Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
The "slobs versus the snobs" formula works well when transplanted to the Northern California wine country of the early 70s.
One of the places I’ve always wanted to see but haven’t yet had a chance is Northern California’s wine country. While I’m certainly no wine expert I do enjoy a good bottle from time to time. Would I be able to tell the difference between a twenty dollar bottle versus a hundred dollar bottle? Probably not. The characters in Bottle Shock however are wine experts of the highest order. We’re told that the film is based on the true story of the group of folks that started the whole Napa Valley wine industry. It wasn’t easy since back in the 70’s it was France that was considered the heart and soul of the wine business and wines from the United States were considered inferior.
Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) is a British expatriate who heads to Napa in search of some good wines that he can enter in a competition that he has set up in France. He meets Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) a former attorney who has started his own vineyard along with his son Bo (Chris Pine). Barrett is a stubborn guy who doesn’t trust Spurrier and thinks that he wants to embarrass the U.S. but Spurrier truly believes, especially after tasting some Napa wines, that they could do well in the competition and help put them on the map. There are other vineyards in Napa as well so Spurrier has his work cut out for him.
Much of the film centers on Barrett’s contentious relationship with his son Bo. They even have a boxing ring set up where the two take out their aggression on each others faces. Barrett thinks that Bo is a slacker while Bo thinks that his father needs to be more open minded about the future of their family business. To this point they haven’t sold much wine and the future looks bleak, but Spurrier might be able to change all of that.
Bottle Shock has a great affinity with not only the wine business but for its characters as well. It does indeed see these people as the reason why Napa is what it is today and the film has a nice underdog makes good quality. Rickman’s Spurrier is an eccentric guy (something Rickman excels at) and the film itself embraces the eccentric nature of the industry. While taking in the scent of a fine Merlot and swirling it around in your mouth may have seemed natural in Paris it was kind of odd to see it done in California in the early 70s and the film captures that feeling. The clash of cultures is apparent but we also get the sense of what the early days of the Napa valley wine industry was like as new discoveries were first being made. Imagine a guy from Paris helping some people in the United States make a name for themselves. Oh, how we long for the good old days.