There are certain unforgettable moments in history when America has triumphed against long odds and proved itself to the world: Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon; the U.S. Men’s Hockey team beating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. But one such moment has never received the recognition it deserves: In 1976, a small American winery sent shock waves through the industry by besting the exalted French wines in a blind tasting, putting California wines on the map for good. Novice vintner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) risked everything to realize his dream of creating the perfect hand-crafted California Chardonnay. Meanwhile in Paris, struggling wine seller Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) came up with an idea for a publicity stunt to help his floundering shop. Little did Spurrier and Barrett realize they were about to change the history of wine forever.
Bottle Shock • by director Randall Miller
I knew there was a time when my parents were no longer ashamed to serve California wine to their dinner guests, when it actually became chic to do so. I had no idea what happened to cause that change. And so, when I was first told this story of how a group of California farmers took on the exalted French wines and bested them, I was intrigued. Maybe there was a movie in this. Here was an underdog story that wasn’t about sports or war. And when I flew up to Chateau Montelena, the vineyard we focus on, and met with Jim and Bo Barrett, I realized what rich characters I had before me.
The story of a lawyer who risked everything in the pursuit of an artistic dream (to make fine hand-crafted wine) is what initially hooked me into wanting to make Bottle Shock. I had directed studio movies and some TV before I convinced Jody (my wife and partner) to mortgage our house so we could make a movie we felt passionate about. That movie, our first indie, was called Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School. Bottle Shock is the heir to that choice.
I am drawn to stories of passion or risk. Stories about men or women who realize they only have one shot at this experience that is life and who set forth into an unknown in pursuit of a dream—or a dream of a dream. Jim Barrett was one of those men and I admire the choices he made and the journey he chose. It was an honor to work in his shadow.
With Bottle Shock, I was also intrigued by the story of a little blind tasting that lit the spark that ignited the enological fire that burnt down the cronyistic forest that triggered the creative earthquake that upset the status quo and opened the world to new pioneers of viniculture and viticulture around the globe.
In the film, Alan Rickman quotes Galileo: “Wine is sunlight held together by water.” Alan, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina and Eliza Dushku are my sunlight, each perfectly capturing the moment and making me look like a better director than I am. And Michael Ozier’s cinematography makes every image captivating, from the intimacy of a bedroom mirror to the lush fields of grapes sweeping by. Brilliant cinematography in the service of Craig Stearns’ magical production design puts us in the ‘70s in both Napa and France. Mark Adler’s luminous score ties the story together and gives a musical heart to the film. My collaborator, my partner, my wife, Jody Savin, is the rudder. She was the one who compiled the hundreds of pages of source material and shaped them into what became the shooting draft of the script. This is my creative family with whom I continue to collaborate on upcoming projects and future pursuits.