September 29, 2022
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Film profiles wine leaders

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With a background in professional snowboarding and no money, self-taught filmmaker Robert DaFoe decided he wanted to leap into the winemaking business.

With a camera at his side, DaFoe was compelled to track his experiences from harvest to bottle, and all the strife in between — mainly the struggles to find cheap or free wine-related essentials. Things like grapes. And barrels. Oh, and a place to produce it all.

But what’s notable about DaFoe’s film, “From Ground to Glass,” is that he goes beyond merely tracking his own successes and failures — he’s able to get a rare glimpse into the livelihoods of some of the biggest names in the tri-county wine industry. Though the film premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival two years ago, it was released earlier this month on DVD, bringing the faces and histories behind the area’s biggest labels into mass distribution.

“Once I got through making the wine, I really wanted to meet these people and the story became: What I’ve gone through, all these other people have gone through,” DaFoe told the Business Times. “So to me, it was something that was so unique — and I had never seen anything like that. And I thought these people, who are now huge people in the wine industry, it would be incredible to get to talk to them and pick their brains.”

Some of the wine leaders this young, Santa Barbara-born filmmaker — with shaggy hair and boxers that stick out from his jeans — interviewed included Brooks Firestone of Firestone Vineyard, Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery, and Jeff Newton of Babcock Winery & Vineyards.

With 45 hours of interviews and another 45 hours of crisp and interesting footage of the region’s wineries and his own winemaking process, DaFoe had all he needed for a unique take on the area’s wine industry.

As the dozen or so winemakers described their experiences through the vintages, they all shared a commonality. “They had this epiphany somewhere and either during school changed direction or during their other career changed direction,” DaFoe said. For many, it was tasting an incredible glass of wine that made them decide to go into the business.

For DaFoe, it was merely an interest in diving headfirst into winemaking. But unlike many other novice winkemakers, DaFoe got educated by the best in the business.

“I can’t even tell you, that is the hands-down biggest thing by far because it gave me such a unique experience, going from knowing nothing — so I had a totally open mind, a sponge really — nobody will have this kind of education.”

He also relied on the generosity of those leaders to help him in his own winemaking endeavors. He was able to harvest one ton of syrah grapes from a doctor he met who had his own personal organic vineyard. He was then able to crush the grapes and do the bulk of the winemaking process at Curtis Winery in Los Olivos.

Winemaker Chuck Carlson became DaFoe’s mentor through the process and helped him with both his vocabulary and disaster-avoiding skills.
Finally, DaFoe corked his 48 cases with the help of “home winemaker” Joe Whaley.

After the 20-month process, which began in 2002, DaFoe named his wine Crimson Ghost and vowed to make at least a little bit of wine every year. Six years later, he’s kept that promise and even won the blue ribbon for his sangiovese at the San Diego County Fair earlier this year.

“For me, it was more than just the winemaking side. It was also the appreciation for it, it was the history of it, it just gave an overall vibe that I put into my wine that I think was huge,” he said.

Although many wine industry leaders gave DaFoe a world-class crash course in wine, DaFoe’s filmmaking endeavor was a bit more solo. As a self-taught filmmaker and photographer, “From Ground to Glass” was his first major film, meaning he was learning the ropes of filming, editing and production as he was learning about the intricacies of wine.

Because he did the majority of the filmmaking process himself and held the financial burden, it took him five years to produce the film. He has since worked with renown photographer David Pu’u on a film called “Equatorial Convergence” and was a production assistant in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof.”

When asked which he’ll pursue in the future — wine or film — DaFoe said he’ll probably stick with winemaking to earn a living but wouldn’t mind having his own label in the future.