Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
In Hollywood they consume copious amounts of fine wine but, to date, not much of the juice has spilled onto celluloid.
That may soon change.
On Aug. 6, a film about the 1976 wine tasting that came to be known as “the Judgment of Paris” will be released: “Bottle Shock.” The film, which debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, happens to be one of two films that have been developed about the Judgment. But more on that later.
Perhaps the most acclaimed film that has used wine as a milieu was “Sideways.” Released in 2004, “Sideways” followed the misadventures of two boorish buddies who decide a trip to the wine country would be the perfect setting for a little boy-bonding. The film made use of a number of Santa Barbara vineyards (Andrew Murray), wineries (Fess Parker) and restaurants (The Hitching Post) as locations, but for the most part it revolved around the mid-life failures of the two protagonists.
While not universally loved by wine geeks (this one included), the film did receive Academy Award nominations for best picture, best director (Alex Payne) and both best supporting actor and actress (Thomas Hayden Church and Virginia Madsen). It also took home an Oscar, for “Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay” for Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor’s script that was adapted from a novel by Rex Pickett.
In addition to making money for Fox Searchlight Pictures, “Sideways” is credited for creating a spike in sales of pinot noir and a bust in the merlot market due to the obsession expressed by Miles, one of the boys, for the finicky, hard-to-appreciate grape. Yes, the pinot.
Since that time, Hollywood producers have been looking to capture magic in a bottle yet again and at least two projects have been developed looking back at the Paris tasting.
A little background: In 1976, the year of America’s bicentennial, an Englishman named Steven Spurrier, who owned a wine shop in Paris, began to taste some California wines that he thought were, if not the equal of the wines being produced in France, at least damned good. He selected a number of French and California wines and held a blind tasting in Paris with some rather esteemed judges.
Spurrier invited a number of members of the press, but when tasting time came, only one showed up. George Tabor, who was based in Paris as a European correspondent for Time Magazine, attended and chronicled the proceedings, during which two California wines were judged to be the winners. The red wine deemed the best was a 1972 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, while the winner of the whites was a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.
As damning as the fact that the French had selected the American wines as superior were the comments made, and again, chronicled by Tabor. When news hit that the Napa wines were victorious it changed everything in the world of wine.
In 2005, Tabor, since retired from Time, wrote a wonderfully entertaining and nostalgic book called “The Judgment of Paris” and promptly caught the attention of Hollywood. The book was optioned and Tabor began work with Robert Mark Kamen, a longtime Hollywood screenwriter whose credits include “A Walk in the Clouds,” a film starring Keanu Reeves about the post-war years in Napa winemaking. Kamen also makes wine at his Sonoma Vineyard under the Kamen Estate Wines label.
But that’s not “Bottle Shock.”
“Bottle Shock” deals with the same events but takes a completely different approach, focusing on the family that owns Chateau Montelena Winery. The quest of Jim Barrett and his son Bo Barrett to make great wine in the 1970s culminated in an improbable victory over the French classics, and that is the focus of this film. The producers swear that their script was in the glass, so to speak, before Tabor’s book even left the barrel and, besides, the story is an historical account of an actual event so they don’t need “rights” to tell their tale.
It is quite a time for the Barretts, who will not only have the pivotal moment of their lives immortalized on the big screen, but have also announced this week a pending sale of Chateau Montelena to ” you guessed it ” the French. Chateau Montelena is being purchased by the Bordeaux-based Cos d’Estournel in a fitting climax to a Judgment made 32 years ago.
You couldn’t write a better script.
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