The story of a now-legendary 1976 Paris wine tasting got its first Hollywood treatment last week with the premiere of
at the Sundance Film Festival. It's one of two rival movie projects about the historic wine event.
When a group of French experts more than 30 years ago rated wines from brand-new California makers higher than Burgundies and Bordeaux, the wine world was reshaped forever. The winners, Chateau Montelena (with its 1973 chardonnay) and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (1973 cabernet), have been celebrating ever since. The chardonnay is now over the hill, but rare bottles of the cabernet, still delicious, can be found for about $1,000.
The Judgment of Paris
, which has not yet started filming. The producers of the second film control rights to a 2005 book on the tasting and the life story of Englishman Steven Spurrier, who ran a Paris wine shop and staged the competition.
Egos and reputations are on the line as the very different projects spin their own stories - and thus the public perception - of what happened.
the "white wine" version. It focuses on chardonnay winner Chateau Montelena, layering in a father-son conflict between the winery's colorful owner, Jim Barrett (played by Bill Pullman), and his son Bo (Chris Pine).
In the film, Bo is a young surfer dude who helps save the day, showing dad he's not so bad. To symbolize their difficult relationship, they spend time in a boxing ring. Alan Rickman plays wine merchant Spurrier.
Director and co-screenwriter Randall Miller insisted in a phone interview that
is "as close to the truth as possible."
In that case, the screenplay from June that I read must have undergone major surgery before shooting started in August. Even so, big chunks of truth apparently have been jettisoned for wider cinematic appeal, and an invented love triangle has been added.
"It's completely Hollywoodized," said the real Bo Barrett, now 52. "My character has this great girlfriend - I had zero luck with girls back then. I'm sure my friends will hoot with derision when they see it."
Though Montelena's winemaker at the time, Mike Grgich, made the winning wine, he's not a major character. His assistant, played by Freddy Rodriguez, gets a key role, though, including one side of the love triangle.
Still, Barrett said, "I'm personally amused by the movie. It's a love letter to the wine business." And, of course, it will draw attention to Chateau Montelena.
The widely respected Spurrier, who obtained a late draft of the screenplay, was much less amused by the portrayal of himself as an effete English snob in completely invented incidents.
"I'm extremely angry at the deeply insulting and inaccurate way I - and my business - were portrayed," Spurrier said in a phone interview. He hired a London law firm to write to Miller, who admits "there's been some toning down." That hardly seems enough.
"We're not trying to make a movie that maligns anybody," Miller insisted. "This is not
Three Stooges Go to Napa.
In our film, Spurrier is heroic."
The rival film project - the "red wine" version - is still in the works. The script is virtually finished, according to Robert Kamen, a veteran Hollywood screenwriter (
The Karate Kid
) and a Sonoma vintner who makes a pretty good cabernet himself. The project can't move forward until the Writers Guild strike ends.
Kamen says his script tracks the life of the cabernet winner, Stag's Leap founder Warren Winiarski, and events laid out in
Judgment of Paris
, the 2005 book by George Taber, the only journalist present at the tasting. The other main character is Spurrier, presumably in a more recognizable guise. Kamen dismisses the other film as "Bottle Schlock."
"We're trying to tell the real story," coproducer Clark Peterson said.
Winiarski is philosophically above it all. Still, he worries that the films' distortions will color how people remember the actual event.
"It's like Kurosawa's film