Since the movie “Sideways” in 2004,Â filmmakersÂ have been trying to create movies that would evoke a similar response with audiences. “Sideways” became anÂ independentÂ film sensation that alsoÂ intensifiedÂ demand for Pinot Noir, and the opposite for Merlot, in the U.S. market. Most reviews, including my own, were positive for the filmÂ particularlyÂ in how wine wasÂ depicted.Â
Time passed and other projects were put into production with the first “wine film” beingÂ Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year” in 2006. Since early reviews were terrible for the film, I passed watching it until it was on HBO. And I was somewhatÂ surprisedÂ to find not the disaster expected but a flawed film with some decentÂ performances. But it failed as a wine film since the filmmakers didn’t understand what “Sideways” got right.
They made wine a centralÂ characterÂ in the story.
Wine in “Sideways” was something that affected and transformed the centralÂ charactersÂ of the story. It took on a significance of being something more than just a prop, as wine had been in every film before “Sideways.” And wine continued in thisÂ subordinateÂ role in “A Good Year” that couldn’t save a predicable retelling of “Under the Tuscan Sun” from a male perspective but set inÂ Provence.
I thought the same thing while watching “Bottle Shock” last weekend. Like “A Good Year,” I waited until I could watch it as a part of my Netflix subscription and it was not as bad as I expected. But it wasn’t that good eitherÂ despiteÂ theÂ filmmakersÂ attempts to make wine central to the story.
Very loosely inspired by George Taber’s “Judgement of Paris” the film tells the story of the Jim and Bo Barrett who’s Chardonnay beat the best white Burgundies in the 1976 blind tasting organized byÂ Steven Spurrier. I can see why Taber andÂ Spurrier have said bad things about “Bottle Shock” since they both come off asÂ eccentricsÂ if notÂ buffoonsÂ (Taber especially). But it’s the film’sÂ suspensionÂ of belief andÂ compressionÂ of the story that really sink its chances of becoming another “Sideways.”
Adapting “Judgement of Paris” would prove to be a difficult challenge since the book is only interesting in the middle telling the stories of the people behind the winning wines. Both WarrenÂ WiniarskiÂ and Mike Grgich figure prominently in the book documenting the back story of Stag’s Leap WineÂ CellarsÂ Cabernet and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay but are nowhere to be found in “Bottle Shock.” Since the movie is aboutÂ Chateau Montelena andÂ Steven Spurrier, Winiarski’s lack of screen time is understandable butÂ Grgich made the winning wine and is only evoked by a guy with a barret in the background of a coupleÂ scenes. This probably had more to do with the bad blood between Jim Barrett andÂ Mike Grgich than the choices of the screenwriters, but these sorts of deviations from the facts ultimately prove too much and the result is a mildly entertaining tale that will bother wine lovers to no end with its loose ends (we areÂ supposedÂ toÂ believeÂ a bottle of 1947Â Cheval BlancÂ is available at a dive bar in Calistoga? theÂ temporaryÂ discoloring of theÂ Montelena Chardonnay happened to the 1972 vintage and not the ’73 as depicted in the film).
But documentaries don’t have these sorts of issues since the viewer doesn’t have to read between the lines. And I’m happy to report that the new wine documentary “Merlove” is worth a look for anyone into wine. A full review and interview with filmmaker RudyÂ McClain on my next podcast posted this weekend.