Chagrin Documentary Film Festival – Official Selection

CONGRATULATIONS to the Wine Diamonds Film team for being chosen as an OFFICIAL SELECTION to the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival. The Chagrin Documentary Film Festival is “named to MovieMaker Magazine’s prestigious list of “Top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee”, the Festival takes place at venues in and around the lovely century village of Chagrin Falls, Ohio.”

We are excited and honored to be chosen as an Official Selection to this important documentary film festival and thrilled to share the story of growing Midwestern wine industry with audiences across the country.



We’ve had a few weeks to absorb our first public screening at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival and we’re still ramped up from our experience.  Our team arrived early to help facilitate the set-up process with wineries, the band, and make sure our film was loaded. By about 12:30 we were getting an inkling that our film was going to be well received, by 1pm people were mingling outside and not long afterwards we got word that our film was “SOLD OUT!”  Excitement and nervousness were the words of the day, but when we opened the doors at 1:30 and the Dubuque Museum of Art quickly filled up.

JDIFF 57During the pre-screening wine tasting event (with 10 wineries from across the region) and live music provided by Live Broadcast (a Cedar Rapids band) our guests were treated to some amazing wine and incredible music.

In my wildest hopes we would have a sold out show and that our team would have to give our seats away to stand. My wish came true!  The theater seated 140 people and we ended up with 153!  How about that for a first public showing!

After the screening our winery friends and a few of the Wine Diamonds team held a panel discussion that lasted for nearly an hour.

Overall, we couldn’t have asked for a better screening event and we want to thank John Donovan, the JDIFF team, our winery friends, Live Broadcast, and the entire Wine Diamonds team.  We’re now taking a few breaths and are making some final edits before we launch into the next phase of submitting our documentary to film festivals.  Wish us luck and follow us on Facebook!

P.S.  Here is a time lapse video of the pre-screening event:


Meet The Sweet Lillies

Sweet_LilliesWe’re neck deep in editing our documentary film right now and still have a few more interviews we want to complete and today we’re in the field filming wintertime scenes at Fireside Winery’s Brickyard Hill Vineyard.  We’ve spent about 12 hours in the editing suite already (with many more to come) and we’re thinking about the soundtrack and songs for our documentary.

Developing the sound and feel for our film is an iterative and creative process involving many artistic people and over the coming months we’ll introduce you to them.  Today, we’d like to welcome The Sweet Lillies to our project!

My good friend, Jennifer Farnum, lives in Colorado and turned me on to a new and exciting band that’s touring and I recently reached out to the band and spoke with Julie Gussaroff (band member, upright bass player and singer/songwriter) and pitched our idea of working with The Sweet Lillies.  They were incredibly warm and receptive and within a couple weeks Julie sent me an early rendition of a song for our documentary film (see YouTube video below; Video courtesy of Che Harness).

The music and soundtrack of our Wine Diamonds movie will give soul to our film and the unfolding process of working with talented artists is inspiring and heartwarming.  We encourage you to check out The Sweet Lillies, like their Facebook page, and support local music!


About The Sweet Lillies:  Skyrocketing to the top of the jamgrass scene, The Sweet Lillies’ high-energy, melodic tunes have quickly captured the hearts and music souls of fans in Colorado and beyond. The band, formed a mere one year ago, credits its appeal to the original and compelling songwriting of all four of its members along with the siren-like lead vocals of Alexandra Schwan. The magnetic combination of Alexandra on the guitar, Julie Gussaroff on the upright bass, Becca Bisque on the viola, and Danjo Lynn on the banjo–together with powerful three-part female harmony–give this band a rare and alluring sound. As testament to their appeal, The Sweet Lillies have already shared the stage with the likes of Peter Rowan, Vince Herman, Kyle Hollingsworth, Andy Hall, Bill McKay, Jake Wolf, Dave Abear, Leftover Salmon, Yarn, and Drunken Hearts. Based out of Colorado’s Front Range, The Sweet Lillies are continually expanding their audience and reach, building fan and critic support through an unwavering commitment to creativity, a contagious love of music, and a get-up-and-dance attitude that spreads lots of love and smiles.

Fireside Winery Interviews

We walked into a bustling tasting room around 2pm this past Saturday and were greeted with a smile from owner, Rona Wyant. This wasn’t our first time at Fireside Winery to film. We’d had the pleasure to film here on several occasions, including early morning sunrise filming (time lapse), later during their annual harvest event where hundreds of volunteers comb through the vineyard picking it clean, and now for this visit to finally interview the family.

The family homestead is located about 5 miles from the winery and that’s where we met up with winery owner, William Wyant. His family has been farming this land for the past 5 generations and we asked Bill to talk about his family’s connection to the land, the challenges they’ve experienced and how he and Rona got into the winery business.

Later we returned to the winery where we’d sit outside under a new pergola, first with Rona, and later with Cassie and Zach for one-on-one interviews. Each interview yielded interesting perspectives of a rich family heritage, growing a business, and lessons learned and opportunities explored.

This coming Friday we’re off to film at the Illinois Sparkling Company!

Interviewing Rona Wyant
Rona Wyant
Cassie Bott
Interviewing Zach Bott
Bill Wyant pauses for a photo.

The Crazy Life of Wine Film Makers!

Hi Wine Diamonds Friends!

Just wanted to catch you up on what’s been happening in our world.  This past weekend we revisited our friends at Elmaro Vineyard (Trempealeau, WI) to finish up with some interviews and shooting additional footage.  We happened to visit them during their 8th anniversary and the place with packed with local wine lovers (several of which we interviewed).  This was our longest day in the field: 16.5 hours on the road!  Mental note: next time get a hotel! 🙂

Just last week we released a promotional video for our friends at the Mid-American Wine Competition.  This pro-bono work underlines our commitment to the great wines being crafted in the heartland.  Give it a watch:

This coming Saturday we’re traveling to Galena, Illinois to film at the Corkless Galena event with 10 wineries and scores of wine fans on hand.  We’ll have a full complement on hand to film this event!  Afterwards, we’ve been invited to give a presentation to the Galena Center for the Arts.  We’ll talk about the challenges and rewards associated with filming a feature length documentary.  That starts at 7pm.  It’ll be a long, but fun day!

Have you seen our Official Movie Trailer!??!  We’re super proud of it and excited to  share it with you.  Have you considered giving a gift of support to the film?  Every donation helps us travel across the Midwest to tell our story.  Check out our “Contributions” page for more information.  If you’d like to donate, send to: JMZ Productions, 612 E. 4th St. Vinton, IA 52349

Check out the trailer and thanks for following our progress!

Reflections on Minnesota and Wisconsin

It’s been a couple of weeks since Kirk and Brad went on a three day filming trip to meet with winery and vineyard families in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  There has been a bit of a learning curve in terms of how many wineries we can visit with during the course of a day.  What we’re learning is that one or two per day is probably a good idea, particularly given the distance between winery/vineyard businesses.

Day #1, Stop #1 – Indian Island Winery .  On day one (Thursday) we were on the road by 6am, a nice sunny day but cool, and arrived at our first location by 9:30am.  The Winter family of Indian Island Winery (Janesville, MN) were extraordinarily welcoming, warm, and just a pleasure to get to know.  We began filming around 10am and realizing Ray Winter had to hit the road to deliver wines we got right to work.  We were able to interview three of the family members: Ray and Lisa and their daughter (winemaker) Angie.  After the interview we shot a few “on the road” segments with Angie and we all got to enjoy some crazy-delicious ice wine (made from St. Pepin).  This wine was an absolute winner!

Day #1, Stop #2 – Chankaska Creek Ranch Winery.  Stop number two was at Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery (Kesota, MN) where we arrived in the early afternoon and began setting up.  The winery is a stunner!  We met with Kent Schwickert (proprietor) and Jane Schwickert (general manager) for an interview, while in the background a chef working with a wood-fired pizza oven were busy preparing meals, and we spent about an hour talking with the winery couple.  As a winery geek I was impressed with their cellar operation (and new distillery) and how nice the place was.  Outside we were treated to a tour of the grounds and vineyard by their vineyard manager, Jamieson.  Later we met with head winemaker Mike Drash and assistant winemaker Josie Boyle.  Josie and I (Brad) went to wine school together so it was a nice reunion and great to reconnect. After our shoot we were treated to a dinner of wood-fired pizza and Reserve Marquette.  Both were extraordinary!  After a 13 hour day we drove another 1.5 hours to Stillwater where we were to spend the night.

Day #2, Stop #1 – Northern Vineyards Winery (Stillwater, MN).  Our first stop, of three, had us at Northern Vineyards Winery where we set up in the 2nd story cellar room (yes, 2nd story – the building used to be a creamery).  The winery is located in downtown Stillwater within a stones throw of the Mississippi River.  Before general manager and winemaker Robin Parch arrived Kirk and I shot a new “on the road” segment I’m calling Wine 101, about what the term “table wine” means.  That’ll be posted soon.  We spent a little more than an hour filming an interview with Robin.  He’s been involved with the Minnesota grape and wine industry since the early 1970’s and has a tremendous about of knowledge about the industry.  We learned a lot!  Before noon we shot an “on the road” segment with Robin.

Day #2, stop #2 – Alexis Bailly Vineyard (Hastings, MN).  Not far from the Mississippi Alexis Bailly Vineyard is nestled behind a well-maintained vineyard and is a lovely winery.  We met and interviewed Nan Bailly (owner and winermaker) and similar to our first stop Nan possesses a long and rich history with the wine industry.  She learned a lot about wine while a young woman in France.  Those experiences laid a solid foundation of what great wines should taste like.  The hour-long interview flew by and Nan was a fountain of knowledge and wine industry experience – she’s been involved with the wine industry since the 1970’s.  We concluded our visit by shooting a few segments of “on the road” with her tasting room staff member, David.  He was very knowledgeable and these segments will surely be some of the very best ones from the trip.

Day #2, Stop #3 – Lake Pepin Winery (Lake City, MN).  We continued to strike gold on this trip!   We met with veteran grape grower (and relatively new winery owner) John Marshall.  What a treat to meet John!  Like others during this day John has a wealth of knowledge from years of growing grapes (since the 1970’s) and was a joy to interview.  This day was cool, grey, windy and rainy and despite the nasty conditions we hiked back to his vineyards (behind his winery) and he talked about his father, Elmer Swenson, being an early grape grower and his experiences in the burgeoning wine industry.  His passion for growing grapes, wine, and the industry was incredible.   We concluded this long day in Winona, MN and enjoyed a nice dinner out, processed some of the footage, and enjoyed the remaining Reserve Marquette from Chankaska Creek Ranch Winery.

Day #3 – Elmaro Vineyard (Trempealeau, WI).  This stop has special meaning to me as it was a homecoming of sorts.  I went to wine school with one of the winemakers, have known the family for several years, my wine science teacher was their consulting winemaker, and my grad school friends live in town.  Consequently, this stop warranted a full day.  We arrived early at the winery around 9am met with owners Lynita Docken and Mark Delaney and spent the good part of an hour talking with them together.  Later on we’d interview on-the-fly with Lynita (winemaker) as she took around her winery and building, talked history, and gave us the rock star treatment.  Mark (vineyard manager extraordinaire) gave us access to his beautiful vineyard, talked with us about his family’s history with the land, and their hope for the future.  Later during our day of filming we connected with Laura who helped us film three new “on the road” segments (see one of them here).

All in all it was a great trip.  Memorable interviews.  Interesting and informative characters.  I don’t think either of us (Kirk or Brad) got sick of each other – that’s always a good sign! 🙂

Big thank you to Iowa State University’s Mike White for helping us identify many of these wineries for our interviews!

Here are a few photos from this trip.  Thanks for following our progress and we’d be grateful if you’d contribute to our fundraising campaign – Click the red “donate now” button on the upper left of our website.  Thank you.

Indian Island Winery - Ray, Lisa and Angie
Indian Island Winery – Ray, Lisa and Angie
Kent and Jane of Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery
Kent and Jane of Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery
On the Road with Mike Drash (Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery)
On the Road with Mike Drash (Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery)
"On the Road" with sparkling winemaker Josie Boyle of Chankaska Creek Ranch Winery.
“On the Road” with sparkling winemaker Josie Boyle of Chankaska Creek Ranch Winery.
Cheers from Brad & Kirk
Cheers from Brad & Kirk
Robin Partch of Northern Vineyards Winery.
Robin Partch of Northern Vineyards Winery.
Always behind the camera - Kirk.
Always behind the camera – Kirk.
Nan Bailly of Alexis Bailly Vineyard
Nan Bailly of Alexis Bailly Vineyard
David Melbey of Alexis Bailly Vineyard and Brad filming an "on the road" segment.
David Melbey of Alexis Bailly Vineyard and Brad filming an “on the road” segment.
John Marshall of Lake Pepin Winery
John Marshall of Lake Pepin Winery
Elmaro Vineyard
Elmaro Vineyard

Road Trip to Minnesota & Wisconsin

OnTheRoad2The Wine Diamonds film crew will be hitting the road soon to spend a few days in Minnesota and Wisconsin filming at wineries and vineyards. We reached out to our wine industry network of friends to help us connect with some of the industry’s leaders, pioneers, up and comers, and a range of big and smaller operations. Big thanks to Mike White (Iowa State University, Viticulture Field Specialist) who provided an exhaustive list of exceptional contacts. Thanks Mike!

Our list is still coming together but we’ve got a great range of visits planned. The following locations are confirmed:

Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery (Kasota, MN)
Indian Island Winery & Winterhaven Vineyards (Janesville, MN)
Northern Vineyards Winery (Stillwater, MN)
Alexis Bailly Vineyard (Hastings, MN)
Great River Vineyard & Lake Pepin Winery (Lake City, MN)
Elmaro Vineyard (Trempealeau, WI)
Danzinger Vineyard (Alma, WI)

Depending on the amount of time spent at each winery we may add a few more stops during our 3 days of filming. Our goal is to be able to spend at least 2 hours with each winery (more at some, less at others).

We’re thrilled to be able to meet, interview and film at these wineries. Please show your support to those wineries that allow us access and show support to our film.


Fundraiser Begins in 2 Days!

Fundraiser2days copyThe Wine Diamonds film team is excited to launch our major fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo (a crowd funding website) on Thursday, April 2nd. We hope you will join us by making a contribution to our independent feature length documentary film about the new frontier of wine, the Midwest!

We’ll be filming in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. If funding goes very well (and there is enough interest) we may add to the number of Midwestern states and include Michigan or Indiana or Kansas. If you’re from one of these states and feel strongly that Wine Diamonds should film there we’d love to hear from you. It costs about $10,000 to take the team on a major filming road trip..but we’d love to be able to film all over the heartland.

“On-the-Road” at Tassel Ridge Winery (VIDEO)

Here is my disclaimer for this segment: Okay…this isn’t my (Brad’s) best work so a little background about our shoot at Tassel Ridge Winery. For this day of filming we’d woke up at 2am, drove about 2 hours, shot footage for 8 hours and decided to try this (our first “on the road” shoot). So please try to overlook my bad take.