August 21, 2008

Shocked By "Bottle Shock"

bottle_shock.jpg"Based on a true story of love, victory and fermentation." Oh? Movies are notoriously bad at history, no matter how much the producers spend on artificial verisimilitude. When they spend zilch, it's embarrassing. No location shots in Paris, just three or four period Citroens to represent for "France," a yellow Gremlin for California. Everything's shot in telephoto so you can't see modern-day backgrounds, except for endless helicopter shots over lush vineyards (impossibly lush, given that the story takes place in early spring).

The woozy premise behind Bottle Shock is a blind tasting in Paris, organized in 1976 by a British wine merchant, Steven Spurrier. The top white, pitted against formidable French competition, was Chateau Montelena from Calistoga. An American red, from Stag's Leap, came in ahead of the classified Bordeaux. The lone journalist who covered the event, George Taber, wrote a few lines in Time that got picked up by the trades. The news made the insular French recognize that decent wine could come from Napa, thereby Changing the Course of Western Civilization.

Alan Rickman, an excellent actor, disgraces himself by portraying Spurrier as a pompous wine snob shunned by respectable Parisian wine makers. Nothing could be further from the truth. As it happens, I worked with Spurrier on a recent project, InTouch Travel, for which we wrote this profile:


"Steven Spurrier joined the wine trade in 1964 as a trainee with Christopher & Co., London's oldest wine merchant. In 1970 he moved to Paris where he opened Les Caves de la Madeleine, which rapidly became one of the most highly regarded specialist wine shops in Paris.

"Three years later, he opened L'Academie du Vin, France's first private wine school, and went on to stage the most famous tasting in the modern history of wine, the so-called Paris Tasting of 1976, when a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California scored more highly than some of the most prestigious wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

"In 1988 Spurrier returned to the UK, where he became a wine consultant and journalist."

So the notion that Spurrier was desperate for publicity is sheer invention, along with almost everything else in the film. Word is, he's most unhappy. The real story is in Taber's book, The Judgment of Paris (Scribner, 2005), which should make an interesting movie some day. Can't come too soon. As for Bottle Shock, despite its success at indie festivals (Sundance, SIFF), it has failed to find a commercial distributor.

Posted by Ronald Holden at August 21, 2008 1:09 PM | TrackBack

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