“No offense, but I don’t foresee the imminent cultivation of the Chicago vine.” – Steven Spurrier
This month is a cold one. Snow and ice are almost everywhere across the country. And yet, inside people’s homes, warmth and love abound as Valentine’s Day is nearly here. Celebrating love with one’s love, rejoicing in the abounding happiness two people bring one another. To help make the snow seem a little less horrible, and make Valentine’s a little more fun for everyone, may people’s cinematic palettes be sated with this delightful film. Ladies and gentlemen, for your edification and enjoyment, a tale of the past, a story of America’s cultural triumph in the world of wine-making, Bottle Shock.
Guided by the steady hand of Randall Miller, Bottle Shock tells the story of the 1976 wine-tasting of Paris, where the very best of France’s du vin (wine) were judged alongside vintages from the finest vineyards in America. The end result was a surprising and stunning 1st place victory by the Chateau Montelena 173 Chardonnay in the chardonnay category. This forever changed the face of wines the world over with the unseating of the French. And through it all, there was the constant influence of one Steven Spurrier, played in the film by Alan Rickman.
Steven Spurrier, both in life and in character, is a man who appreciates wine. At the time, as a British expatriate living in Paris, Steven spent his days selling wines from his shop off the rue Royale and in film, conversing on wine with Maurice (Dennis Farina). Alan plays Steven beautifully, a cultured and dedicated lover of wines and all that is related to them, seeking to introduce Parisians to other quality vintages from across the globe. His travels bring him to America, where he makes the acquaintance of Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), vintner of the Chateau Montelena. In the course of time up to the competition (fictionally and in the real world), history with regards to wine and wine tasting is changed forever.
Rickman (Spurrier) is only one part of the overall story here. There is a heavy focus on the Chateau Montelena and Jim Barrett and his son Bo (Chris Pine). It has a heavy exploration into their relationship as both father and son, and as vintners. Jim is content to leave things as they are, not willing to take any chances. Bo, on the other hand, wants to do more for the vineyard and sees the opportunity of Spurrier and his contest to expand and bring their wines to other parts of the world. This leads to inevitable cinematic clashes and head-butting, which ultimately resolves itself with the results of the contest.
Though this movie is not as big and grand as Rickman’s other cinematic achievements (Harry Potter, Sweeny Todd, Galaxy Quest, etc.), it is still a part of his career as an actor and thus worth watching, if anything for Rickman and his performance.
At the time of its release (after being screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival), it received mixed reviews from the critics. Though it’s clear Alan’s portrayal of Spurrier was not unappreciated, as noted by New York Times film critic A. O. Scott:
Steven Spurrier, played by Alan Rickman, whose parched low voice and air of beleaguered pomposity are never unwelcome. Spurrier is a British wine dealer vainly seeking a way into the French oenological establishment. Well-trained and sensitive as his nose may be, it’s always pressed against the glass.
While winter winds blow and snow falls and ice forms, may all those who must be outside in these rough climates be safe. And when you find yourselves inside and looking for something to do, if there is that itch for a little downtime with loved ones and a good movie, give this a look. Alan Rickman does what he has always done, deliver a sterling performance with all the seriousness and grace that he did over the years with every part he played. To sum it all up, I have only this to say (in the words of our French cinema familiars), Bottle Shock est une expérience cinématographique délicieuse et intéressante. Il est engageant et aimera tout film historique, être un nettoyant de palette qui laissera les spectateurs très satisfaits à la fin.
*Translation: Bottle Shock is a delightful and worthwhile cinematic experience. It is engaging and will, like any historical film, be a palette cleanser that will leave viewers very satisfied in the end.