In 1776, at a blind tasting "Judgment in Paris", the wine world was rocked to its core when wines from the unknown region of California known as Napa Valley beat out the most popular French wines.
This movie dramatizes that event, and evokes a world of 1970's Napa where hard-bitten redneck sumnabitch farmers work hard and enjoy their freakin' wine, even when it's served in mason jars. Gotta love the scene where a hustler bets a bar crowd that he can identify every wine poured, and a redneck patron shouts out, "any asshole can tell a Merlot from a Cabernet!" (response: "But can any asshole tell you the vintage?!")
I don't know how much of the father-son drama (between Bill Pullman as Jim Barrett and Chris Pine as Bo Barrett) that forms the core of the movie is based on reality and how much was punched up for dramatic effect. I also don't know if Jim Barrett really was on the verge of quitting the wine business and returning to work in SF. I don't know if Gustavo was secretly bottling his own wine on the side, or if there really was a love triangle between Bo, Gustavo, and their intern Sam (short for Samantha, played by Rachael Taylor). These all make the movie more dramatic and enjoyable, but mostly I was left wanting to taste all the wine. Man, I haven't been wine tasting in Napa or Sonoma in far too long.
I also have to give praise to the always excellent Alan Rickman. He plays Steven Spurrier, the Englishman living in Paris, founder of the Academy of Wine, and all-around French wine snob. He's the guy who put the blind tasting together and travelled to Napa to pick out the American wines for the competition. He's blown away by the uncouth demeanor of the locals and the amazing taste of their wine. And he just plays the role with the perfect mix of sliminess, snobbery, and sympathy. When Jim Barrett asks, "Why don't I like you", he deadpans "Because you think I'm an asshole. And really, I'm not. I'm just British." Even at the end, as he's struck with the horror that now the world will taste wine from anywhere...South America? Australia? New Zealand? Africa? India? China? And then he toasts to the future and you can see that while the judgement didn't go as planned and he's now a pariah in French wine circles, he can take pride in how he changed the wine world.
But enough about movies, I gotta do me some wine tasting soon.