The "Harvest" Story
My name is John Beck and as the director of "Harvest" I set out with one mission: To transport the viewer into the vineyards during the most chaotic time of year.
I wanted to show the back-breaking 24/7 labor that goes into every pick - what the Mexican workers call "La Pisca." I wanted to show the frigid night picking with tiny headlamps at 2 a.m. And the severe exhaustion that sets in after seven days of picking in a row. And in the case of the 2011 harvest - what many would call "the worst harvest" of their lifetimes - I wanted to show the havoc wreaked by untimely rains that, for some, destroyed more than 50 percent of their crop.
I also wanted to focus on all walks of life - the laborers, the grape growers, the winemakers and the winery owners. So from Aug. 23 to Nov. 5, 2011, I basically lived in the vineyards of Sonoma County, shooting footage every day. More interested in salt-of-the-earth grape growers than large corporate operations, I followed five small family wineries - Foppiano, Robledo, Rafanelli, Harvest Moon and Robert Hunter.
Each one has a unique story:
Reynaldo Robledo is the first former migrant worker to own his own winery.
Paul Foppiano is following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather who first plowed their Russian River Valley farm with a horse back in 1896.
The Rafanellis have been growing grapes for nearly as long and now winemaker Shelly Rafanelli-Fehlman is facing the toughest harvest of her lifetime.
Harvest Moon's maverick winemaker Randy Pitts fled the corporate grind in San Francisco to "reverse migrate" back home to the Santa Rosa vineyards where he grew up, convincing his grape-growing parents to start making their own wine.
And at Robert Hunter in Sonoma, 73-year-old foreman Rudy Rodriguez, from Michoacan, Mexico, has spent more than half his life at the winery. So when he says, "It's not a good harvest," he speaks from experience.
Rounding out the ensemble cast, I also follow highly decorated home winemaker Bob Bennett, who grows 11 varietals on his 3-acre Windsor spread and sells his grapes to fellow amateur winemakers.
And, in what turned out to be the heart and soul of the film, I follow an all-female picking crew - a rare thing to see in the vineyards, even today. It was the first time Bacchus Vineyard Management assembled an all-female crew - 12 women, mostly from Michoacan and Oaxaca in Mexico. As I got to know them, the women invited me into their houses and told me their harrowing border-crossing stories, and I learned what amazing sacrifices they'd made just to be there in the vineyards doing a job most Americans would never consider.
How You Can Help
"Harvest" is a story that's never been told before. And it's definitely a film that's never been made before. Basically, I'm hoping that anyone who drinks wine will want to see this film. But the painful truth about independent filmmaking is that it can be very expensive and draining on the bank account. So far, all the expenses have come out of my pocket - the translation, both in the fields and in the editing room - the subtitling, the original musical score by Joni Davis and Steve Pile and the still photography. Of course, anything I can figure out myself, I do. I shot every scene and spent December and January hibernating in the editing bay, piecing together this mammoth production.
"Harvest" is going to premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival in early April, but before then, there's still a ton of work that needs to be done. As you can see in the trailer, the vineyards during harvest are very noisy. I'm working with Novato sound engineer Will Storkson, who has done sound work for Sofia Coppola's films, and that alone will be a few thousand dollars, depending on how much work has to be done.
Then there are the massive travel expenses and submission fees (typically $50-$100 for each festival) and marketing (posters, postcards, Facebook ads, etc.) that pile up whenever you take a film out on the festival circuit.
On the flipside, we've got great perks for donors! Midway through the film there's a really cool "Man v. Machine" vignette (set to the tune of Healdsburg metal band Skitzo) that kicks off with Paul Foppiano machine-harvesting sauvignon blanc. As a perk, I'm throwing in bottles of the 2011 sauvignon blanc made from those same grapes. Among the other perks available are exclusive stemless wineglasses with the "Harvest" film logo, signed DVDs and digital downloads, two tickets to next year's Wine Road Barrel Tasting Weekend and guest of honor passes to the Sonoma premiere.
Other Ways You Can Help
Any way you can get the word out would be greatly appreciated. Like us on Facebook, Tweet about the film or send a link to the trailer to anyone who might be interested. All you have to do is use the share tools below the trailer.
But most of all - I just want to say "Thank You!" for caring about this story and for anything you can do to help. I truly think this is a story worth telling and I hope you do, too.