Without really trying, Santa Barbara County viewers may find themselves engaging in some region-centric hubris and comparison-testing while watching this interesting-if oddly slack-film about fine wine turf wars. The subject here is California wine gaining respect and good standing in the international community, and the heady moment in 1976 when Napa suddenly found itself on the wine map. If Santa Barbara County’s reputation as a wine region still bubbles under that of Napa, we can still boast a finer wine film in Sideways, Alexander Payne’s perky, quirky ode to the Santa Ynez Valley wine scene (and tipsy midlife crisis-tending).
If inevitable, the Sideways connection also is circumstantial. Payne’s movie finds sketchy characters bobbing and weaving atop the Santa Ynez setting. Bottle Shock-so named for the unsettling thing that happens to bottles that have traveled great distances, like viticulture shock or jet lag-settles deep inside the Napa scene, regaling us with the critical moment when California became a taste savored around the world. In 1976, a chardonnay from Napa’s Ch•teau Montelena wowed the French critics and opened the floodgates for not only a reconsideration of California wine, but wines from various global corners.
Alan Rickman, hopped up on elitist refinement, plays the entrepreneurial Parisian wine merchant seeking a new market by heading to the far outpost of Napa Valley. Bill Pullman puts in one of his better performances as the erstwhile San Francisco executive trying to make a career change with a vineyard, with the help and sometimes hindrance of his hippie son (Chris Pine), a multigenerational Napa worker (Freddy Rodr-guez), and a lovely and bright intern (Rachael Taylor).
For all its well meaning, warm, feel-good spirits and intriguing look into the rarely exposed world of viticulture and the high-end wine market, Bottle Shock keeps failing to click. Director/cowriter Randall Miller has mostly worked in television, and the movie too often suggests small-screen dimensions. The script’s lines and characters fall flat and the musical score is strictly bottle cap generic (before bottle caps became acceptable). But still we are drawn to its easy-to-drink, flavorful bouquet.