In 1976, Steven Spurrier, a sommelier in Paris, comes to the Napa Valley to take the best he can find to Paris for a blind taste test against French wine. He meets Jim Barrett, whose Chateau Montelena is mortgaged to the hilt as Jim perfects his chardonnay. There\'s strain in Jim\'s relations with his hippie son Bo and his foreman Gustavo, a Mexican farmworker\'s son secretly making his own wine. Plus, there\'s Sam, a UC Davis graduate student and free spirit, mutually attracted to both Gustavo and Bo. As Spurrier organizes the \"Judgment of Paris,\" Jim doesn\'t want to participate while Bo knows it\'s their only chance. Barrett\'s chardonnay has buttery notes and a Smithsonian finish.

The French taste the sour drop of defeat in this true story of underdog triumph.

Due to its geographical misfortune, France has been on the wrong end of many tactically-advantageous invasions throughout history.

In recent years, it has been the cultural - rather than military - invasions, headed by the multi-national conglomerates of the American entertainment complex that have invaded the airwaves, televisions and cinemas of Paris and the provinces.

But the ultimate cultural insult took place in 1976, when a family-owned Californian vineyard, at the urging of a near-broke Brit expat based in Paris, achieved the unthinkable – took on the most famous wine-producing nation in the world. And won.

Director Randall Miller’s Bottle Shock tells the charming story of Jim Barrett (a weathered Bill Pullman) who, along with his ne’er-do-well son Bo (Chris Pine) and young offsiders Sam (Rachael Taylor) and Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), are struggling to keep their Napa Valley winery, Chateau Montelena, out of the claws of the banks. In a chance encounter (and there are plenty of those in this incredible-but-true story), Barrett meets Steven Spurrier (the sublime Alan Rickman), a Paris-based wine-shop owner who is scouring the Valley at the urging of his friend Maurice (Dennis Farina) to find a wine worthy of inclusion in his inaugural international wine-tasting event.

Barrett is sceptical and reluctant when Spurrier requests a bottle of the vineyard’s Chardonnay and this fuels the father-son conflict. Bo, a slacker loser with more promise than achievements, can’t comprehend how his father could decline such an opportunity to save the business, and he takes matters into his own hands.

Miller, who directed the delightful and terribly-undervalued Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School, has an obvious and genuine love for the period, people and values he captures in Bottle Shock. At its best, it achieves an understated, jaunty rhythm; the journey and ultimate triumph of this little winery is an underdog story in the truest sense.

Its shortcomings evolve from its pandering to the perceived need for a romantic element, in this case a love triangle between Chris Pine (doing time in the indie scene before he takes off as the new Captain Kirk), Freddy Rodriguez and Australia’s Rachael Taylor (a striking onscreen presence, as beautiful and talented as a young Candice Bergen, circa Soldier Blue). The bittersweet path their relationships follow serves the purpose of motivating Pine’s Bo into action, but it’s given too much screen time at the expense of Pullman, Farina and especially Rickman, who is at his laconic, cynical best in a role tailored for his unique screen persona.

Michael J. Ozier’s cinematography of Northern California, one of America’s most beautiful rural regions, is lush and gorgeous; the insight into the passion and commitment needed to produce world-class wine is fascinating; the processes involved, compelling.

Bottle Shock is a charmer and should play well with Australian audiences, born of a nation all too familiar with the struggle of living off the land and the joy of overcoming such hardships. Not to mention being partial to a drop, too.


1 hour 49 min
In Cinemas 26 March 2009,