Living Wine- Land to Bottle 

By Risa Nye

July 15, 2022

The first thing to know about Living Wine is that it was filmed in 2020. The reason the year is worth noting—as one would note a particular vintage on a wine label— is that this was the year of the Lightning Complex fires: one of the costliest disasters of the year, and the sixth most destructive wildfire in California’s history.

Before viewers know this, however, producer and director of this documentary, Lori Miller, introduces us to a number of nontraditional winemakers who produce natural wines in Northern California.  We accompany these winemakers through their beautifully tended vineyards: Gideon Beinstock and Saron Rice (Clos Saron), Darek Trowbridge (Old World Winery), Megan Bell (Margins Wine), James Jelks (Florèz Wines), and Dani Rozman (La Onda).

Gideon Beinstock

As Gideon Beinstock states early on, “The focus for me is in the vineyard; it’s the passage of energy from the soil, the sun, through the grape into a food source that affects us and can improve our lives.” We learn from each of these winemakers that their passion is for the “expression of place: the terroir expression.” And while there is talk of spirituality and “vibrations” in the process of growing grapes and making wine, the filmmaker focuses on the tender, often messy, hands-on care each of these folks lavish on their vines.

This film is more than a tutorial on natural winemaking. It’s really a deep dive into the entire process, with an emphasis on how these winemakers are trying “do good” for the ecosystem. All the winemakers demonstrate how they are trying to minimize their footprint by using organic methods of tending to their vineyards, as opposed to conventional methods that include fertilizers and pesticides. Using the traditional kinds of equipment doesn’t always benefit the final product. As Dani Rozman says, “Making it easier doesn’t make it better.”

There is an honest-to-god Lucy moment (see bottom of article**) when the winery interns stomp the grapes with their bare feet. (What kind of music goes with stomping grapes? “Not Mariah Carey, please,” Rozman requests.) The stomping doesn’t look like that much fun actually, but it does get the job done. One of the winery interns says, “It seems deceivingly simple to make wine.” But from the looks of things, there are plenty of ways to get your hands (and feet) dirty in the winemaking business.

Sounding the alarm about the damage done to agriculture, Miller includes some vintage advertising footage from the post-WWII age of “better living through chemistry,” when war-related chemicals were repurposed to make fertilizer (from nitrogen) and pesticides (from nerve gas!) to keep the munitions factories busy. According to Elizabeth Candelario, a proponent of regenerative farming, “Up until a few years ago, agriculture was the elephant in the climate change living room.” Agriculture was viewed as “a contributor to, not a solution for climate change.” The film shows the many ways these makers of natural wines are taking steps to mitigate the damage. (However, as we learn near the end of the film, they only account for 1% of the wines produced in California.)

To further make the point, Dr. Timothy La Salle, a regenerative agriculture systems specialist and co-founder of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems at CSU Chico, points out that “nature only works in whole systems.”  He says, “Oftentimes we think in terms of soil as sort of dirt that’s there…but it’s a living system and it gives and takes and provides and collaborates to make plant life and to make food.” Living wine comes from a living system.

Filming in 2020 allowed Miller to show firsthand the effects of our ever-lengthening fire season as it relates to these winemakers in particular: ash and smoke can taint the grapes and render them unusable. “Smoke taint makes the wine taste like an ashtray,” says Trowbridge, “it’s like having barbeque sauce in your drink.” Miller captures the somewhat frantic harvesting by workers in masks, checking for ash before picking the grapes. No one knew what, if anything, would be usable.

Megan Bell struggles to pick what’s salvageable while not knowing if her own home has survived the fires near Santa Cruz. (Her story, about challenging the stereotypical roles for women in the wine industry and how she started Margins Wines, could be a whole other film. Her dedication and focus during the panic and uncertainty are admirable.)


Megan Bell 

One takeaway from the film is that consumers should pay more attention to how and where a wine is produced, and whether it is a true representation of its terroir: the “land to bottle” experience.

Miller doesn’t gloss over the challenges ahead involving “climate chaos” and year-round fire season, but the film makes a good case for how farming the way these winemakers have been doing it offers a way to heal the planet. One word: mulch.


85 minutes, English 

For more info about the winemakers, film team and press notes and interviews visit the Living Wine Website.

Living Wine opens in theaters starting on Friday, July 15 and across the US and Canada throughout July and August. New theaters will be added to this list.

Filmmaker Lori Miller and winemaker Darek Trowbridge will appear at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael on Sunday, July 17 at 4pm for a Q&A and wine tasting. Tickets and details here.

Photos by Brian O’Connell, courtesy of Living Wine and Abramorama.

Director‘s Statement

“Pete Seeger popularized the phrase: “Think Globally, Act Locally”, and Living Wine’s subjects personify this idea: everyday people (who do not seek attention or the limelight), but who through their unconscious commitment to their ideals make change first within their communities and ultimately with more global impact.

My initial interest in natural wine began when I was surprised to learn that most California and U.S. made wines that we buy in the grocery store, or order with dinner are conventionally made. Soon after, I was introduced to Darek Trowbridge, who explained that conventional wines, which comprise the majority of wines in the marketplace, are not only less healthful than natural wines, but the making of them also harms the environment. As I continued to research, I learned that those conventional wines are purposefully “genericized” (think: restaurant and hotel chains, action movies, and fast fashion) to taste and look predictably, and are made through processes which actually strip the wines of their natural flavors through removing native yeasts and using additives in the production process.

I was excited to meet and film a diverse group of artisans from different educational and cultural backgrounds, each who make innovative wines with their unique creative vision, but who all passionately hold their ground working as outsiders within two powerful corporate industries and sectors — wine and agriculture.

It was inspiring to film our subjects whose life’s work is to heal the soil and earth, and who find spiritual meaning through the simple acts of farming the land and raising their families. We did not expect to encounter the early and worst fire season on record, but these terrifying, life and livelihood threatening fires added an extra layer of suspense and irony to the story, driving home the need for climate stories to be told.”Lori Miller

Lori Miller is a Los Angeles-based producer/director known for her documentaries about arts and culture. As producer, Lori’s credits include They Came to Play (New York Times Critics’ Pick) about the inspirational stories of older amateur pianists who rekindle their musical dreams later in life, Shakespeare High (Showtime) which follows underserved teens in Los Angeles who study Shakespeare and stay in school, and Virtuosity (PBS) about the Van Cliburn professional piano competition. As producer/director, Lori recently completed Day One, about a trauma-informed public school for refugees in St. Louis, which received three festival “best documentary” awards, and is in release through APT/public television and Bullfrog Films. Living Wine is Lori’s second feature doc as producer/director. Her independent feature producing credits include Panic (Sundance FF, Lionsgate), and The Last Supper (Sundance FF, Sony). Based in Los Angeles, Lori is originally from New Haven, CT and is a graduate of Barnard College.

Lori Miller interviewed by Fandor.

You can also listen to it as a podcast.

Risa Nye is a San Francisco Bay Area native. Her essays, stories and articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including several anthologies. She has an MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College in California. She co-edited Writin’ on Empty: Parents Reveal the Upside, Downside, and Everything in Between When Children Leave the Nest.  Her memoir, There Was a Fire Here, was published by She Writes Press in 2016.  Find it here at Indiebound or Author’s page at

Her books can be ordered wherever books are sold. Start with your local independent bookseller

Enjoy Nye’s essays and reviews, including her forays into the world of mixology as Ms Barstool, at, and on a range of subjects at

Risa has written about food, beverages, and movies at EatDrinkFilms (at the end of each page hit “older posts” for more).  Follow her on: Twitter/Facebook

**For a funny look at stomping grapes watch Lucille Ball from the I Love Lucy episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie.”

Lucy claims that she almost died filming the scene. She explains it to Dick Cavett.

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