In Bottle Shock, director and co-scripter Randall Miller — of such disparate (and dismal) output as the Sinbad-starring Houseguest and painfully twee indie Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School — seemingly extrapolates Virginia Madsen’s centerpiece soliloquy on wine from Sideways and stretches it out to feature length, but with none of Alexander Payne’s eloquence or wit.
In this ode to viticulture, which opens with soaring overhead shots of vineyards, every other line is spoken in hushed tones rife with reverence and/or metaphorical meaning, as when Jim (Bill Pullman), patriarch of the struggling Chateau Montelena Winery, explains to new intern Sam (Rachael Taylor), “You wanna limit the irrigation because it makes the vine struggle, intensifies the flavor; a comfortable grape — well-watered, well-fertilized grape — grows into the lazy ingredient of a lousy wine.” You get the sense when he speaks thusly that he’s thinking of his son, Bo (Chris Pine), whom he and others in the small Napa Valley community of the Seventies regard as a past-his-prime hippie loser who’s wasted his privilege.
Although difficult to imagine now, French varietals were once considered the only game in town. Bottle Shock, which takes its title from a condition that besets wine when transported (the bottles need about a month to recover from jet lag), seeks to illuminate the moment the global wine market was born, but does so in tedious fashion. Like many “based-on-a-true” stories, it has a worthwhile tale to tell which, while diverting enough, gets fitted into the usual boring narrative conventions and genre-predetermined character arcs.