Brit George

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Brit George

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Brit George

Bottle Shock - Uncorking Another Sideways

Bottle Shock is a temporary condition of wine characterized by muted or disjointed fruit flavors usually caused by wines that have been shaken in travel.

Bottle Shock the movie is an entertaining, albeit not completely factual look at the events leading up to the famous 1976 “Judgment in Paris”, where California wines beat out their French counterparts in a blind tasting putting California wines firmly on the wine map. It is a good romp in the vineyard and shows us what the Napa of old was like and how things have changed since.

As a young college student traveling through Napa in 1976, I found it hard to understand how this event transformed the California wine industry. The grand estates of Inglenook, Beringer, and Krug shared the stage with newer names of Grgich, Stags Leap, Mondavi, and Sterling and were producing world-class wines. Didn’t the Europeans know that? Well, a trip to Europe in the late ’70s showed that the wines that made it across the “pond” were not the names mentioned above but were the jug wines from the vineyards of Modesto, Bakersfield, and Fresno. Good marketing had trumped good wine.

Back to the movie…The story is told alternating between Napa Valley and Paris as it follows Jim Barrett (played a bit stiffly by Bill Pullman) a lawyer who followed his dream by ditching the suits, purchasing a winery (Chateau Montelena) and striving to make the world’s greatest Chardonnay. Like many a winemaker then, as now, his business is struggling and is applying for his third bank loan.

In Paris Steven Spurrier (played wonderfully by Alan Rickman) is a priggish British wine merchant with a struggling wine shop who has the idea of a staging a blind tasting between French and California wines. Rickman is some 28 years older than Spurrier was at the time and plays the Brit as a classic wine snob. Once Spurrier arrived in Napa the juxtaposition of him against the backdrop of rural Napa is often hilarious.

Spurrier has denounced the film for many mistruths and embellishments throughout and endorses a different version written by George Taber who witnessed the actual tasting.  The new film “Judgment in Paris” is due out later this year. Others have questioned why Mike Grgich, who actually made the winning wine for Chateau Montelena, did not get a mention in the film.

Both Bo and Jim Barrett, and plenty of other old hands in the valley helped out with the story which was written by Jody Savin, Ross Schwartz, and Director Randy Miller. Hollywood writers can sometimes improve a story or ruin it depending on your taste and proximately to the actual events. This movie is certainly entertaining and is worth seeing. For a more factual account check out George Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine, or wait for the new movie.

Bo (Chris Pine) the hippie son of the winery owner only has ambitions for a good time. Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez)  the more earnest and skilled “cellar rat” has visions of becoming a great winemaker. Sam (Rachael Taylor) the love interest is fictional but opens a window into Bo’s development from loser party animal to winery promoter. The film follows alternately and a bit clumsily, Spurrier as he makes his way through Napa Valley tasting, swirling, spitting and recognizing the quality of California wine and Jim and Bo Barrett sparing (literally) as the father and son with different work ethics and goals.

The movie is shot with sweeping vistas of the wine country and certainly reminds us of how beautiful Napa Valley is. Many scenes are shot in the vineyard with the actors poking about the vines very gingerly. (The fruit hanging from the vines looks like it was close to harvest time and no doubt the vineyard owner had instructed the crew not to touch anything!)

The winery scenes are a bit staged but the film works and the story is true enough to be important and pleasant enough to be entertaining. The story finishes as the wine finds its way to the Paris tasting-- and the rest, as they say, is history.  The film has a great 70’s era soundtrack dominated with lots of Doobie Brothers setting the tone. Also stars Dennis Farina and Elia Dishku.

As an ironic footnote in late July of this year, Bo and Jim Barrett announced that Chateau Montelena will be sold, pending government approval, to Michel Reybier, owner of Bordeaux chateau Cos d'Estournel, a famed French winery.

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