Official Selection to JDIFF!

JDIFF Official Selection_edited-1The Wine Diamonds team is excited and proud to announce our documentary film “Wine Diamonds: Uncorking America’s Heartland” has been chosen as an Official Selection at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival and we’ll be showing a “special screening” on Saturday, April 23 (1:30-4pm) at the Dubuque Museum of Art (Dubuque, IA).

Wine Diamonds is a feature-length documentary film about the struggles and opportunities of building a new wine region.

The Julien Dubuque International Film Festival is one of the most important independent film festivals in the Midwest and we are thrilled to be a small part of this big event! Not only is this film festival in our home state and smack-dab right in the middle of where we filmed (Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin), but this event brings in film distributors and buyers and if we can dream big – this is where it begins!

Showing Location: Dubuque Museum of Art –
Time: Saturday, April 23 (1:30-4pm)
Activities: Pre/post wine tasting, Live Music with “Live Broadcast” and Panel Discussion
Tickets: Julien Dubuque International Film Festival –

Appearing in this film:

• Doug Frost, Master Sommelier and Master of Wines, Kansas City, MO
• Michael Jones, Fermentation Expert, Petaluma, CA
• Lucas McIntire, Instructor and Winemaker at Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, IA
• Steve Larson, Winemaker, Train Wreck Winery, Algona, IA
• Tim Hanni, Master of Wine, Napa, CA
• Dr. Murli Dharmadhikari, PhD, Iowa State University, Director of the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute, Ames, IA
• Drew Horton, Iowa State University, Enology Field Specialist, Ames, IA
• John Marshall, Winemaker, Lake Pepin Winery, Lake City, MN
• Ray Winter, Owner, Indian Island Winery, Janesville, MN
• Robin Partch, Winemaker, Northern Vineyards Winery, Stillwater, MN
• Michael White, Iowa State University, Viticulture Field Specialist, Indianola, IA
• Bob Foster, Director, Mid-American Wine Competition, San Diego, CA
• Mike Drash, Winemaker, Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery, Kasota, MN
• Kent Schwickert, Owner, Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery, Kasota, MN
• William Wyant, Co-Owner, Fireside Winery, Marengo, IA
• Rona Wyant, Co-Owner, Fireside Winery, Marengo, IA
• Lynita Delaney, Partner and Winemaker, Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI
• Mark Delaney, Partner and Viticulturalist, Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI
• Mark Wenzel, Co-Owner and Winemaker, Illinois Sparkling Co., North Utica, IL
• Nan Bailly, Owner and Winemaker, Alexis Bailly Vineyard, Hastings, MN
• Cassie Bott, Marketing and Events Manager, Fireside Winery, Marengo, IA
• Zach Bott, Winemaker, Fireside Winery, Marengo, IA
• John Burns, Owner and Winemaker, Barrel Head Winery, Dubuque, IA
• Mike Vincent, Owner and Winemaker, Wooden Wheel Vineyards, Keota, IA
• Tracy Drash, Kasota, MN
• Anne Zwink, Winemaker, Solider Creek Winery, Fort Dodge, IA
• Bob Wersen, Owner, Tassel Ridge Winery, Leighton, IA
• Laura Delaney Roessler, Partner and Winemaker, Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI
• Todd Roessler, Partner and Marketing Manager, Elmaro Vineyard, Trempealeau, WI
• Dr. Paul Tabor, Owner and Winemaker, Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery, Baldwin, IA
• Mary Hofmann, Co-Owner and Winemaker, White Oak Vineyards, Carlock, IL
• Bill Secor Jr., Owner, Soldier Creek Winery, Fort Dodge, IA
• Ellen Landis, Wine Director and Sommelier Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn, Half Moon Bay, CA
• Lauren Chalupski-Cannon, Midwest Wine Expert, The Secret Cellar, Shueyville, IA
• Josie Boyle, Assistant Winemaker, Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery, Kasota, MN
• Christine Lawlor, Winemaker, Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, Galena, WI

On behalf of the entire Wine Diamonds team we wish to thank Susan Gorrell, Executive Director of the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival for her encouragement and support; John Donovan, former board member of the JDIFF whose help making the event happen is greatly appreciated.

We hope to see many Midwestern winery owners and supporters, independent film fans, and our friends and family at our first public showing on Saturday, April 23!

Brad Johnson


Special Screening Helps Producers

Hi Wine Diamonds Friends!

The Wine Diamonds film team brought together a group of people last night to help us critically review our progress with the film. This audience test (or focus group) was a great way for us to get actionable audience information that we can use to make adjustments. As a result of this group we’ve got a much better understanding of how potential audiences may view our film and as a consequence we’ll be making some changes. We are so thankful to our group for helping us fine-tune our film and can’t wait to show you the next iteration.

Coming up… On February 28th we’ll be at the Iowa Wine Grower Association’s annual conference in Des Moines, IA to show our trailer and a sneak peek at one of our clips. Always great to reconnect with wine industry folks!

We’re hoping to make a quick trip to Colorado on March 16th to meet up with The Sweet Lillies at a show in Fort Collins. They created a brand new song just for this film called, “In My Blood” that really captures the way many of us feel about our ties to the land and family. More to come about this and one of their other songs.

Thanks for following our progress and for sharing our film with your wine and independent film friends.

Brad (and the Wine Diamonds Team)

Focus group (audience test) watching the first 60 minutes


Focus 5
Focus group participants and Wine Diamonds team

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


Donate now copyIf you’re a fan, enthusiast, lover, supporter or booster of local wine and want to help us make this movie – we want you! Your donation is very important to the success of this film. It takes a lot of time and resources to put together a feature-length documentary movie filmed across six states over the course of a year. In exchange for your generous donation we’ll set you up with some awesome perks! Listed below are just a few of our our perks, check out our IndieGoGo site for more and watch our video:

Thank You! ($1) – Thank you so much for supporting Wine Diamonds! You’ve made a statement to the wine world about something that is important to you and your voice will be heard.

Cheers! ($10) – As a booster at the $10 level we’ll give you an online “toast” via Facebook and Twitter, be listed on our “Wall of Fame” on Wine Diamonds website, and receive special email movie updates.

UnCorked! ($25) – At the “UnCorked” contribution level you’ll get a limited edition Wine Diamonds Cork Remover, and we’ll give you an online “toast” via Facebook and Twitter, be listed on our “Wall of Fame” on Wine Diamonds website, and receive special email movie updates.

I Drink Midwest Wine ($50) -You’re a proud advocate of locally made wines! At the “I Drink Midwest Wine” level you’ll get a custom designed Wine Diamonds T-Shirt, plus we’ll give you an online “toast” via Facebook and Twitter, be listed on our “Wall of Fame” on Wine Diamonds website, and receive special email movie updates.

Free Run ($89) – In wine making the free run is the juice that flows before pressing occurs and is thought of as the best of the juice. Free Run contributors get one free Digital Download, 1080p HD download of the feature-length documentary when it’s released! Plus, you’ll get a custom designed Wine Diamonds T-shirt, and we’ll give you an online “toast” via Facebook and Twitter, be listed on our “Wall of Fame” on Wine Diamonds website, and receive special email movie updates.

Check out the Complete List of Perks:

Thank you!

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.”