On May 24, 1976, a little blind tasting took place in Paris. France’s historic wines were being tasted and judged alongside ones from a handful of upstart California wineries.
Spoiler alert: The California wines won.
The Movie Bottle Shock tells the fictionalized story of Chateau Montelena’s rise from obscurity to triumphing over a few of the top chateaus in Burgundy.
Like any Hollywood film “based on a true story,” Bottle Shock dramatizes the events that happened at Chateau Montelena preceding the historic tasting. But no matter. Bill Pullman tempers his swaggering Jim Barrett with just enough sensitivity that one can’t help cheering on this lawyer who attempts his dreams at being a winery owner. Chris Pine plays Bo, Barrett’s son, a somewhat irresponsible young man attempting to grow up under the weight of his watchful father’s gaze, all while yearning for his father’s acceptance. Freddie Rodriguez as Gustavo Bambrila rounds out the cast at Montelena – he’s a winemaker working for Barrett, yet fulfilling his own passions and making wine on the sly.
The highlight of Bottle Shock is Alan Rickman portraying British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, owner of the now-gone Caves de la Madeleine. Caves is Spurrier’s struggling wine shop, and it is due to the urging of the fictional Maurice (the excellent Dennis Farina) that Spurrier decides to host the historic blind tasting; thus, upping and going to California to choose which wines will compete. Rickman is excellent in every scene. His Spurrier is cool and put together, but not without a healthy sense of British deprecation.
Bottle Shock is a fun movie, even if it does take license with the story behind the story. Filmmakers Randall Miller and Jodie Savin themselves readily admit that it was the Barrett’s story that most moved them and their idea was to create an authentic film more accurate in spirit than in actual detail.
And with it’s great cast, Bottle Shock is sure to please. For those who are looking for the wine history behind the movie, pick up George Taber’s Judgement of Paris.
If you’re in the mood to kick back and enjoy a laugh or two, with the exquisite Napa Valley as backdrop, then go see Bottle Shock. Rickman is a delight – most especially in his scenes with Dennis Farina – and as far as movies about the underdog upsetting the not-so-underdog goes, this is a good one.