The documentary film 'Harvest' follows an all-woman picking crew druing the 2011 wine grape harvest in Sonoma County. (Photo by Charlie Gesell.)

Last year’s Wine Country grape harvest, dubbed the worst ever by some local winemakers, was plagued by untimely rainstorms and widespread grape rot.

The stressful harvest season offered the opportunity for a rare glimpse inside the wine industry in “Harvest,” a documentary film directed by John Beck and released for distribution by 7th Art Releasing earlier this year.

The 70-minute film follows five Sonoma County family wineries, an all-woman grape picking crew from Mexico and an amateur home winemaker through the 2011 harvest season.

“When I stumbled onto this all-female wine grape picking crew, they became the heart and soul of the film. You see women in the vineyards, but it’s very rare that you’ll see 12 women together as a unit,” Beck said.

“When three of them opened up to me, invited me into their homes and told me their border-crossing stories, I just couldn’t stop. One of them was robbed before she crossed the border by thieves in the mountains. These women are documented workers now they’re here.”

The three Mexican women who tell their stories are Paulina Rodriguez, who lives in Healdsburg and was raised in Oaxaca, Margarita Lizano, who lives in Windsor and was raised in Oaxaca, and Maria Ambriz, who lives in Santa Rosa and was raised in Guadalajara.

The five wineries covered in the film are Robledo, Rafanelli, Foppiano, Harvest Moon and Robert Hunter.

“I started filming in late August 2011,” Beck said. “At each winery, I filmed something different and kept filming until early November.”

“Harvest” opens for a week-long run Sept. 14 at Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol. John Beck will appear at Q & A sessions after the 7 p.m. screenings Sept. 14 and 15.

The film runs Sept. 21-23 at Sonoma Cinemas and Beck will answer questions after the 7 p.m. screenings Sept. 21 and 23.
“Harvest starts its week-long Sept. 28 at the Raven Theater in Healdsburg, with Q & A sessions after the 7 p.m. screenings Sept. 28 and 29.

Beck, a former Press Democrat staff writer and freelance journalist and filmmaker, said he got the idea for his documentary after Wine Road, an association of wineries and lodgings in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys of northern Sonoma County, hired him to make a short promotional film on night harvest in 2010.

“I had never seen a night harvest before,” Beck said. “It was 2 in the morning, and the whole vineyard was lit up like a UFO landing. It was very dramatic, and I started to ask questions. The harvest has a dramatic arc to it, with a beginning, a middle and an end.”