursue it, you just might have a shot at achieving it.” — American Wine Story

The people profiled in the film came to wine from many different areas of work, leaving behind careers as varied as software engineer, radio DJ, telephone company employee, IT specialist, accountant, and pro football player, to name a few. They range from Dick Erath, who helped pioneer the Oregon wine industry in the late 1960’s, to owners of newer wineries in Oregon, Washington, California, Virginia, Missouri, and even Arizona. Each story is unique and compelling but the sheer number of them alone is ample evidence that with enough courage and persistence, realizing a dream, even a big one, is possible.

The four partners in Three Crows Media, the company that produced the documentary, understood the power of stories long before they knew exactly what the story was that they were going to tell together. Their journey in making the film speaks as much to heeding your inner voice and pursuing your passion as the accounts of the winemakers they filmed.

“There’s a ceremony to [wine]. You peel the foil, pull the cork. But it’s so much more interesting not only for the person who is opening the bottle but the person you’re sharing it with if there’s a story to tell.” — Drew Bledsoe, owner of Doubleback Wines and former NFL quarterback

Collaborators David Baker, Kegan Sims, Justin Smith, and Truen Pence met while working in University Relations at Oregon State University. During a lunch break, they hatched a plan to for an independent project. “Winemakers are great storytellers and vineyards are gorgeous,” they reasoned.  So they decided “there had to be a film tucked somewhere in the lush, vine-laden hills of the Willamette Valley.” Yet, as Baker, who directed the film, explained, “It took us four years of travel and investigation to finally find our core story.”

Amassing over seventy interviews, the group finally found the one that would become their centerpiece, the story of a charismatic young winemaker named Jimi Brooks. Jimi’s sister Janie described him as something of a nomad until he discovered wine. After learning organic and biodynamic farming techniques while working in vineyards in France, Jimi founded Brooks Winery in Oregon in 1998. He ignited passion in those around him by sharing his own. One of his friends commented, “He was the magnet and the cement at the same time.” Tragically, just as the winery was hitting its stride, Jimi died of a heart attack at age 38.

Jimi Brooks far left

Jimi Brooks, far left, drew people to him like “a magnet and cement at the same time,” said a friend and fellow winemaker.

With harvest only weeks away when he died, Jimi’s winemaking friends came up with a plan to divide the duties of harvesting and making his wine that year. And they did it all for free, showing that when Jimi found his life’s calling, he also found a community of like-minded souls who supported one another unfailingly.

Brooks Winery is thriving today because of the support of that community and because his sister Janie found that keeping his legacy alive soothed her grief. In the years since Jimi’s death, she has grown the winery from 3,000 cases a year to 12,000, and found a new passion of her own at the same time.

Pascal Brooks, only eight when his father died, seems wise beyond his years now at 18, reflecting on the preciousness of life and the urgency of living it to the fullest. “I’m not afraid to die,” he said, “but I’m really afraid not to live.”

While leaving our current lives behind and starting over may be a bigger leap than most want to take, I bet every one of us has a dream or two that we’ve tucked into a forgotten corner. Perhaps the passionate path illuminated by the stories in this film can provide just the nudge we need to pull those dreams out of the corners and into the light.


American Wine Story was produced by Three Crows Productions and is distributed by FilmBuff. Available on October 14th on iTunes and On Demand in English-speaking territories (with the exclusion of Australia), and available worldwide at americanwinestory.vhx.tv

A variation of this post was originally written for my other blogging home, The Thirsty Kitten, where my husband and I share stories of wine and wineries we love. I usually don’t mix my wine blogging with my Studio-Lu story blogging, but this documentary’s themes of listening to your own inner guidance, honoring your unique purpose and passion, and sharing your story to help others along the way were too irresistible. To see the original post, as well as a full list of all the wineries featured in the film, visit The Thirsty Kitten.

2 Comments on “Epiphany, Passion & Purpose in American Wine Story

    • Thanks so much, Jeff. This documentary had so many great messages that extended far beyond wine that I thought it deserved a write-up here at Studio-Lu, in addition to the version I posted at The Thirsty Kitten.

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