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Will Bottle Shock be the next Sideways?


Date: 07/29/08

by Paul Franson
The producers of the new wine-inspired movie Bottle Movie held private preview premiers in wine country over the weekend, and everyone who attended wondered, "Will this be like Sideways?"

That earlier movie had a huge impact on the market, generating great interest in Pinot Noir while significantly reducing the demand for Merlot.

As everyone in the wine business knows by now, Bottle Shock, was inspired by the Paris Tasting of 1976, when wines Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley beat the best wines of France in a blind tasting staged by British Steven Spurrier in Paris as a publicity gambit for his wine store in celebration of the 200th anniversary of American independence, which was greatly aided by France.

The movie is a fanciful tale of Montelena's entry, trying to generate interest with tension between Jim Barrett, the owner of the winery, and his son Bob, now the winemaker and general manager. It also includes an invented love interest who gets involved first with the assistant winemaker, Gustavo Brambila, as well as Bo. The film also creates its version of bottle shock -- the wine turning brown without changing taste.

The premieres were held under the stars at Montelena, and most of the stars attended. One premiere was for the producers, members of the crew, the press and some VIPs such as U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson and Napa District attorney Gary Lieberstein and their wives. The other premiere was for locals and friends of the winery.

Among those behind the film are Brenda and Marc Lhormer, who formerly ran the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, and would like to help create a bigger version in Napa Valley. The film boasted a long list of other producers, who including investors in the film.

The movie itself is only very loosely based on what really happened; Mike Grgich is never mentioned though he made the wine that won the tasting. He wasn't included partly because of the on-going dispute between him and Jim Barrett over credit for the wine. Grgich reportedly wanted to have nothing to do with the project.

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A brief notice at the end of the film acknowledges that Stag's Leap Wine Cellars won the red portion of the tasting, however.

For locals and those in the wine business, part of the fun is noticing the local settings -and familiar references -- and the technical, geographical (most of the filming was in Sonoma, not Napa Valley) and historical inaccuracies including their fanciful version of bottle shock.

The most sympathetic character is assistant winemaker Gus Brambila, played by Freddy Rodriguez. Brambila, like most of the others portrayed in the film, attended the premiere, where he saw the movie for the first time. His own GustavoThrace Winery, which just opened a tasting room in downtown Napa, is likely to be a big beneficiary of the film.

Alan Rickman plays Steven Spurrier as a stereotypical stuffy Brit, and Bill Pullman offers a strong physical resemblance to Jim Barrett.

Chris Pine creates a cartoonish version of Bo Barrett and his well-known early free spirits. Unfortunately, he's not very sympathetic. When he's boxing his father, you hope the old man will punch him out.

Rachel Taylor, who plays the invented love interest for Bo and Gus, ironically has to stand comparison with Bo's real wife, attractive cult winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett.

Another invented character is Dennis Farina as a friend of Spurrier, who plays it all for laughs, as usual. He did not attend the premiere.

Fortunately, the real participants seem to enjoy the whole experience. Bo said, "It's fun to see all these things they invented about yourself!" He added, however, "I didn't do all this s__t!"

Bottle Shock is sure to draw a lot of attention to Chateau Montelena, and by extension, Calistoga, where it's located and is suffering a slow period, as well as to Napa Valley, which hardly needs more curious tourists in general.

Ironically, of course, the film opens just as Chateau Montelena has been sold (pending government approval) to a second-growth French winery, Cos d'Estournel, whose name is slyly slipped into the movie. If the movie does take off, Cos d'Estournel may have gotten a real bargain.

At the first premiere, Bo Barrett, privately emphasized that he intends to stay around and concentrate on winemaking and promotion without having the headaches of being general manager. He seemed pleased about the prospect; perhaps he talked to Mike Martini, who seems happy that Gallo bought his family winery, leaving him to make wine, not payroll

Bottle Shock opens in major cities Aug. 6, and in Napa and Sonoma Counties Aug. 15.

And will it affect the wine business like Sideways? Unlikely. For one thing, it's not about a wine variety -- and Montelena emphasizes Cabernet, anyway, not Chardonnay. Of course, Napa Valley is already well known for fine wine, unlike Santa Barbara, which did benefit greatly from the exposure in Sideways.

More to the point, the characterization and acting in Sideways made you care about the characters, even if the two male leads were pretty sorry. Bottle Shock is more like a cartoonish sitcom.

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