“When you dine with people who have nothing to do with wine, they are oblivious to what’s in the glass. They simply want to enjoy wine and that’s it. They might note whether or not it pairs with their fish, but they don’t spend three hours discussing about the wine itself”.
You wouldn’t probably expect such an opinion from someone who has painstakingly filmed Bobal vineyards in Spain, has told the story of the Vivanco family in Rioja or has immersed himself in remote Arribes del Duero, where sustainability and subsistence farming are key issues.
But Zev Robinson, a Canadian-British artist who has lived and worked in different countries and has settled in Caudete de las Fuentes (Valencia and Bobal land), is fascinated by all matters regarding sustainability, the economics of food and wine and the way farmers and wine growers make their living. “I’m interested in the relationship between farming and wine at all levels - it’s really difficult to find an industry where nature and culture are so closely linked,” he says.
Robinson started painting and taking photographs. He later produced more than 30 video installations that could be seen as the prelude to his present film-making activity. His first trip to Spain in the early nineties was to visit the Museo del Prado. Back then, he sensed that he would return, as he in fact did a few months later when he met his wife. Albertina Torres, a photographer who also produces Zev’s documentaries, comes from Utiel-Requena (Valencia) and is the reason why Robinson came to learn about Bobal.
“When we lived in London, we used to occasionally buy some Bobal wines. Back then, I used to think about the hardship endured by my vinegrower father-in-law and all the sacrifice behind a bottle of wine. When we got back to Caudete, I decided to tell this story from the vineyard to the bottle”, Zev recalls.
The result was "Bobal and other stories of wine," an 80-minute documentary reflecting the contrast between fashionable new wines made from this grape in Utiel-Requena and the decline of farmers who continued to grow grapes for bulk sale at increasingly lower prices. The documentary, which subsequently featured additional wineries from nearby Manchuela where this variety is widely grown, was renamed "Bobal Revisited". This latest version was presented in London a few weeks ago followed by a tasting of Bobal wines featuring some producers and winemakers.
More recently Zev Robinson is trying to bring together all his documentaries under what he calls "The Art and Politics of Eating". The aim is to combine his films with other artistic disciplines such as photography and painting in order to generate a debate about food and ecosystems sustainability while looking at ways to create artistic expressions inspired by them.
Hence the Robinson-Torres duo is focused on organizing screenings of their films followed by tastings (not just wine, but also olive oil) or meals that may also feature paintings and photographic works providing a geographic and cultural context to topics and issues raised by the films.
"Never before agriculture and food have been so separated”, points Zev. “Today someone in London or New York might be inadvertently putting an end to farming and the work that artisans carry out in their communities."
You can have a quick glimpse of this on “Arribes: el resto es barullo” (Arribes: the rest is noise), a documentary featuring the way of life and the economics of food and wine in this remote region that stretches between the provinces of Zamora and Salamanca to Portugal’s border. The film starts with a pig being slaughtered. Some may find it brutal, but this is an ancestral practice in most rural communities. Wine doesn’t play a leading role here, but it is featured with winemaker Charlotte Allen, the only person in the documentary who speaks English. She settled down in the area a few years ago fully committed to crafting natural wines from local rustic grapes.
Robinson’s films, moreover, have the power to enter naturally in the lives of farmers and peasants. Everything flows easily while they go about their daily routine and recall their memories to camera. But there is a formidable task behind: "Editing and assembling is 80% of the work", says the artist.
Much more filming has been done across Spain in order to reflect our wines’ reality but this ambitious and huge project has been held back by other works. It seems now that it will finally feature food as well as wine under the brilliant slogan "Cultivating tapas”. Two trailers (one focused on wine, the other on food) can be already watched online.