One of two films based on the famed ‘Judgement in Paris’ which overnight brought respectability upon the upstart wines produced in California, Bottle Shock will be – like its iconoclastic protagonists – unlikely to please traditionalists.
But where Randall Miller’s film scores impressively is in conveying the passion that is poured into the production of good wine that might be enjoyed by everybody. Opening in the Napa Valley in the mid 1970s, it portrays a cottage industry of farmed vineyards creating wines that are enjoyed locally but which have no wider reputation.
Into this sun-kissed idyll comes Steven Spurrier (Rickman), a down on his luck Englishman whose wine shop in the heart of Paris seems to be going nowhere. In an effort to kickstart his business he travels to America with a view to finding some wines worthy of their place in a blind tasting with the best that France has to offer.
He is amazed at what he finds, not only in its quality and variety, but in the pioneering methods of producers like Jim Barrett (Pullman) whose Chateau Montelena Chardonnay is his pride and joy. But like Jim’s wayward son Bo (Pine) the wine is not behaving as it should, and his frustrations are only compounded by the aloof stranger in his midst.
Much gleeful mileage is had at the expense of the uptight Brit, and indeed from US-French rivalry, although any film that makes America the underdog always labours under the weight of such contrivance. Perhaps the most interesting relationship in the film is that between Bo and his pal Gustavo Brambila (Rodriguez), whose own attitude towards the vines and the earth that supports them closely evokes the rural passion of the French vigneron.
Rickman is a wryly likeable presence caught between the old world and the new, and – as the classic Englishman abroad – an outsider to both. To see him sampling some Kentucky Fried Chicken is as instructive as scenes in which the gradual realisation dawns that Californian wine ain’t all bad.
In the end the film succeeds because its remarkable story is largely true. Above it all it celebrates wine in its infinite variety, from the toil of its production to the subtle mysteries of its creation to the universality of its enjoyment. And wherever the loyalties of its audience lies, we can all raise a glass to that.
Starring: Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, Bill Pullman, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina Director: Randall Miller 109 mins
Written by Anwar Brett