Bottle Shock

When I set out to watch Bottle Shock, I thought it might be a mildly entertaining way to pass the time, and little more. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bottle Shock is the story of how California wines came to compete with the classier wines of France. Its cast includes such personalities as Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, and Bill Pullman. From start to finish it is an underdog story that packs a punch and overflows with humor and heart.

Alan Rickman is an English wine merchant in Paris, seeking to draw people into his business. At the recommendation of his American friend, he decides to hold a blind tasting, a competition between the wines of refined French winemakers and California’s “boys from the sticks.”

Meanwhile, in Napa, Chateau Montelena is being run by Bill Pullman with the aid of Chris Pine, who plays his do-nothing hippie son. They pick up Samantha, an intern, and a love triangle gets started between her, Chris Pine, and a farm hand named Gustavo Brambila, who is trying to start a vineyard of his own. This trio embarks on a series of hilarious adventures, from confronting a racist redneck with awkward results, to hustling a bar full of patrons in a bet to see if Gustavo can identify wines by taste alone.

The tensions between father and son are also important to the story, as the young man played by Chris Pine is confronted with his failures in life even as Bill Pullman is teetering dangerously close to losing the vineyard.

The moment Alan Rickman shows up, these ingredients mix to form much more than a simple story about wine. The flaws of every character are unearthed, and each is threatened with losing his dream. Tensions between them flare, alleviated from time to time with riotously humorous moments. In the end, it’s a story of grace and forgiveness, as they all learn to look past each others’ sins and slights and are rewarded in ways none of them deserve.

Behind all the actors, the dialogue, the excellent plot, looms another element: the wine itself. In every scene we are shown the deep love these people have for their craft, the care with which they approach it. Like a teacher whose passion is for his subject, Bottle Shock passes that love of wine onto the viewer. It’s enough to make you want to start your own vineyard.

Now, I must offer caveats. This is not a family friendly movie. There is some rather strong swearing, though not usually tossed around in a cavalier or pointless manner. There is also a fair amount of adult material. Nothing happens on screen, but plenty is implied and discussed. While I would highly recommend this movie for adults and maybe older teens, don’t let the little ones watch it.

That said, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. It’s free on Netflix, but shelling out the extra money for the DVD would be totally worth it. So go forth and watch. And, if you have the distinct advantage of being over 21, find yourself a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. It will, I trust, be worth it.

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