Bottle Shock, released in 2008, has become a favorite film for many wine lovers. It tells the story about how a Chardonnay crafted by a Napa Valley winery beat every French competitor in the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, a feat that was unthinkable at the time. The wine, made by Chateau Montelena
, became a symbol of the burgeoning California wine scene, and how the state became one of the premier winegrowing regions in the world.
However, the story of a dedicated father-and-son team taking on the European elite was altered, just a little, from the reality (artistic license being what it is). Here is how the film compares to the true story.
Playfully portrayed by Chris Pine, Bo Barrett, the son of Chateau Montelena’s winemaker Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), is an unruly California surfer dude who frustrated his father due to his low ambition. Barrett was indeed a surfer and a rebel in the early 1970s, but he has lived up to the elder Barrett’s hopes: Bo is currently the chief winemaker at Chateau Montelena.
The father-and-son team were a bit less physically violent than the film leads viewers to believe. There is no boxing ring on the Barrett property or in the vineyards, and Jim and Bo never boxed each other.
Though he ended up owning Chataeu Montelena, Jim Barrett did not craft the wine that went on to win big in France. Mike Grgich, a Croatian-American winemaker, was actually the winemaker of the 1973 Chardonnay that won the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. While originally written into the script, Grgich was cut from the movie because he did not want to be a part of the film.
In the film, the Chardonnay turns brown for 24 hours after bottling, a twist that devastates Jim, who believes his new release is doomed. Though the wine did turn off-color for a short time after it was bottled, this is actually a somewhat common occurrence, and real-life winemaker Mike Grgich totally knew how to handle the situation.
Jim and Bo are shown living at the Napa Valley winery during the summer of 1976, but they actually lived much further south, near Los Angeles, and the two had to take long trips up the coast in order to operate Chateau Montelena. Jim was actually a certified pilot, and he often flew into the nearby Santa Rosa airport when he had to spend time at the winery.
Bo and Gustavo Brambila, played by Freddy Rodriguez, are portrayed as close friends, with Bo as the prankster and Gustavo as the serious one. The two struck up a friendship in the 1970s, although Brambila was not actually involved at all with Chateau Montelena’s win at the Paris Wine Tasting. Brambila, one of the first Latinos to earn a degree in fermentation science from the University of California, Davis, was hired by winemaker Mike Grgich to do quality control in 1976, although after the famed tasting. Bo and Gustavo remain close friends to this day.
In the film, Gustavo is fired by Jim for producing wine under his own label. However, Gustavo was never fired, and left the winery on good terms. He left in 1977 to work for Grgich when the former Chataeu Montelena winemaker created Grgich Hills Cellar. In 1996, Brambila did actually create his own label, Gustavo Wine, which continues to operate to this day.
All in all, Bottle Shock is fairly faithful to the true story, although some people, like Mike Grgich, made major contributions that weren’t included. Still, you can visit the wineries owned by Bo Barrett and Gustavo Brambila so you can taste for yourself how good their abilities are.
All images: IMdB