What goes into a bottle of Champagne? Easy answer: grapes. But how do they get there? Laura Naylor’s documentary Vas-y Coupe! (English title: Wine Crush) is a very pleasant atmospheric look at the harvest at one of Champagne’s premier vineyards. The film really isn’t so much about wine or agriculture. It is about people.
Much of the film is spent with the harvesters, a group of men who travel to the vineyard each year for the harvest. These are working class men, who have left their families for this bit of work. Two of them have been coming for over 30 years. The workers stay in a sparse dormitory, four in a room. But we may be surprised at the quality of the dinners they are provided each evening. A good part of the film involves the kitchen where women are preparing the daily meals. There is surely a comradery among the harvesters, but that also extends to their relationship with the bosses. There are differences in class, age, and gender, but they all share a common humanity as they each do their labor, whether picking, cooking, or winemaking.
There is very little of an instructive nature in the film. We only hear in passing what kind of grapes these are. We see them being fed into a crusher, and later into barrels. But we are told next to nothing about what goes on in all these steps. Rather, we are immersed in the time and place. Wonderful cinematography shows us great vistas of vineyards, as well as the closeup work being done.
The culmination of all this labor turns out to be one of the worst harvests in recent memory. Many of the grapes rotted on the vines. Yet at the closing dinner, the winemaker celebrates the work that they have all done together. No one person, he tells them, can do everything themselves. We all need each other in various ways.
I find in interesting that the French title (which translates as “Go Cut!”) uses the French familiar you. That, I think, reflects this recognition that each person has a place in this endeavor. The harvesters, of lower economic class, are seen as just as valuable to what is happening as the winemaker and his family. All are in this together, even though some are working for short-term wages and others are invested in a long-term project. They are all related by a common task and a common humanity.
Vas-y Coupe! is currently playing at the virtual Newport Beach Film Festival and will be available on VOD October 8.
Photos courtesy of First Run Features.