Would you tell a story sticking to what really happened or would you rather mutilate it and change it for the sake of pushing your social message?
I like biographies, especially when they touch people that I appreciate for one reason or another. I read a biography of empress Sissi with much pleasure and the movies “Finding Neverland” and “Tolkien” really moved me. I know that movies have their own pace and events need to be modified for better enjoyment. Being successful in doing this, being able to balance historical truth and entertainment, is the crucial point in the production of a good work.
“Bottle shock” is an old school motivational film about the most famous underdogs of wine history. It tells the story of the 1976 Judgement of Paris, focusing in particular on Chateau Montelena. It is very inspirational, but it sacrifices historical accuracy to the altar of fictionalization and political correctness.
The story told is very famous: in 1976 a blind tasting event compared a group of Californian wines and a group of prestigious French wines. The Californians fared much better than expected and Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars came out as winners, respectively in the white and red category. This is considered an historical event in the development of New World quality wine, the first moment when a New World Country was able to show that they were good in making wine too.
My main problem with this movie lies in the characters of Sam Fulton (a lady) and Gustavo Brambila. They are both pivotal in the plot and yet the former never existed, while the latter was not directly involved in the event as shown in the movie.
Clearly they are given the spotlight to avoid describing the Judgement of Paris as a victory of the “white caucasian male”, they were put there to boost a message of gender and racial equality. Sam is not only beautiful, she is also very intelligent and she saves the day, together with the barmaid who rescues the wine at the end. Gustavo Brambila, Mexican, is depicted as a skilled winemaker (which he would have become, but he wasn’t in 1976) and a genius blind taster (which I could not find evidence of).
The authors are so eager to tell the audience that that victory belonged to all Americans that they leave aside important “real” characters, like Chateau Montelena then-winemaker Mike Grgich, Slavic but apparently “too white” to be of interest. Patricia Gallagher and Joanne DePuy are also ignored for some reason, the writers opting to invent an entirely new female character (the aforementioned Sam) better suited to a “romantic triangle subplot” instead of giving credit to real women who made the tasting possible. On the other hand, Steven Spurrier is treated as a mere caricature: instead of making researches to understand who this person really is or was at the time, it seems like the writers just decided to replicate the British wine snobbish stereotype and then attached a name tag on it. Voilà, “Steven Spurrier”.
Great wines do not spring up just by chance, they are the result of years of labor in a conducive environment. Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars were the nominal winners, but the Judgement of Paris was a victory of the entire system. This I understand and respect, as I understand the will of the directors to give recognition to the work of the Mexican people who were breaking their back in the vineyard and to the first women winemakers who were coming out at the time.
However facts should be told as they happened, for what is possible. “Bottle Shock” just refuses to do so.