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Native Spanish Grape, Bobal: Free Screening of Documentary and Tasting in Barcelona & NYC

bobal-sign1On September 16th, Catavino will be hosting a free screening of Zev’s film at Citilab Cornella in Barcelona at 7-9pm. The documentary by Zev Robinson will be followed by a Bobal tasting presented by Alex Duran, the founder of Sommelier Alumni, in conjunction with a live Twitter tasting. To register for the event, go HERE.

We haven’t known Zev for very long, but he’s an individual that steals your heart the minute you hear his slow and deliberate cadence sharing his passion for not only his videos, but for Spain as a culture and a historical wine country. Zev has produced a documentary on the native grape Bobal, which takes you on a journey through the rustic vineyards of Utiel-Requena from Bobal’s inception through its production. For me, it stretches the concept of an educational film, as it pulls at your tear ducts and sense of justice.

The following is an interview we pulled together with Zev in order to give a better sense of who he is and what he’s trying to accomplish:

Tell us a little about yourself and your history in video?

I am a Canadian-British artist and filmmaker living in the Utiel-Requena region of Spain. I’ve lived in several large cities including NY, London and Madrid, and four years ago moved to a small village where my wife Albertina is originally from. With the internet and digital technologies, I can continue to work on projects in London and elsewhere while having more space and quiet here.

You describe yourself as an “artist” rather than a filmmaker. What is the difference for you?

I say artist, although I now use both terms, because I painted for 15 years before working with video as well. Outside of the obvious differences of material and technique, they are quite similar for me, and have been interrelated since my childhood. I started to draw and paint at about the same time as I started to be seriously interested in cinema. I’ve drawn on cinematic images as inspiration for my paintings, and the film’s have a strong visual element that comes from painting and looking at art. With video and digital editing possibilities, I was able to start doing things that would otherwise have been too costly and technically cumbersome.

You and your wife have worked as a team in the making this documentary. Have you both walked away from the experience feeling it was positive, or have you shifted your roles a bit, learning where each one’s strength truly lies?

The experience in making La Bobal was very positive for both of us. With any creative undertaking, either alone or in a team, there are moments of exhaustion, difficult decisions, strained nerves, and so on, but it was one of the best professional experiences we have had. Hundreds of hours were put into its making, 35 people were interviewed from every aspect and level of the wine industry, and the complexity of a culture of wine was captured and represented, both its beauty and its difficulties and problems. In doing so, it was extremely enriching and educational for both of us.

Why did you become fascinated with the story of Bobal as opposed to the 200+ other native Spanish grapes?

It was an accident. I was taking a walk in the vineyards one day, and thought it would be an interesting idea to trace how the grapes from this region make their way into bottles of wine on the shop shelves in London. The history that goes into the making of a bottle of wine is largely invisible to the consumer, and thought I’d make it visible. At the time, I knew nothing about wine, didn’t know that there was a grape called Bobal, and didn’t know what I was getting myself (and my wife) into. Spain has an incredible richness of grape varieties, landscapes and micro-climates, and I’m now working on a documentary that will focus on some of those varieties. Each variety is representative of part of Spain and has its own history and culture.

In the documentary, you highlight the lack of options farmers have who are gaining in years and don’t have the strength and resources to continue farming the grape. How do you see this effecting the future of Bobal?

I wouldn’t say that I highlighted it. It is what was commented on time and again, by both the farmers and the wineries because it affects everyone. This area has traditionally produced bulk wine, but now grape and bulk wine prices have declined, making it economically unfeasible to continue the family tradition in most cases. There are economic incentives to pull out the old vines, and low prices and the crisis means that many are taking them. The problem is that the vines that are being pulled out are 50 – 80 years old and even older, and are the ones that make the best Bobal wine.

At the same time, new wineries and older, renovated wineries, have begun to create high quality wines over the last decade or two. So there’s a transition, going for quality rather than quantity, with both positive and negative consequences.

With the Spanish economy hitting 20% unemployment, do you feel this will also have an impact on the future of the grape?

Again, it’s a moment of transition. Like any transition, it has been hard for many while others have benefited, but the economic crisis has made it difficult for everyone, including other regions of Spain. The crisis won’t last forever, people will continue to drink wine, some wineries and vineyards will survive, others won’t. But the landscape will have changed forever.

Bobal has been called the “black sheep” of Spanish grapes? Where does this reputation come from and do you tend to agree with this perspective?

It’s reputation has come from the fact that it was produced for its rich color and acidity in producing bulk wine. Little had been produced in terms of quality bottled wine, and so its many great qualities received little recognition. But that has changed over the last decade or so, and wine experts have recognized that excellent wines can be made with 100% or a high percentage of Bobal grapes.

How has the documentary been received both internationally and nationally?

The documentary has been received extremely well, way beyond my expectations, and it’s been a great experience to be able to see it with people in the region producing wine, and abroad in the art and film and wine worlds, all with different perspectives. It has also helped foment the discussion about the problems that urgently need to be dealt with, giving a voice to a lot of people who wouldn’t normally be heard. Hopefully, raising the issues will make them more difficult to ignore.

What do you hope people will take away from this documentary?

I hope that it will impart a greater understanding of the many interwoven factors involved in producing wine, that they are all essential and need care and attention and support. And, of course, that Bobal wine is worth drinking and Utiel Requena is worth visiting.

Have you received adequate support from the Spanish government to help bring awareness regarding the current state of grape farming in Spain?

Wines from Spain were very supportive when we had the premier in London in December, and I’m sure the same will happen when La Bobal is shown in New York in November. The Spanish Chamber of Commerce in NY has said they’d support the event, and the Gabarron Foundation is looking for a date to host the event. The documentary has become perhaps the best way to promote the wines of the region, reaching an international audience, and hopefully various Valencian institutions will begin to support the screenings coupled with tastings.

Where else will this documentary be shown in the future?

After Barcelona, the New York screening is scheduled for November 4, organized by a very enthusiastic and supportive Horticultural Society of New York, in collaboration with the Gabarron Society. We’re also working on another London screening. It’s already been shown in and around Valencia several times, and there should be another screening in Valencia In November which is always welcome, but it needs to be shown internationally in order for Bobal wines to gain the great reputation that they deserve.

Zev is currently producing other documentaries, including one on social media in collaboration with Catavino. We wish Zev all the best and hope you will all join us on 16th in Barcelona!!


Gabriella Opaz

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