A Conversation with the Director of “SOMM”

The Chapman University film grad discusses his two wine documentaries
Director Jason Wise

Photograph courtesy of Forgotten Man Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films

Wine lovers are just as captivated by the intricate stories of a wine’s creation as by what ends up in the glass. There’s a romance to the tales of each vintage, and it lures those in the wine industry who are driven by undying passion and dedication. No film has captured that as beautifully as the two documentaries, “SOMM,” and “SOMM: Into the Bottle,” both by Jason B. Wise. Wise is a 2004 film graduate of Chapman University, and we asked him to share a few insights about the impact of Chapman, his most memorable wine moments, and his next project.

Why’d you want to become a filmmaker?
Because I have way too many interests to do anything else. I love history, travel, food, nature, but most importantly people’s stories around all of that. Filmmaking is the only profession where you can do something with wine, then make your next film on animals, then make a narrative about war, then go back to a documentary about an actress, as I’m doing for my next project.

Why the Dodge School of Film and Media Arts at Chapman? 
I grew up wanting to make films, particularly nature documentaries, and I looked at New York University, USC, Drexel University, and Chapman. I visited NYU and Chapman, and the moment I walked into Chapman I knew it was where I wanted to go. There was an incredibly collaborative atmosphere and students had their hands on equipment I had dreamed of using right away. I was fortunate enough to get accepted, and I took school very seriously there.

Your wife is also a film graduate. Did you meet while at Chapman?
I met my wife Christina, a TV production major, in a weight lifting class at Chapman. We fell in love and are now expecting our second child. I’m from Cleveland, but she’s the reason I stayed in California. Christina produced “Into The Bottle,” and co-wrote it with me. She’s largely responsible for the wonderful structure the film. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve kept up with the weight lifting.

Brandon Lee Wise’s art in “ Into the Bottle” has great impact. What made you wish to feature his art in your film?
Brandon is my younger brother, so I’m glad to hear you say that about his art. I’d been looking for a project for years that we could work on together; he’s one of the most talented artists I know, and the way he approaches his work is so simple and innocent. I wanted the chapters and the wine list to feel like a children’s storybook, so his style is perfect. I’m planning to work with him on my next film as well.

What’s a standout wine memory or two for you?
When I proposed to my wife in New Orleans, we drank a bottle of Chateau Simone Rosé. And when we finally finished “Into The Bottle” we drank two bottles of Ruinart Champagne because it was such a tough film to make. Those were some incredibly memorable bottles attached to important things in my life.

You’ve now met so many in the wine industry. Who’s influenced you?
I have an enormous amount of respect for Rajat Parr, a retired sommelier turned winemaker, who is in both of my films. He makes great wine and has a very good outlook on wine and all of its changing trends. He tries to stay honest to what wine is; something that is supposed to be enjoyed at a table with friends. I also love Madeline Puckette, who runs Wine Folly. She’s incredibly funny and very down to earth in a world that says it wants you to understand wine, but really doesn’t. Madeline wants people to understand the beverage and enjoy it. I consider myself more of a filmmaker than a wine person, but I’m honored to spend some time in this world.

Where do you buy wine? Are you a collector now?
I am a terrible saver of wine. To do a cellar right, you need a big chunk of [money] and buy a lot of wine at one time. I get good bottles, but I don’t have the willpower to save them. If I get anything really special, I save it at someone else’s house. I buy wine at Hi-Time Cellars in Orange County, and The Winehouse or Wally’s Wine in L.A.

Your next film project?
My wife and I currently live in Sherman Oaks. Our next film is about an actress whose career spanned 92 years of American entertainment, and we’ve had the opportunity to interview some really famous people while making it.  It should be completed this year and will be as much about this person as the evolution of how we entertain ourselves.

“SOMM” and “SOMM: Into the Bottle” are downloadable on iTunes, Amazon Video, and Google Play.

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