It can’t be said often enough that the best films about wine are not actually films about wine.
We saw this with the all-defining archetype of the genre, “Sideways”, and we can see it yet again with this documentary entitled, “The Guitar Barrel Project“.
Given the title, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the film tells the story about six luthiers who set out to craft six individual guitars from the wood of old wine barrels.
This in and of itself would be rather novel given that most wine barrels are usually oak with occasional chestnut, cherry, or acacia wood showing up in the mix. These are not woods that you want to make a musical instrument from which is why when Portuguese luthier, Adriano Sergio discovered a stash of mahogany barrels at the back of a warehouse, he knew he’d found something special.
Further research revealed that they were barrels owned by the Marquês de Pombal for making Carcavelos wines… 250 years ago.
Sergio contacted five other luthiers throughout Europe and after they met and inspected the wood in 2018, they each took a portion back to their shops. The concept was to make individual guitars completely separate of one another that they would only reveal once completed. Due to the pandemic, this only happened in January of 2023 and the documentary is coming to life now as it was only presented for the first time in May.
It’s a fascinating story as again, while not about the wine that was in the barrels (which is now produced by Villa Oeiras) it’s about the history and setting from whence the barrels came. While the age is quite important, even more so is that they bore witness to the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake which devastated Portugal’s capital and in turn heavily affected the thinking of the Englightenment Period. Afterall, if God decided to rain death and destruction on All Saint’s Day, what kind of God was he?
Various revelations and philosophical ponderings by the luthiers come to light during the 1:15 runtime of the film. They’re all of different backgrounds who work to take the history and origin of the wood into account, somehow incorporating them into their stringed instruments–no small feat.
As one can assume, the end results are fascinating as they’re completely different from one another and the slow, methodical process of the guitar construction is no end of engaging to watch given that these are all masters in their craft.
It’s really a pleasure to watch and about the only thing I was missing was to hear how the guitars sounded when played, but even without that, I highly recommend watching it if you find it at a festival or streaming platform in the near future.