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Grapes of Wrath Enliven Napa Valley

Bottle Shock (2008)

Freestyle Releasing

Part oenological feast and part jingoistic underdog story, Randall Miller’s “Bottle Shock” uncovers some original territory amidst a clichéd outline. Mostly, it’s a loving tribute to wine aficionados and to a good old-fashioned American butt-whipping of the French, with period detail and dysfunctional family drama sprinkled in. Shot amidst the golden-hued, sweeping valleys of California’s wine country, it also serves as a visual treat and proof of Bill Pullman’s unexpectedly strong dramatic chops.

The film adopts as its premise the true story of the triumph of Napa Valley winemakers Jim (Chris Pine) and Bo Barrett (Mr. Pullman) at the Judgment of Paris competition in 1976. A blind tasting staged by Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a British wine-shop owner and connoisseur, the competition was meant to conclusively determine whether French wine could be confidently differentiated from its counterparts. The screenplay, written by Mr. Miller with Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz, depicts the manifold struggles experienced by father, son and the central figures in their lives as they strive to turn their vineyard toward profitability. It also chronicles Spurrier’s first visit to California and the genesis of his brainchild.

Although the film ends in an obvious fashion, it gets by on the strength of the personalities involved and the verisimilitude Mr. Miller brings to the proceedings. Mr. Rickman plays a slightly nicer version of his usual droll self, but Mr. Pullman lends a strong everyman quality to his part and Mr. Pine projects the sort of charisma one usually associates with movie stars in the making. The period detail convinces: the brown-tweed jackets, stuffy-collared shirts, wood-paneled rooms and tacky carpets seem straight out of the 1970s. The movie’s rugged us-against-them charm and its evocation of the working-class nature of the Napa setting further effectively locate it within the very specific milieu.

Thus, “Bottle Shock” – set before snobbery invaded the Napa Valley – depicts a particularly satisfying underdog triumph while taking place in a time and a place long since changed. It does so with characters worth caring about, Mike Ozier’s cinematographic eye for the region’s natural beauty and a story of Americans beating the French at their own game. In fact, audiences desperate to relive the thrill of that improbable American swim team relay win over their French competitors at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games can get their fix here.


Opened on Aug. 8 in Manhattan.

Directed and edited by Randall Miller; written by Mr. Miller, Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz; director of photography, Michael J. Ozier; music by Mark Adler; production designer, Craig Stearns; produced by Mr. Miller, Ms. Savin, J. Todd Harris, Brenda Lhormer and Marc Lhormer; released by Freestyle Releasing. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Bill Pullman (Jim Barrett), Alan Rickman (Steven Spurrier), Chris Pine (Bo Barrett), Freddy Rodriguez (Gustavo Brambila), Dennis Farina (Maurice Cantavale) and Eliza Dushku (Joe).


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