Film review: Bottle Shock

posted at 7:00 am on September 10, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Growing up in California in the 1970s, I had a dim awareness of the reputation its wineries had on the world stage.  California was not France, and never would be, and for most, Gallo and its cheap jug wines perfectly embodied the poseurs of the New World — or it least it did, until a blind taste test in France known as the Judgment of Paris rocked the oenephile world.  Bottle Shock tells the story of how little-known Napa Valley vintners upended their French counterparts and established California as a world-class wine producing region.

Until I received an e-mail from one of its producers, laughably in response to my review of Mamma Mia!, I had not heard of Bottle Shock.  It debuted during the Sundance Festival and went into the art-house release circuit.  The First Mate and I went to an independent cinema in Edina to see the film, after enduring some of the most depressing intermission music ever heard in a theater.  I almost pined for the excessive commercials now playing constantly between showings at big-chain theaters.  Almost.

As dreary as that music was, though, the film was worth the wait.  For an indie film, it had plenty of recognizable actors, including Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Freddie Rodriguez, and Eliza Dushku.  Instead of the normally minimalist cinematography one sees in indies, the film takes full advantage of the picturesque California countrysides.  It tells the story of one Napa Valley winemaker, Jim Barrett of Chateau Montelena, and his son Bo in producing the wine that wins.

Knowing the story, the film could easily have become rather dull and predictable, but instead of focusing all of the attention on the contest, Bottle Shock uses it instead as a bookending device to tell the story of Napa Valley.  Winemakers in that region struggled for many years to earn respect, and even a living.  Barrett and his peers had to survive very thin times to persevere through to success.  The film includes a series of conflict archetypes: father/son, cultural, and a romantic triangle that seems a bit contrived and mainly unresolved.

Bottle Shock overcomes its few flaws to deliver real emotional punch and underscore traditional values: hard work, community, courage, and dedication.  Along the way, though, it also delivers plenty of laughs, mostly from Rickman and Dennis Farina, who plays a different kind of character from the usual cops and gangsters.  Rickman is particularly good in this film, and he delivers the value of the price of admission all by himself.  Chris Pine as Bo also does well as a young man who needs to find himself but has no clue where to start.

Unfortunately, this film may soon disappear from theaters. Try to find it near you, if you can. It’s the kind of film we often lament for its rarity, and too often only discover in the remainder bin at Wal-Mart. If nothing else in this review convinces Hot Air readers to get to the art houses to catch Bottle Shock, just remember: we beat the French in the end.


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What’s this “we”? I’m from Oregon. No doubt you are unaware how superior our Oregon wine is to that California stuff.

/sarc

:)

Browncoatone on September 10, 2008 at 7:09 AM

I can’t wait for Bottle Shock 2: Electric Beaujolais.

saint kansas on September 10, 2008 at 7:18 AM

Browncoatone on September 10, 2008 at 7:09 AM

SE Washington too! haha

p40tiger on September 10, 2008 at 7:19 AM

I hate whine tasting as much as I hate movie reviews. =)

One person’s opinion is not worth more than somebody else’s when it comes to entertainment.

Darth Executor on September 10, 2008 at 7:20 AM

More Left Coast elitism. I brew an excellent brown ale but no one’s ever made a movie about it.

RedWinged Blackbird on September 10, 2008 at 7:24 AM

No doubt you are unaware how superior our Oregon wine is to that California stuff.

/sarc

:)

Browncoatone on September 10, 2008 at 7:09 AM

Yeah, you guys produce the best Pinot Noir, but the best cabs come from Napa and Sonoma.

flipflop on September 10, 2008 at 7:31 AM

More Left Coast elitism. I brew an excellent brown ale but no one’s ever made a movie about it.

RedWinged Blackbird on September 10, 2008 at 7:24 AM

Ain’t home brewing the best hobby? I’m convinced one can make better beer at home than anything you can find in a store.

flipflop on September 10, 2008 at 7:34 AM

Oh, and Alan Rickman’s great, even if he is a barking moonbat.

flipflop on September 10, 2008 at 7:35 AM

Oui oui….mon ami.

This is like Boogie Knights 2 the grape chronicles

sven10077 on September 10, 2008 at 7:37 AM

I’m convinced one can make better beer at home than anything you can find in a store.

An understatement. I’d say the worst beer I’ve ever brewed was better than any I’ve ever bought.

RedWinged Blackbird on September 10, 2008 at 7:39 AM

People that think there is something special about any wine are fn idiots.

I’ve had 5 dollar bottles that taste better than 100 dollar bottles.

It is a scam that intraps wine morons.

It is just wine.

TheSitRep on September 10, 2008 at 7:50 AM

You haven’t lived until you’ve tried Hoosier corn and soybean wine.

SKYFOX on September 10, 2008 at 8:10 AM

No offense, but I thought this site was going to focus solely on the presidential election. That was the reason Robert Spencer gave for Malkin’s suspension of Blogging the Koran.

Disturb the Universe on September 10, 2008 at 8:28 AM

Ed, does it focus solely on montelena or does it also mention warren winniarski of stags leap?

Mr. Bingley on September 10, 2008 at 8:35 AM

People that think there is something special about any wine are fn idiots.

I’ve had 5 dollar bottles that taste better than 100 dollar bottles.

It is a scam that intraps wine morons.

It is just wine.

TheSitRep on September 10, 2008 at 7:50 AM

The price doesn’t always indicate quality, but there are huge differences between wines and generally speaking the good ones are more expensive.

I’m pretty certain most people could tell the differences between a reserve from Bordeaux and Thunderbird.

Asher on September 10, 2008 at 8:36 AM

I’ll check it out.. looks like a fun film..

I enjoyed ‘Sideways’.. (I know it’s an apples/oranges thing)

I have also started to enjoy wine too.. varieties and different tastes..

Chianti has been one of my favorites.. still don’t like fava beans though.. or liver.

DaveC on September 10, 2008 at 9:02 AM

Ed, does it focus solely on montelena or does it also mention warren winniarski of stags leap?

Another review I read the film focuses on the Montelena Chardonnay and the father/son relationship between the Barretts. It’s too bad, because a story about the tough start for Winarski and the Stag’s Leap winery would be good.

If any of you haven’t read “Judgment of Paris,” I encourage you to do so – it’s a fun read.

Slublog on September 10, 2008 at 9:06 AM

Another review I read the film

That should be: Another review I read said the film…

Slublog on September 10, 2008 at 9:06 AM

Give me a good Shiraz, and I’m good to go. I saw a preview for this movie the other day, and I’d like to see it. Any time we beat the French is a good time indeed.

Anna on September 10, 2008 at 9:08 AM

Miller High Life for me. The Champag-nah of beers, baby.

robblefarian on September 10, 2008 at 9:20 AM

thanks, slub

Mr. Bingley on September 10, 2008 at 9:24 AM

Browncoatone on September 10, 2008 at 7:09 AM

You DO have amazing wine. I had the good fortune to visit a new winery in Dundee Hills (established vineyard, new owners) called Winderlea. You should check it out — outstanding Pinot Noir.

D2Boston on September 10, 2008 at 9:25 AM

My wife and I enjoyed the film, but we both felt that the character development was a little thin. I know it was an indy, but maybe some of the money spent on helicopters for the panoramic shots of Napa would have been better spent on a little more in depth script development.

Still, an enjoyable film and well worth seeing.

skeneogden on September 10, 2008 at 9:36 AM

I have a hard time getting past the fact that Alan Rickman was the producer of the Rachel Corrie play.

thegreatbeast on September 10, 2008 at 9:43 AM

No offense, but I thought this site was going to focus solely on the presidential election. That was the reason Robert Spencer gave for Malkin’s suspension of Blogging the Koran.

Disturb the Universe on September 10, 2008 at 8:28 AM

I think blogging the Koran has a little bit more to do with the election than arts&croissants…

sven10077 on September 10, 2008 at 9:43 AM

I have a hard time getting past the fact that Alan Rickman was the producer of the Rachel Corrie play.

thegreatbeast on September 10, 2008 at 9:43 AM

St. Pan of Cake

sven10077 on September 10, 2008 at 9:43 AM

Sadly France has long since lost the mantle of King of Wine. Until Sarkozy, the French tried to compensate by being King of Whining.

Chilean wine is very good as well–wins many blind taste tests.

Australian, South African and even wines from the state of Missouri are high quality as well.

This looks like a good movie, the last part of the clip above was funny–”I’m not really an ass, I’m just British, and well…”. Heh.

Montana on September 10, 2008 at 10:13 AM

Michigan has some good wines.. along the western coast..

The region is similar to France’s region.. always wanted to do a wine tour of the area, hit some tastings..

DaveC on September 10, 2008 at 10:21 AM

Any time we beat the French is a good time indeed.

Anna on September 10, 2008 at 9:08 AM

No joke. I saw a preview of this at an indie type theater that was playing Woody Allen’s latest movie (he really seems to hate marriage by the way), and that was one of my first thoughts.

Esthier on September 10, 2008 at 10:34 AM

I’m from SW Virginia, and without a doubt, we make the finest untaxed corn liquor in the world. Of course the packaging leaves a little to be desired. Wine snobs complain about wine in a box, imagine if it came in a milk jug, but drinking out of a “jelly jar” (Mason jar for those outside of Appalachia)is just one of the charms.

We also have some pretty fine wines too.

bossk92 on September 10, 2008 at 10:56 AM

Ain’t home brewing the best hobby? I’m convinced one can make better beer at home than anything you can find in a store.

flipflop on September 10, 2008 at 7:34 AM

Try Shiner Helles Lager 99 or Shiner Black Lager.

Johan Klaus on September 10, 2008 at 11:06 AM

According to Netflix the DVD will be released in January 09. Living in Nor Cal I get to Napa pretty often. My current favorite winery is Pride Mountain Vineyards which sits on top of Spring Mountain and covers both Napa and Sonoma counties. They make a great cab. It’s a little pricey but well worth it.

Smooth Rooster on September 10, 2008 at 11:25 AM

The derision towards Californian wines was largely due to the exposure they had ‘across the pond’. The stuff we experienced was ghastly fruit punch a la Paul Masson and his “Californian Carafes” and the Gallo swill. Since this stuff was so mass produced and widely available, the bad reputation that accompanied them was entirely understandable.

It took some time to scrub that bad PR away, but now there are regions of America producing world-class wines – as they should. Personally, I am now almost exclusively buying American wine and loving it – I still have a soft spot for New World wine.

BTW….although there is a correlation between price and quality, do yourslves a favour and break out of that mental box ASAP. There are many enjoyable bargain wines. Do you think that the wine cultures of europe only drink $100 bottles? No way! They drink sub-$5 wine day-in-day-out. The brits call this class of wine “plonk” and it is perfectly acceptable general drinking wine – not caustic, admittedly one-dimensional, but satisfies the heart.

LimeyGeek on September 10, 2008 at 11:57 AM

BTW….although there is a correlation between price and quality, do yourslves a favour and break out of that mental box ASAP.

I’ve even had a decent box wine before. Target has a decent selection. They’re nice cause if you just want one glass you don’t have to open a whole bottle and feel obliged to drink it all.

Then again, the most expensive bottle of wine I ever bought at a store was only 50 dollars.

Esthier on September 10, 2008 at 2:39 PM

Disturb the Universe and sven10077:

No offense, but I thought this site was going to focus solely on the presidential election. That was the reason Robert Spencer gave for Malkin’s suspension of Blogging the Koran.

Disturb the Universe on September 10, 2008 at 8:28 AM

I think blogging the Koran has a little bit more to do with the election than arts&croissants…

sven10077 on September 10, 2008 at 9:43 AM

As everyone knows, the Qur’an has nothing whatsoever to do with the current election, while Bottle Shock has everything to do with it.

In case anyone is interested (and I do not take that for granted), Blogging the Qur’an continues every Sunday morning at Jihad Watch. Watch for updates here.

Robert Spencer on September 10, 2008 at 2:45 PM

I’ve even had a decent box wine before.

I never have……until a few weeks ago. Guess where it came from? Yup – California. Perfectly good plonk for washing down a meal.

if you just want one glass

Never experienced this ;)

you don’t have to open a whole bottle and feel obliged to drink it all.

You don’t? Bugger. I thought it was the law ;)

Then again, the most expensive bottle of wine I ever bought at a store was only 50 dollars.

Nowadays I rarely buy anything above $50 – and that’s from a vineyard. I don’t buy bottles of wine at restaurants coz it’s a total rip and I’m a Scottish Jew.
I have bought bottles costing a few hundred bucks before, many moons ago, and always experienced buyers remorse – they were good, but in no way justified the pricetag.

LimeyGeek on September 10, 2008 at 2:54 PM

PS. A little advice for the gullible American tourist – in europe, it is not unheard of for hotels/restaurants to fill fancy bottles with cheap plonk to con ‘the yanks’ ;)

Do not trust anything that is not unsealed and uncorked before your eyes.

LimeyGeek on September 10, 2008 at 3:01 PM

they were good, but in no way justified the pricetag.

LimeyGeek on September 10, 2008 at 2:54 PM

That’s my concern. I’d like to try a couple some day just to see what they’re like, but I’d have a hard time getting over drinking a 100 dollars.

Do not trust anything that is not unsealed and uncorked before your eyes.

LimeyGeek on September 10, 2008 at 3:01 PM

It’s horribly bad form to bring an opened bottle to a table anyway. Thanks for the advise.

I thought it was the law ;)

For a bottle it really should be.

I normally finish what I start, because the times I don’t I generally let the bottle sit too long.

Esthier on September 10, 2008 at 3:16 PM

I normally finish what I start, because the times I don’t I generally let the bottle sit too long.

Ditto. However, on rare occasion I have let a bottle sit, recorked, half full for 24 hours…..gone back to finish it off, and it tastes awesome. When I make those lucky finds, I buy a bunch more, and make sure I decant them properly a good 6 hours early (I’m a red man, obviously).

LimeyGeek on September 10, 2008 at 3:32 PM

I prefer reds as well. Generally cabs, though I’ve really liked some of the mixes.

Esthier on September 10, 2008 at 4:20 PM