Director Jason Wise might not have set out to make films about wine.
But he sure knows how.
Three years ago, Wise provided meaningful insight into the life and workaday world of the sommelier — focusing on those in hospitality who strive to be recognized as master sommeliers.
In his 2012 docudrama, “Somm,” Wise followed a group of young men as they prepared for the difficult and intimidating master sommelier exam.
When “Somm” was premiered at the second Napa Valley Film Festival, Wise, while pleased with the film’s reception, indicated that would be his only cinematic examination of the world of wine.
Then a prestigious Hollywood studio, Samuel Goldwyn Films, provided Wise’s efforts with even more validation by picking up “Somm” for worldwide distribution.
On Wednesday night, Wise returned to the Napa Valley Film Festival for the world premiere of a sequel, “Somm: Into the Bottle,” this time with the Goldwyn organization taking a lead position in production credits.
But Wise’s second film is no sequel in the sense of typical Tinseltown sequels, like “Rocky,” “Terminator” and “Beverly Hills Cop.”
This time, Wise has gathered dozens of sommeliers, winemakers, vintners and others with extensive wine knowledge to spin a tale on what it takes to make a good bottle of wine, from growing and harvesting choice fruit in storied vineyards to fermenting and aging wine in acclaimed cellars all over the world.
The director and his team poked around renowned wine estates in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, as well as wineries in California and Washington, asking opinions of some of the most prestigious winemakers in business today.
In one of the most telling of the film’s 10 segments, Wise’s latest effort examines how history has impacted wine, from the early conquests of Greeks and Romans to world wars, from Prohibition to the Napa earthquake in August 2014.
“Somm: Into the Bottle” is rife with humor — such as a humorous interview with acclaimed Alsatian winemaker Jean Trimbach — and features a tribute to Napa Valley icon Robert Mondavi.
It also addresses New World sensibilities, barrel aging, point scores and the opinions of a variety of respected sommeliers when it comes to pairing wine and food.
“I could not imagine premiering the film anywhere else,” Wise said Wednesday evening as a 70-plus-member “sommtourage” took their seats in Napa’s Uptown Theatre along with a passel of fans of both film and wine.
At the opening night party following the early evening premiere, Carlo Mondavi — grandson of Robert Mondavi and partner with brother, Dante, in the Sonoma Coast wine brand, Raen — was enthusiastic about Wise’s latest film. “I think it’s one of the greatest films ever made about wine,” he declared.
“I like how it focused on New World wine, and it was touching to have my grandfather included. (Incorporating his grandfather’s comments) brought it full circle ... demonstrating we still have a long way to go in the Napa Valley and Sonoma coast when it comes to pinot noir. But the film showed we’re on the right path. I liked its intellectual (bent) as well as how it featured both the history and romance of wine.”
His sister, Carissa Mondavi — who works with her father, Tim, at Pritchard Hill’s Continuum — was also touched by the director’s salute to her grandfather. “It was fun to see Nonno come to life ... to see the fire in his eyes.”
Shirley Roy, proprietor of Roy Estate, called the film “a real documentary. What struck a chord with me was seeing these young people transition into new phases of their lives. This is not a film just for the wine industry ... it transcends all.”
“I appreciated the film’s insights in Napa,” said Napa Mayor Jill Techel while greeting friends and guests at the opening night party on Napa’s Riverfront.
“I was struck by (winemaker) Steve Matthiasson’s story following the Napa earthquake. I was also struck by Robert Mondavi’s vision, his chutzpah and the brave moves he made.
“And I also learned that sommeliers are fun.”
The Napa Valley Film Festival continues at various venues from Napa to Calistoga through Sunday when an awards ceremony is planned at 8:30 p.m. at the Uptown Theatre. For additional information about screenings and events, visit napavalleyfilmfest.org.