Insider Interviews by David Furer - Presenting Martine Saunier

Insider Interviews by David Furer - Presenting Martine Saunier

As an expatriate Frenchwoman many years back, why set yourself up as an importer in the US?
When I came here in 1964 I started drinking California wines such as Beaulieu, Italian Swiss Colony, and others. People challenged me to distinguish one Cabernet from another so I went to Napa Valley where I met Andre Tschelitscheff who told me that in order to understand wine I had to go to Burgundy. Some were imported into the US by Avery’s of Bristol through Esquin Imports in San Francisco. I found that the quality was uneven or even completely oxidized because they weren’t using refrigerated containers. I ended up taking home a case of wine from someone else but was upset that the appellations weren’t indicated correctly on the label. So he offered that I act as his buyer starting with Chateau Rayas in 1969 along with an excellent Vouvray, selling them to doctors and lawyers in San Francisco. In five years I had quite a selection but my marriage was faltering, so I knocked on doors of the many French restaurants which existed then. In 1978 I decided to start my own company though it was an economically bad time to do this.

Martine Saunier 2








         A year in Champagne promo

Why step away from wine and into film making of it?
After a time I was happy with the growth of my company. In 2009 I met an Englishman, David Kennard, at a tasting in San Francisco. He proceeded to tell me that he was a producer who wanted to make a film about four importers who made a difference in the US. Two days later he told me that he wanted to find the funding for the movie, later deciding to make a film solely about Burgundy, and needed $500,000 to finance ‘A Year in Burgundy’…though he’d never been there. After spending Thanksgiving at the Tennessee blackberry farm of a man who ended up being our funder, within 3 weeks of my first being approached, we found ourselves fully funded. In 2011 this Mr. Rupert came to us saying he wanted another movie about Champagne, which is easy as it’s the most famous wine in the world. He said he also wanted a trilogy, so I later suggested Portugal which we’ll finish next year.

Why choose Portugal?
In the last decade we’ve seen a lot of new wineries start there. It’s the only great European wine country that hasn’t really been communicated fully about. The country is beautiful, they’re making great wines that are underpriced compared to others in Europe. The Portuguese are excited about the movie; everyone there was so nice to us.

So you acted as a producer as well as its star?
The stars are my wineries which I’ve known 30-40 years. I knew what I could ask, like convincing Lalou Bize-Leroy to be part of the movie. Kennard has good references of music for its background, and we got along very well.

Martine Saunier 3Martine in the cellar

Your first two films investigated the chronological year in two regions well-known to those interested in wine, regions chronicled countless times–Burgundy and Champagne. Why does the viewer need more of these commonly acknowledged places?
Burgundy is a small region. No one really knows how the wine is made. None of them are big chateaux like in Bordeaux. Those people go to the vineyards every day, nobody has tasting books, it’s a very ‘country’ style of living. People want to go to Burgundy thinking that it’s so beautiful, but there’s a different personality in each vigneron.

Without the advantage of being able to show images or sounds of the origin of a wine s/he is attempting to sell, how might a sommelier tell a story to bring it to life for the guest?
Most sommeliers that I’ve known for 40 years all have a story to tell behind the winery or vintner. Everybody travels so much now, they meet the people and can tell the story. The consumer wants to know not about filtration but about the guy who makes the wine. It makes a huge difference. Nothing is more boring than going to a dinner only to be told the technical aspects of the wine; it’s enough to go to sleep. But when I tell stories people cheer.

You can read more and see the movie here:

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