Rated PG-13; Directed by Randall Miller; Starring Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Eliza Dushku
Once upon a time everyone knew that a quality wine came from France and that California wines were a punchline to a joke usually involving twist-off caps. Then in 1976 a competition eventually known as “The Judgment of Paris” was arranged between the French and the American wineries. The outcome was a bit unexpected. The film Bottle Shock tells the story of this competition, following the tribulations of the owners of a new California winery and also the Englishman who arranges the contest.
In California, Jim Barrett is attempting to make the perfect Chardonnay at his new winery, the Chateau Montelena. It’s not easy. His son, Bo, is a slacker (Chris Pine in a very ugly blonde wig); his expert of a hired hand, Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), is attempting to start his own winery; and the pretty new intern, Sam (Rachael Taylor), is stirring up a rivalry between Bo and Gustavo.
Meanwhile, in Paris, wine shop owner Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) comes up with an idea that will highlight the superiority of the French wines: a blind-taste test of French and American wines put on by the elite of French “oenophiles” (“wine-lovers” to the rest of us). Spurrier heads to California on the impossible mission to find some semi-decent wine.
Bottle Shock, written and directed by Randall Miller, looks at that historic moment in 1976 when California wines proved their worth to the world. This is a true story – there is a Chateau Montelena owned by the Barretts and there is a Steven Spurrier who set up a competition. Of course, the movie adds some drama, sometimes effectively, but mostly as movie filler.
The film works best as a lesson on winemaking. The movie was filmed in Napa Valley (even the French scenes) and Miller directs the scenes of the vineyards and the workers lovingly. Scenes of golden fields and hazy hills permeate the movie. The annoying tale of Jim and Bo clashing doesn’t interfere too much with the joy of their struggle to make a great wine. The sub-plot of Bo, Sam, and Gustavo – even more annoying – doesn’t take up too much screen time.
The best part of the film belongs to Alan Rickman. Rickman is a master at humor and knows exactly how to play a snob without overdoing it. His disbelief at what he discovers fermenting in Napa Valley drives the film’s second half. Too bad the script didn’t give us more of him. Bill Pullman also adds some depth to the story.
Bottle Shock is an easy-going film that presents a true story with some charm, a few feeble sub-plots, and the always marvelous Alan Rickman. It may also increase your desire to drink a wine that doesn’t use a twist-off cap.