Surrender 63: Bottle Shock

I rented a couple of Alan Rickman DVDs this week, to further my desire to view all of this actor’s work. I enjoyed Nobel Son, with its clever plot twists and turns, and Alan’s performance as a genius who lacks social and people skills and compassion. However, I loved Bottle Shock. I chose to write about this enchanting film.


Bottle Shock stars Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Freddy Rodriguez, and Rachel Taylor. The comedy/drama, released in 2008, was directed by Randall Miller. The movie carries a PG-13 rating, for brief strong language and brief sexuality, and has a run time of 1 hour and 50 minutes.

This true story is based around the Paris Judgment that occurred in 1976, when Steven Spurrier (Rickman) set up a blind taste test between French and Californian wines. Spurrier, who sold French wines exclusively in his shop, wanted to prove that the French had the best wines in the world…and also create more business in his store.


Spurrier travels to Napa Valley, California…wine country…to secure the best selection of American wines for the taste test. He meets Jim Barrett (Pullman) and his son Bo (Pine), owners of Chateau Montelena. The perfectionist vineyard owner and his fun loving hippie son are not only often at odds with each, they are struggling to make it, financially, as they create an exquisite Chardonnay.


Spurrier also encounters Sam (Taylor), the Barretts’ young female intern, and Gustavo (Rodriguez), Jim’s hardworking assistant, who is secretly creating his own wine at home. Bo and Sam take Spurrier throughout the Napa Valley, introducing him to the vintners. After tasting a vast variety of wines, the British wine connoisseur takes his selections back to Paris, for the ultimate test.

Bo flies to Paris as well, as the Californian representative. Some of the most discerning palettes in France arrive to taste the wines, to decide in an unbiased way, which country has the best Chardonnay and red wine. Who will win?


I enjoyed this fun movie for so many reasons. Although I am not a wine enthusiast, movies about the process of creating wine, from tending vineyards to bottling the properly fermented drink, fascinates me. It’s an art. It’s a science. It’s a passion. The cinematography was beautiful, with scene after scene of warm Californian vineyards and massive cool stone buildings where the wine was stored in barrels.

Set in 1976, this movie became a nostalgic flashback for me. I was 18 years old in 1976, and just embarking on my adult journey. The movie’s music, Bo and Sam’s long hippie hair, the bell bottom jeans and cropped shirts, brought back waves of memories. Was I really that young and carefree then? I was filled with a wistful longing.


Amid the humor and the quest for the best wine in the world, are the stories of five people, struggling to find themselves. Steven Spurrier, a displaced Brit in France, longs to be accepted in his city of choice. Jim Barrett left a partnership in a law firm to pursue his dream. He is facing bankruptcy and failure. Bo is considered a loser, unfocused and irresponsible. Gustavo has the passion for creating fine wine. It’s in his blood. He lacks the funds to bring his dream to fruition, literally. And Sam has the desire to learn all she can about vinification. However, she finds herself torn between her affections toward Gustavo and Bo. The deeper undercurrents in the film make it a very moving and thought provoking watch.


I always appreciate movies based on true events. Jim Barrett passed away in 2013, at the age of 86. His son, Bo, pictured above, now owns and operates Chateau Montelena with his wife. Sam’s character, while not based on an actual person, represents the future of Napa Valley, when more women would become vineyard owners and winemakers. Bo’s real life wife is such a woman.

In 1996, Gustavo produced his first wine under his own label, and ventured out on his own in 1999. Today, Gustavo makes Napa Valley wines in a style inspired by old-world winemaking techniques, with a dedication to small vineyards and the highest quality fruit.


Steven Spurrier, above, returned to the UK in 1988, becoming a wine consultant and a journalist. He’s now director of The Christie’s Wine Course and he has written several books.

The Paris Judgment really happened in 1976. The outcome changed the world’s view of wine, and had a significant impact on all of the people involved in the story portrayed by Bottle Shock. I’ll not spoil the conclusion. I will recommend this excellent indie film. Settle in, grab a bottle of wine, if you so desire, and enjoy!