The celebrated independent movie Bottle Shock was the subject of a private screening in Santa Barbara on Monday to accompany the film’s release on DVD. Pierre Lafond on State Street hosted a post-screening blind wine tasting, in honor of the 1976 French tasting featured in Bottle Shock, an event that legitimized California wines in the eyes of the world.
Not since Sideways took us all through the Santa Barbara County wine country has a film so reveled in what now seems to be the signature drink of California. This comparison, made by many critics across the country, makes Bottle Shock director Randall Miller shake his head. “People just can’t help but compare it with Sideways,” he says of his film, which tells the pivotal story of how a group of Napa Valley wines beat their French competitors during a blind tasting in France. Miller made an appearance at the Lafond wine tasting, talking with fans and making himself available for comments. “Unlike Sideways,” said Miller, “this is a true story.”
Set long before the rise of the snobbish Napa Valley wine-drinker stereotype, Miller’s Bottle Shock focuses on those first Californian wine-making underdogs of the 1970s – namely the father-son team of James and Bo Barrett from Chateau Montelena – whose product was then a joke on the international market, and who merely saw themselves as farmers. “In a way, they were a kind of artistic cowboys,” said screenwriter Jody Savin of those pioneers. Putting the era in perspective, Miller explained, “Today, they’re rich wine makers. Then, they had to risk everything-but they were and are farmers first.” Wine isn’t made by the high-browed crowd that drinks it, said the filmmakers; rather, it’s created by passionate, dedicated people.
The film also sheds light on the Mexican immigrant population working in California’s wine fields during the ’70s, reminding us that there are underdogs even among the underdogs. In fact, it was the son of a Mexican immigrant whose wine won the red category in the 1976 French tasting.
“It was so hard to decide which story to tell,” said Miller. For each Californian winner in France, a compelling story was waiting to be told, and Miller and Savin say they were so thankful to be able to decide what shape their film should take.
“Movies are being made with less and less eccentricity,” explained Miller, bemoaning the modern marketing campaign, and its ability to dictate the production of a film. In this respect, Bottle Shock is a welcome breath of fresh air, an organically grown story.
Miller is grateful for the A-list cast (Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Freddy Rodriguez, among others) that his limited, low-budget release was able to attract. Miller says that most actors are always searching for ‘real’ acting roles, that big Hollywood movies don’t always satisfy them as artists. Though Miller smiled when mentioning up-and-coming actor Chris Pine, who starred in Bottle Shock as Bo, the indolent son of vineyard owner James Barrett. Pine, said Miller, will be playing Captain James T. Kirk in May in a big Hollywood production of Star Trek. Joked Miller, “Not everyone wants to make Star Trek all the time.”
Bottle Shock is now available on DVD. See bottleshockthemovie.com.