Monday, September 01, 2008

FILM: Bottle Shock

Last night we enjoyed the story recounted in Bottle Shock of how it came to pass in 1976 that the then-unregarded wines of Napa Valley beat the best of French wines in a blind tasting in Paris, shocking the world, and instantly putting Napa Valley on the map. The film does a nice job of creating the feeling of the 1970s, with bell-bottoms, Doobie Brothers, and long hair. The Napa Valley as shown here looks much like it probably looked in Steinbeck's time, with folks driving beat-up old trucks, only with the addition of a few idealistic hobbyists trying their hand at running a winery. In the midst of this is Chateau Montelena, run by Jim Barrett, who gave up a job as a law partner to pursue his passion to make the perfect chardonnay, and Jim's aimless and lackadaisical hippie son Bo. Bo runs around with Gustavo, who has grown up working on grape farms, and Sam, a spunky young female intern at the winery. Jim has mortgaged his vineyard to the hilt and is having trouble making it, and is frustrated with his son who seems to have no direction or motivation. Cut to Paris, where we meet British ex-pat Steven Spurrier, who has devoted himself to professing the fine appreciation of French wines while running a wine shop long on fine wines and short on customers. The only visitor to the shop seems to be his friend Maurice, an American ex-pat who runs a travel agency next door. Maurice convinces Spurrier that he needs some publicity, and plants the seed for doing a France vs. California wine blind taste test. Spurrier makes a visit to Napa Valley to look for wines worthy of the competition, with some very amusing sequences of he and the valley folk reacting to each other. We all know how the story ends, but the script still manages a few twists of the cork before pulling it out of the bottle. The film is well-cast all around, with Bill Pullman playing Jim Barrett, and Alan Rickman doing a great comedic turn as the Francophile Brit. ("I know," Spurrier tells Pullman, "you think I'm an asshole. But it's just that I'm British, and, well, you're not.") Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor, and Freddy Rodriguez all do fine jobs in their roles as Bo, Sam, and Gustavo. And Dennis Farina has a nice bit as Spurrier's friend Maurice. While Bottle Shock doesn't have quite the cinematography of Sideways, it has some nice Napa visuals, and does a great job of showing what Napa was like before it got overrun by wine tourists. But in comparison to the cynicism and neurotic characters of Sideways, this wine story is full of heart and much more palatable.

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