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.


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!

NEWS RELEASE: Wine Movie Fundraiser Begins!

April 2, 2015

Documentary Film Production Launches Crowd Funding Campaign

(Vinton, IA). Many people don’t realize the Midwest is emerging as one of the hottest new frontiers of wine. A new feature length documentary film will explore the challenges, opportunities and struggles of building a new wine region in the heartland and producers are excited to launch a major fundraising campaign today, lasting through April and May.

Watch Appeal Video: Wine Diamonds Film

They call the kinds of wine grapes that grow in this part of the American Heartland, cold-hardy grapes, grapes bred to withstand extreme temperatures that would kill traditional grapes common in California or France. These grapes, the farmers and wine makers of the Midwest are pushing the envelope of viticulture and enology, growing grape varieties that not only survive but thrive at temperatures as low as 40 below zero. This feature length documentary film is about the birth of a new wine region, the grapes, and the pioneering families dedicated to growing and making wines in America’s Heartland.

“The story of this burgeoning wine region is unfolding throughout the Midwest,” said Brad Johnson, Producer and wine industry insider. “The scope of the film quickly grew to encompass the upper Midwest region because of how interrelated the wine industry is, with grapes being developed in Minnesota and Wisconsin, knowledge of wine growing and production being openly shared, a continued trend in quality wines, and increased customer interest in the these new wines. There is an important story to share and we’re thrilled to be able to tell it,” said Johnson.

Wine Diamonds: Uncorking America’s Heartland is a feature-length documentary film about the challenges, opportunities and struggles of developing a new wine region, showcasing the economic and agricultural diversity brought about by the wine industry, and how families are returning to and reuniting to grow wine grapes and build a new wine region in the Midwest.

“This fundraising effort is an appeal to all of us who value locally grown and made wines and recognize that something special is happening in the Midwest,” said Jeff Zahrt, Wine Diamonds Producer and award winning documentary filmmaker.

Filming began in July 2014 and will continue through the fall of 2015. Release is planned for spring 2016.

“We’re passionate about what’s happening in new frontier of wine and creating a compelling story, beautifully filmed, with interesting and informative characters allows us to make a movie that not only is appealing to a regional audience, but a national one,” said Kirk Monson, Producer and Director of Photography and award winning documentary filmmaker.

This documentary film is an opportunity for wine fans, winery and vineyard owners, industry supporters, and wine enthusiasts from around the country to demonstrate their support for this exciting time in the wine history and to be a part of this movie.

Donations to the production of Wine Diamonds: Uncorking America’s Heartland may be made on the crowd funding site, Indiegogo. Check out the movie trailer, view the donation perks, and make your contribution today:

Corporate sponsorships are available; please contact Brad Johnson, Producer at


Brad Johnson, Producer
JMZ Productions
612 E. 4th St. Vinton, IA 52349

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.

Countdown Begins….

IndieGoGo copyWe’re excited, thrilled, elated and just giddy to announce we’re only 9 days away from launching our fundraising campaign!  Okay, not many people would admit to being excited to ask for donations, for your hard-earned cash, but this project means a lot to us and we’re confident if you’re a supporter of local wines (Midwestern wines) you’ll be excited enough to help us make this movie.

Our team decided to use the crowd funding website – Indiegogo, a fundraising platform commonly used for raising money for the arts.  Our launch day is April 2nd!

For the next two months we’ll be asking our friends, family, neighbors to help fund our film.  We’ll be a constant nuisance – always asking for more…and we’ll be thoroughly grateful for your contributions.  Fear not…we’ve created giving levels you all of you…no matter how deep your pockets are.  Seriously, any donation helps and you’ll have our sincere thanks.

Please make a point to join us…to be a part of our filmmaking team…to be able to say, “yeah, I helped make that.”

You’re Not in France: What this Winemaker Says will SHOCK you!

When people think of sparkling wine, bubbly wine, or champagne style wines most think of places like France or California.  For a bubbly wine to be considered “Champagne” it must be from the Champagne region of France, so bubbly wines from other parts of the world may have names like: sparkling wine, Prosecco (from Italy), Champagne-style wine and be made in several ways (including traditional method, aka: Méthode Champenoise), Charmat (bulk processing), and carbon dioxide injected (similar to how soda pop is bubbly).

The best sparklers, in some peoples opinion, tend to have low fruit intensity, possess lively tartness, and have lots and lots of tiny, tiny bubbles.  Many of the Midwest grapes are well-suited for becoming sparkling wines.  While not many winemakers in the heartland are taking up the challenge of crafting traditionally made sparkling wines, there are a few that have successfully made outstanding bubbly.

We met with John Burns, owner/winemaker, of Barrel Head Winery in Dubuque, Iowa recently to interview him for our film.  This “On the Road” segment (updated graphics and music) puts a spotlight on Johns work making exceptional sparking wines in the heartland.  Take a few minutes to watch this short segment and make an effort to visit John soon!


Pause in Filming and Expansion?

After a very busy start to our filming calendar we’re in a bit of a lull right now.  We’re busy doing many behind-the-scenes activities that don’t translate well into pretty photographs or necessarily interesting stories.  For example, I’ve been spending a lot of time reviewing the footage we’ve already shot (e.g., review, coding – trying to make sense and catalog everything that’s been recorded), preparing a fundraising campaign that includes gifts to those who donate, and preparing to shoot the “pitch-piece” – the video we’ll place on our crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, in the coming weeks.

After meeting with David O’Shields we’ve been thinking seriously about expanding the scope of our film to include neighboring states as well.  One of the reasons is the Iowa wine industry has benefited significantly by the work done by individuals and academic institutions (located in adjacent states) in the development of the many of the grapes we grow and enjoy in Iowa.

Our main focus (families coming together to build a wine industry) would remain the same we’d just increase the breadth of the film.  Here are a couple of the stories that we feel are important to the overall story: 1) Elmer Swenson , pioneering grape breeder from Wisconsin and 2) University of Minnesota grape breeding program.

What are your thoughts and who else should we consider?  Thanks!

Corridor Business Journal – First to Report on Wine Diamonds!

Wine Diamonds: Iowa Uncorked™ crew (Brad & Kirk) interview Fireside Winery winemaker, Zach Bott during annual iPick iStomp iDrink harvest event.
Wine Diamonds: Iowa Uncorked™ crew (Brad & Kirk) interview Fireside Winery winemaker, Zach Bott during annual iPick iStomp iDrink harvest event.

The Corridor Business Journal, serving the business news needs of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, met with Wine Diamonds: Iowa Uncorked™ in the early morning hours at Fireside Winery’s Brickyard Hill Vineyard during their first harvest weekend.  Reporter (Angie Holmes) observed the crew filming, met with winery owners and volunteer pickers, and chatted with us.  A week later the Wine Diamonds team met again with Angie Holmes (CBJ) for an in-depth interview at the offices of Monkeytown in Vinton.

We’re grateful for being noticed so early by the Corridor Business Journal and hope you enjoy the article:  Click to Read.


Tassel Ridge Winery – Marquette Harvest

I’ve never been called a morning person before but more and more often I’m waking up for early morning shoots.  Actually, there is something special about these early morning filming opportunities and yesterday our alarm clocks woke us up before 2am for a trip to Tassel Ridge Winery.

The owner, Bob Wersen, and his staff have been incredibly patient and helpful as we’ve tried to coordinate our two schedules.  Grapes are ready to harvest when they are ripe and have no consideration for our busy schedules, but fortunately, yesterday, the grapes were perfectly ripe and schedules were open.  So, it was with a bowl of cereal in our bellies that we left Benton County and drove for nearly two hours to reach the Meadowcreek Vineyard of Tassel Ridge Winery.  Located just north of Oskaloosa, Iowa (south east of Des Moines) the vineyard takes up more than 9 acres of land surrounding Mr. Wersen’s Interpower business.

A bright moonlit night sky welcomed us to the vineyard and the crew was already busy harvesting.  Tassel Ridge Winery has one of only a few mechanical harvesters in the region and we had amazing access to their operation.  We set up our cameras and began shooting night time footage of the harvest, bright lights of the harvester and the following tractor with trailer containing three macro bins and two sorters.  These two hardy souls, bent over sorting out leaves and stems and other detritus from the delicious grapes, were giving their detailed attention to this pre-wine.

Warm, friendly and accommodating staff provided us with unparalleled access and, as a result, we obtained some amazing footage.  We left the vineyard for the winery (located 15 minutes away) by 7:30 and interviewed Bob and some of his team.  Great interviews!   Later in the morning we shot some additional, crazy-awesome, footage in the vineyard.

Here are a few of behind-the-scenes photos.  If you support our film, please follow us here, like us on Facebook (you can see our full Tassel Ridge photo album), and tell your friends about Wine Diamonds: Iowa Uncorked.