In the dramatic twist of Randall Miller’s upcoming film Bottle Shock, an intern and the heir to Calistoga’s Chateau Montelena winery make a shocking discovery about a batch of Montelena Chardonnay.
The pair, played by Rachael Taylor (Transformers) and Chris Pine (Just My Luck, Smokin’ Aces), head east for some expert advice – at UC Davis.
“People refer to UC Davis as the Ivy League of wine schools,” said co-writer and director Randall Miller, who attended UC Davis from 1981 to 1983 before dropping out to pursue acting and film school. “UC Davis was my first experience with college and I took the enology classes they had up there, so I had to put it in the film.”
Bottle Shock, which premiered January at the Sundance Film Festival, stars Bill Pullman and Pine as the real-life father-and-son vintners, Jim and Bo Barrett. Against all odds, their Chateau Montelena wine claimed first place at the infamous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. Putting California on the wine map, the blind wine-tasting competition was arranged by British wine shop owner Steven Spurrier, played by Alan Rickman.
Miller described the story as “Rocky with wine,” starring the Barretts as an “underdog family that weren’t necessarily trying to beat the French, but to get on the same playing field.”
In addition to some UC Davis graduates playing small roles, the film also spotlights an Aggie alumnus, real-life vintner Gustavo Brambila, who was one of the first Latino males to earn a degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. In the setting of the film, Brambila is fresh out of UC Davis, working his first job at Chateau Montelena as an assistant winemaker and is also Bo Barrett’s close friend.
“He was a pioneer in his time,” said Freddy Rodriguez (Planet Terror, “Six Feet Under,” “Ugly Betty”), who plays Brambila in the film. “I think a lot of Latino males that were in the industry at that time were picking the grapes rather than making the wine. I really enjoyed him and the story.”
Before the “Judgment of Paris,” Jim Barrett not only struggled with a winery teetering on bankruptcy, but also with a son lacking drive in life until he secretly entered the Montelena wine into the competition.
“The part of the story that I was attracted to was the father-son relationship – that was the meat,” said Pine, a UC Berkeley alumnus who will make his debut as Captain James T. Kirk next May in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek movie franchise. “It’s a love story not between a guy and a girl, but a man and his son.”
Rickman, who will once again reprise his role as Professor Severus Snape this December in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gives the film much of its comical flavor through his interpretative portrayal of Spurrier, a skeptic-turned-believer in California wine.
“It’s very funny, serious, rye, and has anger and passion,” Rickman said of the film. “It’s certainly about people’s passions applied to something very age-old: Plant some vines, watch them grow, make some wine, learn the rules and try to understand nature.”
In its director’s eyes, the Bottle Shock story grows on the same vine as the fruits and labor of independent filmmaking.
“We make hand-made movies – we raise the money ourselves and build the post out of our house,” said Miller, who moved his family up from Southern California last summer with wife Jody Savin, who is also the movie’s co-writer and producer, to film Bottle Shock.
“And this is what these guys do here [at the winery],” he said. “They grow the grapes and harvest them. It’s a home-grown business, and we really identify with that.”
The natural beauty of the Northern California wine country was something the entire cast and crew got to experience firsthand. Bottle Shock was shot on location in Calistoga and all around Napa and Sonoma.
“I have a respect for the pursuit for leisure and pleasure that they have in Northern California,” said Taylor, who plays Sam the intern. “It was nice to escape the rat race of Hollywood a little bit and decompress up here.”
Miller considers the wine country landscape a character of its own in the film.
“The movie is like a picture-postcard of what Northern California, especially Napa and Sonoma, was like [in 1976],” he said.
Bottle Shock opens in San Francisco on Aug. 6 and Sacramento on Aug. 15. Go to bottleshockthemovie.com for more information.
RAY LIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.