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Uncorking Another Sideways

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               Uncorking Another "Sideways"?
By Barrie Cleveland, The Advisor
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”. In that competition, 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.
At that time, I traveled through Napa as part of a college wine program. I found it hard to understand why this event would transform the California wine industry. The grand estates of Inglenook, Beringer, Freemark Abbey, 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 70’s 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.
 Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) Wondering What Went Wrong?
Back to the movie…The story alternates 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 and purchasing a winery (Chateau Montelena). His goal was nothing more than 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. It is Spurrier who comes up with the grand idea of 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 arrives 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 question why Mike Grgich, who made the winning wine for Chateau Montelena, was not mentioned. And what about Stag's Leap, didn't they have the winning red wine?)
Both Bo and Jim Barrett, and plenty of other old hands in the valley, helped out with the story  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 proximity 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 Brambia (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 Spurrier, alternately and a bit clumsily, as he makes his way through Napa Valley tasting, swirling, spitting and recognizing the quality of California wine and Jim and Bo Barrett sparring (literally) as the father and son with different work ethics and goals.
The movie is shot with sweeping vistas of the wine country that remind 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 manager had instructed the crew not to touch anything!) Will the film bring to Napa a new onslaught of Chardonnay seeking tourists? I doubt it. Napa and Chardonnay don't really need much more promotion and the movie is good, not great. Now if a Alicante Bouché from Lodi had won the Paris tasting...that would be news!
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 sound track dominated with lots of Doobie Brothers. Also stars Dennis Farina and Elia Dishku.
Chateau Cos d'Estorunel
As a 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 next door to Chateau Lafite Rothschild. NOTE: Sale has been terminated as of November 2008.
Here is a link to the original Time Magazine article about the Judgement in Paris.
Barrie Cleveland has been writing, studying, tasting, teaching and talking about wine since the time of the Paris tasting. His wine passion has brought him to many parts of the wine world. His favorite appellation is the one he lives in with his family near San Luis Obispo, California. He currently is the Managing Director for the a comprehensive winery directory featuring hundreds of wineries and their tasting rooms. He can be reached at
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