Social Vignerons reveals an exclusive interview with Martine Saunier, legendary wine importer, senior producer, and protagonist of the new film ‘A Year in Champagne.‘
Martine Saunier made a name for herself building a successful California-based wine importing business Martines Wines.
Over the past 35 years, the Paris-born and Burgundy-raised French woman has shaped and transformed the landscape of French wine in America, bringing fine wines to restaurants, distributors and eventually wine lovers all over the US.
More recently, she has turned her attention and expertise to film, using her connections with many producers to give us an insight into top French wine regions. She served as senior producer and starred in two wine documentaries, A Year in Burgundy (released 2013), and the new film A Year in Champagne.
The latter movie is currently visible in some theaters and on iTunes US. The film will be becoming available to audiences across Europe all along April.
We’ve asked Martine to tell us more about how and why the movie was made:
Q: What was your relationship with Champagne before your work with the film, A Year in Champagne?
A: I knew the four featured small grower Champagne producers before the movie. I have been their US importer for many years.
Q: You probably had spent a lot of time in Champagne already before the movie. But what (if anything) did you learn while shooting the movie? Is that perceivable in the movie and how?
A: I visited my producers at least once a year, if not twice. Twenty-five years ago I represented AYALA, then HENRIOT, but my very first Champagne producer was Jacques DIEBOLT in Cramant, who had never exported to the US before. So, I felt very comfortable with the process of these Champagnes while shooting the movie.
What I did not know is how a negociant house like GOSSET, that does not own vineyards, selected their grapes, or about their contracts with growers that have survived several generations. In fact, in every small village, many make a living selling grapes by contract with big brands. They deliver the grapes, or the juice, but never make Champagne. They are just grape growers.
Q: How were the Champagne producers in the movie selected?
A: I selected GOSSET because it’s 100% negociant, and BOLLINGER for its vineyards and history.
Of the small producers, whom I know well, I selected DIEBOLT VALLOIS from Cramant for its Champagne made from 100% chardonnay, 1er cru and Grand cru; St CHAMANT, also because it is 100% chardonnay and from Chouilly; STEPHANE COQUILLETTE from Chouilly and Ay; and GONET-MEDEVILLE, from Bisseuil, with Vineyards in Ambonnay, Ay, and Avize.
The four of these producers owns vineyards in Grand Cru and Premier cru and take care of them organically, besides also doing their own marketing. This is not an easy task.
Overall, I wanted to show the small producers, just like in the previous film, A Year in Burgundy film, but also two prestigious brands.
Q: Burgundy and Champagne are quite different wine regions. How is A Year in Champagne different from A Year in Burgundy? Has a different approach been taken to telling the story?
A: Champagne is a blend of sometimes three varietals — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir with or without Pinot Meunier, or it can also be 100% Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. And then, we have non-vintage Champagne, a blend of several vintages. A vintage Champagne happens in a very good year, and it is up to the producer to declare it. With Champagne, we are selling a name, a brand if you will, and the Champagne in the bottle is the result of constant blending following the evolution of the wine during the year.
In Burgundy, we bottle either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay — sometimes from a single vineyard but always with an Appellation Controlées — from basic Burgundy to Grand Cru — in practically each village.
Also, Champagne as a region has very strict rules for growing grapes that must be followed by everyone, or you can loose the right to produce Champagne. In Burgundy, we can use different methods of pruning.
So yes, each movie takes a slightly different angle to try and reflect the winemaking and wine growing traditions of each region.
The official trailer below might give you a better feel for what the documentary/film is all about: