Who wants an encore? Fresh off his first Wine Spectator video contest win, in 2022, Steve Jacobson has earned the grand prize for the second year in a row with his latest video, “Love the Wine You’re With,” dedicated to all the enophiles out there.
“I started working on this literally the weekend I got back from the New York Wine Experience last year,” admitted Jacobson. For this year’s entry, he wanted to move away from the Broadway sound that cemented “Cabernet Tonight” as a winner and into the folk-rock of the 1970s, parodying the famous Stephen Stills good-times song about loving whoever—or in this case whatever—is right in front of you. (“That’s the theme of the whole video competition: Why do you love wine?”) Jacobson worked with his son to write and rewrite the song dozens of times in the weeks before Thanksgiving, then passed it off to his nephew to belt it out. Over the next months, he rallied the troops for cameos: friends, family, friends of family and star vintners like Kathryn Hall of Hall and Dave Phinney from Orin Swift Cellars.
“When I’m doing my own little passion projects, I really want to maximize the impact on people,” explains Jacobson. “I am looking for how to get a smile on someone’s face. Hopefully there’s a laugh involved.”
Jacobson’s grand prize includes two full weekend passes to Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience next month. He describes his time at the 2022 Wine Experience as “nothing less than life-changing. Being able to taste those wines that I never thought I would, after years of reading about them in Wine Spectator was just unbelievable.” Highlights for him included the Château Mouton-Rothschild vertical spanning 40 decades, and being to talk to film legend and winery owner Robert Kamen one on one.
The second-place winner, “Akiko Dreams of Pinot,” traces the story of Tokyo-born Akiko Freeman, who found her way across the world to Sonoma County to become a winemaker. The film is gentle, with soft, lilting piano playing throughout. Beginning with memories of her grandmother (a master of kodo, or the art of Japanese incense), Freeman talks to viewers in an intimate way about her struggles with winemaking and how the job isn’t always as luxurious as it seems.
“I never imagined that I would be growing and harvesting grapes, and making wine in West Sonoma County,” Freeman tells the viewer in Japanese. “I am living a special dream. Maybe winemaking is not so glamorous, but our story is just the beginning.” Freeman was unavailable for an interview because she is at the height of her harvest season for Freeman winery, which makes both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley.
Our video contest reached new heights with the third-place winner, “Volcanic Journey: The Next Generation of West Coast Wines.” The film follows the team at California’s Obsidian Wine Co. as they explore volcanic terroirs along the West Coast and advocate for a volcanic wine AVA. With stunning views of snow-capped volcanoes shot from the team’s Kodiak plane and of sprawling vineyards grown on layers of ash, co-founder Arpad Molnar wanted to show the lengths to which new winemakers are going to understand uncharted territory for wine. “This is all about the community that we have built over the decades,” Molnar told Wine Spectator. “I think we’re just beginning to tell the story.”
Molnar and his brother Peter, with whom he co-founded Obsidian, grew up around the vineyards their father planted in Carneros in the early 1970s. Twenty years ago, the brothers established their own vines in an overgrown walnut orchard, quickly learning that the land was filled with hunks of obsidian glass. “Everything about [that vineyard] was different, from the farming to the altitude to the beauty,” explained Molnar. “People don’t really understand why these wines are so stylistically different. Some people don’t even know that the West Coast has volcanoes.”
Molnar says the film submitted to Wine Spectator’s video contest is a “teaser” for a longer documentary that Obsidian is releasing in October. “We have been putting a lot of time and energy into this film,” says Molnar. “So being a finalist is very rewarding.”
Catch all six 2023 video contest finalists, plus an additional six judges’ picks for honorable mentions, and find your own favorite.