I left the movie theater after watching "Bottle Shock" very disoriented.

The movie, loosely based on the 1976 Paris wine tasting that pitted California wines against French wines and that put California wines on the map, provided me with a movie-going experience that I’d never had before.

I’ve never watched a film where people I know and people I’ve met were portrayed. But in addition, I’ve never watched a film where the locations used were intimately familiar to me; places I walk past and into on a regular bases and places I’ve spent a great amount of time.

I’ve seen films that brought to the screen characters I felt close too or felt I knew very well. But those characters usually were familiar to me from the reading of the book first. And though it’s always fun to look at a film and think, "oh, I’ve been there," it’s altogether different to watch the tavern scenes in "Bottle Shock" and think, "Lord, how much time have I spent on that very same bar stool at that very same bar where actors portraying people I know are sitting?"

The whole experience makes me rather incapable of deciding if "Bottle Shock" was a good movie or not. I certainly enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it tremendously. I do know this: it is a far more authentic "wine movie" than "Sideways, with just enough romantic stereotypes to provide a backdrop, but not going overboard.

The one thing that was on my mind before walking in to see the film was whether or not we had on our hands another film, like "Sideways", that would boost sales of wine; really give the wine industry or a type of wine or a category of wine a boost in sales. I’m somewhat bummed to say we absolutely do not have a film that will lead to any kind of bump in sales a la "Sideways".

When we see a move that inspires us in some way, it’s natural to want to internalize, act out or re-experience the themes of the movie that inspired us all over again. For those inspired by "Sideways" and wanting to reconnect with the themes and characters, all that was necessary was to go to to a local bottle shock and pick up Pinot Noir or go to wine country and experience the satisfaction of appreciating and discovering the beauty of wine. And "Sideways" did inspire many to take this walk to the bottle shop or go to wine country. And sales of Pinot Noir saw a tremendous boost as a result.

In order to re-experience the inspiration of "Bottle Shock" one must go out and buy a vineyard or winery or wine store.

The movie examines the ambitions of people in different parts of the wine industry: the winery family, the young winemaker, the young wine loving merchant seeking to climb higher in his industry and in the minds of his peers. While the film’s story might indeed inspire and delight, it’s not going to lead viewers to take much action for the simple reason that that they can’t. Vineyards and wine stores cost more than a bottle of Pinot Noir or a trip to wine country.

Alas, no bump in sales.

Chateau Montelena and Gustave Thrace Winery are the big winners in this film. Montelena is the featured winery in the movie. And a wonderful character in the film, probably my favorite, was Gustavo Brambila, portrayed by Freddie Rodriguez. Gustavo worked at Chateau Montelena for a short time, went on to make wine for many years in Napa Valley at Grgich Hills before opening his own winery, "Gustavo Thrace", in 1996. Gustavo’s winery is prominently mentioned at the end of the film, before the credits, where the fall out of the Paris Tasting is described and the lives of the characters are brought up to date.

If any general category of wines benefits from "Bottle Shock" it will be those of Napa Valley, which are portrayed correctly as world class. However, anyone inclined to investigate the worlds best wines will eventually get around to Napa Valley anyway and won’t need to be prodded into it.

7 Responses

  1. Strappo - September 2, 2008

    The wine public needs to know, Tom: Did you get a free ticket or did you pay for it out of your own pocket?

  2. Tish - September 2, 2008

    I found the movie to be very enjoyable. A real trip back to the 1970s, with lots of authentic wine stuff and cinematography. The rewriting of historical facts is quite obvious, but expected, so that did not bother me at all. And Alan Rickman is fantastic. I think anyone who loves Napa should see it. I’d rate it 100… for 100 minutes of wine innocence!

  3. kenr - September 2, 2008

    There are some serious flaws in the movie: the most notable is it tries to portray Jim Barrett and his son, Bo, as poor, overworked winemakers when actually Jim was a successful attorney from Southern California who flew up to Napa on the weekends in his private plane to see how things were going and Bo was just out of high school. Mike Grgich was the winemaker and when he left Chateau Montelena to start his own winery with Austin Hills, the Barrettes have tried to rewrite history and pretend that he never existed. The movie also does not even mention Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar won the red wine tasting in the afternoon (except for a note at the end of the movie).

  4. Dylan - September 2, 2008

    I’m most interested in the correlation between the movie sales and sales of Napa wine. As Tom mentioned, the movie doesn’t raise up a particular category of wine and focuses more on the human element behind the scenes.
    For that same reason I believe this movie can cause a bump in Napa wine sales equal to its own success. I haven’t seen it yet, but if it’s truly a good film that is all the inspiration necessary.
    Good enough and it could create a halo effect. Perhaps it doesn’t inspire people to buy a Napa wine, but maybe their next (or first) wine purchase in general, or to a further extent the next family trip is to California.

  5. Alan Kropf - September 3, 2008

    I have to say that I was displeased with the film, and am doing a large story on it in the issue of Mutineer Magazine coming out next week. I had the privilege of interviewing both Steven Spurrier (the wine merchant who organized the tasting) and George M. Taber (the lone journalist at the tasting), and they were very open about their thoughts on the film. Check out the upcoming issue to see what they had to say about the film…Cheers!

  6. tom merle - September 5, 2008

    Bottle Shock-Sonoma gets its revenge
    Napa Register
    “Bottle Shock,” a movie about a cockeyed optimist from the sticks who single-handedly beat the goliaths, begins by declaring, “This is based on a true story.” And with that those wonderful Hollywood writers (and producers who live in Sonoma) proceed to rob us blind.
    One could forgive the absurdities (such as a 20ish cellar-rat able to identify, blind, a 1947 Cheval Blanc, or Brix testing ripe, red grapes in the spring), and blatant one-sided revisionism (Steven Spurrier and George Taber as jerks), if “BS” was presented as fiction.
    A cute, imaginary story, with cute, imaginary people, sure. Then it could be reviewed as another lightweight piece of entertainment, sort of like a generic bottle of jug wine — nothing serious, but OK for a picnic.
    After all, “Bottle Shock” was formula-plotted — made quickly to be out by the harvest and to beat out the pending movie that features the real story from Taber’s book, “Judgment in Paris.”
    But because its creators needed the true story’s cachet, they named names (real names equals legitimate story). Then they turned some of those people with real names into characters who are buffoons, and turned others into heroes.
    So, the movie is not only thin in its scope, it is unfair to a lot of those people, who also devoted their lives and their dreams to this story….

  7. Rajiv - September 9, 2008

    I wanted to like this movie, and I did to a certain extent, in that I had a good time watching it. But then again I saw it at a pre-release screening, with a bunch of WLTV Vayniacs.
    Having read Taber’s book, I found myself quite disoriented, but for different reasons than yourself. There were details that were extremely accurate – Limousin barrels (though the reference seemed artificially inserted), and to be fair their explanation of why the wine turned clear again was lifted almost word-for-word from Taber’s book.
    However in terms of the plot line they mutilated history beyond coherence. It’s one thing to know the facts, then alter them using artistic license to tell a story. But the screenwriters appeared not to give a damn about the facts, OR telling a good story. Instead they had a checklist:
    Love triangle? Check.
    Love scente? Check.
    Father-son confrontation? Check.
    British snobbery? Check.
    Sabering open a bottle of wine (only safe with Champagne, as fragments can fall into the bottle if it’s still wine)? Check.
    then… add some details for fan service to wine geeks.
    I felt insulted by the whole incoherent jumble that called itself a story.

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