Set in 1976, the year that put California wines on the oenophile map, writer-director Randall Miller's third feature is a charming comedy-drama that's surprising true to the events that inspired it.
Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) gambled everything on his dream of establishing a California vineyard capable of producing wines as good as those from France, and he's succeeded on every level but one: No-one – at least no-one whose opinion counts – knows how good his Chateau Montelena vintages are, and he's dangerously close to bankruptcy. But salvation is brewing in a small Paris wine shop grandly named the "Academy of Wine" and run by British transplant Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), who's scorned by the French wine establishment because he's, well, not French. Spurrier has heard fantastic rumors about California wines, and while he can't believe they're as good as people are saying, the publicity he could get from a blind taste testing of California and French wines, in France, with French judges, well, that could get drum up the kind of press his faltering business needs. Encouraged by fellow expat businessman Maurice (Dennis Farina), a travel agent from Chicago, Spurrier sets up the competition and then goes looking for American wines. To his amazement, he finds that Napa Valley is full of vineyards producing a variety of top-notch good wines. Now all he needs to do is convince the vintners – especially the bull-headed Barrett -- that his upcoming taste testing is a serious (subsequently dubbed the "Judgment of Paris") exercise in unbiased connoisseurship, not a nasty prank designed to humiliate Americans on their country's 200th anniversary.
BOTTLE SHOCK, named for the temporary damage to which fine wines are prone when shaken violently, fudges some names and specifics, which Miller carefully clarifies at the film's conclusion. But most of the main characters and events are real, including Barrett and his hippie son, Bo (Chris Pine); Spurrier and his Academie; Chateau Montelena employee Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez), a field hand's son who went on to establish his own world-class winery; and the Judgment itself. Best of all, you don't have to know chardonnay from Chablis to appreciate the rollicking good story Miller carefully grounds in the context of America in the decade between the counterculture '60s and the go-go '80s, an era that actually produced some genuinely good music (the proof is in the soundtrack) and was populated by people who did something other than don polyester clown suits, snort coke and go to discos. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh