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!





Surrender 32: Mesmer

I came across this movie recently as I was searching for Alan Rickman films that I’ve missed. It’s a historical piece, set in Vienna in the 18th century, and I was unfamiliar with it. When it popped up again this afternoon, I decided to watch just a few minutes of the movie, to get a feel for it. I was especially intrigued by the subtitle on a movie poster: “Look into his eyes, and surrender the secrets of your soul.” That was very much an invitation!


I was more than intrigued, after watching for a few minutes, and settled in to view the entire film. 

Mesmer stars Alan Rickman, Gillian Barge, Amanda Ooms and Martin Schwab. The 1994 biography/drama was directed by Roger Spottiswoode and has a run time of 1 hour and 47 minutes. The movie is unrated, however, I’d give it a PG-13 rating, for adult themes. 

Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (Rickman) is a physician in 18th century Vienna, who uses unconventional methods for bringing relief to the ill. Whether the suffering are plagued by physical or mental disorders, Dr. Mesmer believes that the patients have some responsibilities, both for their diseases and their cures. 


He employs what he terms “animal magnetism”, an invisible fluid that courses through all living creatures, to confront illness or dis-ease in the body, bringing about an eventual cure. Mesmer has learned to use the magnetism that runs through his own body to begin the healing process in another. 

However, virtually everyone, including Mesmer’s wife (Barge), believes the doctor to be a fraud, a charlatan, engaging the patient’s imagination with his own charisma, rather than creating true healing. At a time when blood letting was the most oft used course of treatment for all illnesses, Mesmer’s techniques seemed more magical than medical. 

Mesmer has the opportunity to fully use his unorthodox practices on young pianist Maria Theresa Paradies (Ooms), who has suffered from blindness and fits of severe pain since early childhood. Maria’s abusive father (Schwab), who does not want his daughter to be healed, seeks to have Mesmer ostracized from Vienna. No one, from the haughty medical community, to Mesmer’s jealous wife, believes in the amazing claims the doctor makes, even when it appears that Maria regains her sight. 

Is he a charlatan, a fraud…or a genius? 

This was a fascinating movie. I was so curious about whether the story was based on fact, that I paused about 2/3 of the way through, and did research. Franz Mesmer was an actual person, who did propose his theory of an invisible force that could be transferred between living beings and even inanimate objects. He was totally misunderstood and his theories never proven, even though a council that included American Benjamin Franklin studied his techniques and attempted to identify the invisible fluid that Mesmer spoke of.

 The real Franz Mesmer.  

I recognized that Mesmer, whose methods created the word “mesmerize”, was familiar with and used energy flow. He called it an invisible fluid and magnetism, which is an accurate way to describe chi, or the life energy that flows through us all. His manner of using his own hands to direct that invisible force, bringing healing to others, is very similar to the practice of reiki. 

Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Dr. Mesmer created deep sympathy within me. As a boy, Franz saw the harmony in nature and the disharmony, in mind and body, of humans. That imbalance, he believed, led to many of the ailments that people suffered from. “How could I not try to help?” he asked. 


Mesmer believed that the eyes could see inwardly, as well as outwardly, and that each person must begin the journey toward healing by gazing inside first.  He didn’t offered immediate healing. He knew it was a day by day journey. However many who sought him out were disillusioned when their afflictions weren’t instantly cured. Mesmer appeared to live in the moment, knowing that past trauma could result in disorders and that trying to live in the future created anxieties of the mind and spirit. Sadly, he was way ahead of his time, in his thoughts and beliefs. And truthfully, even by today’s medical standards,  his energy practices would still be considered unconventional by many. 

This is a film, a story, that will stay with me for a long time. I truly was…well…mesmerized by Mesmer, and appreciative of his work, his heart and his vision. I’ll never again hear that word that’s synonymous with enchantment, without thinking of Dr. Franz Mesmer.