By Joseph Baca
It’s clear that after the runaway success of 2004’s Sideways, Hollywood uncorked a profitable new genre: the wine movie. Next in line is Bottle Shock, set for release on Aug. 22. The film retells the infamous events of the 1976 Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting in which the unthinkable happened—a panel of French judges awarded California wines higher scores than France’s premier offerings. The landmark judging sent shock waves across the oceans, stunning the wine industry and forever elevating the perception of California’s wine in the eyes of the world.
The original events surrounding the Paris tasting were reported by Time magazine’s George M. Taber, who would later recount the events in a book titled Judgment of Paris. It's now the stuff of legend. Englishman Steven Spurrier owned a wine shop in Paris. As a publicity stunt, he organized a blind wine tasting that pitted California against the French wine institution. The results—a surprise to everyone involved—turned the wine industry upside down and sparked a revolution.
Bottle Shock premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews—not only for the way in which the dazzling cinematography captures the beauty of Napa, but for the Rocky-like tale in which the rebellious California underdogs triumph against the odds. The narrative primarily concerns the early days of Napa winemaking and the events leading to the creation of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, one of the award-winning wines at the Paris tastings. The film was directed by Randall Miller—who also co-wrote the script with wife Jody Savin—and lists Bill Pullman (Independence Day), Allan Rickman (Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series), Freddy Rodriguez (Federico Diaz on "Six Feet Under") and Dennis Farina (Detective Joe Fontana on "Law & Order") as its stars.
Detractors say that the account is overly fictionalized and was made against the wishes of English shop owner Spurrier and reporter Taber. The two are assisting another movie based on the same event, titled Judgement of Paris. As of this printing, no firm release date had been issued for the film. It's said the storyline more honestly mirrors the original events, but constant delays and disputes are holding the film back from a final production.
Further fanning the flames of controversy surrounding these films, Chateau Montelena was sold to French wine conglomerate Cos d’Estournel days before the premiere of Bottle Shock. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, the other big American name in the famed French tasting, was sold to a French wine house last year.
Whether these films actually live up to the hype is anyone's guess. But if the Pinot Noir craze ignited by Sideways taught us anything, it's that a case of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay wouldn't be a bad investment right about now.
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