Going to the Frogs

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Chateau Montelena.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Egoistic French monarch Louis XIV once famously said, "l'état, c'est moi" ("I am the state," as in, I AM France).  Which came to mind as I was reading about the recent sale of Calistoga's Chateau Montelena to French businessman Michel Reybier, who also owns - among a number of other significant holdings - Château Cos d'Estournel, a well-known Bordeaux second growth.

How French Can We Get?
The great irony behind the purchase?  Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay was the white wine that bested its French counterparts in the legendary Judgment of Paris tasting of 1976, a watershed moment in Franco-American wine relations.  Along with Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' Cabernet Sauvignon - which placed first in the red category over a slew of top growth Bordeaux - Montelena's Chardonnay is credited with putting American wines on a level playing field with French wines for the first time.   As a result of these wins, the wine drinking world's consciousness began a gradual shift from France towards America (California, really), and it's a shift that's been ongoing ever since. 
This is why the French purchase of Montelena - which won't likely be made final until October - strikes me as more than just ironic:  it strikes me as a relinquishing of progress back to the French, our great rivals in all things vinous.  In allowing them to take over one of our most prized properties, are we enabling them to recapture some of the glory in wine that we rightfully won from them in 1976?  Are we allowing the French to become, once again, synonymous with wine itself, just as their Louis claimed that he WAS France?   Mon dieu.  

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13 Comments

Did you know that they made a movie about Chateau Montelena? It's called Bottle Shock and will be hitting selected theatres the end of August. Bottle Shock has received some excellent feedback from the Sundance Film Festival. I'm looking forward to seeing it...

Bottle Shock is fabulous!! Funny and smart -- in my mind, far better than Sideways. The cast -- Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pines, Dennis Farina -- is first-rate. I understand Bottle Shock was a fan favorite at the Seattle Film Festival and Sundance. Definitely a must see!!

Let's get some good word-of-mouth going about this great Sonoma Country indy film!

One more note, to clarify David James'post...Bottle Shock is out now in select theaters, including Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco. That's where I saw it...nice theater, great movie!

Courtney, have you seen it yet?

No, I haven't seen Bottle Shock yet but hope to do so very soon! It's getting great buzz, and I can't wait.

Thanks for the comments.

Hi, nice website. I'm learning, I'm learning. And don't forget that Louis
XIV, although perhaps a tad egotistical, was an incredible innovator
and leader. Santé.

I read about the "Judgement of Paris" and I have not seen the movie Bottle Shock, but my understanding is that the winemaker, Mike Grgich, who made the chardonnay for Chateau Montelena that won the tasting is not depicted in the movie.
Does anyone know why not?
Amir

I saw Bottle Shock last Saturday at the Landmark Theater in Hillcrest in San Diego. It is absolutely wonderful . . . cinematically beautiful and a well-told story with a fabulous cast. Everyone should go!

There are some serious flaws with the movie: the most notable is it tries to portray Jim Barrett and his son, Bo, as poor, overworked winemakers when actually Jim was a successful attorney from Southern California who flew up to Napa on the weekends in his private plan to see how things were going and Bo was just out of high school. Mike Grgich was the winemaker and when he left Chateau Montelena to start his own winery with Austin Hills, the Barrettes have tried to rewrite history and pretend that he never existed. The movie also does not even mention Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar won the red wine tasting in the afternoon (except for a note at the end of the movie).

I am sickened by the sale of Montelena to the French. Can't wait to see the movie though.

The movie is not a documentary, it is loosely based on the mutiple stories of the Barretts, the Tasting at Paris and Steven Spurrier. It's a fun romp and has a wonderful sweet edge to it...worth seeing. Regarding Grgich you should ask him directly why he turned down the chance to tell his story and the rival movie that will likely never get made that attempts to "write history" as it happened. Get over it Ken...have some fun and just enjoy the film for what it was meant to be...a great story about wine country


Bottle Shock is not meant to be a documentary, and it was not written by, nor run past the Barretts for accuracy. It's a cute story depicting the Tasting at Paris, a fledgling wine industry in California and a not very well thought of wine merchant in France. It's cute, funny and has a great sound-track. See it, but don't believe everything you see.

Having finally seen the film at the Kabuki in SF, I have to agree with Linda when she said it's a "cute story" but "don't believe everything you see." As a big fan of the '76 tasting and an even greater enthusiast for California wine and our industry in general, I'm disappointed with some of the liberties taken with the story. I agree that it's odd Mike Grgich was left out of the film - especially since he went on to be such an important winemaker in his own right in Napa - and it also bothered me the way the red wines and the competition surrounding them were all but ignored in the story. If anything, Stag's Leap's besting of top-tier Bordeaux was a bigger story back then than the white win achieved by the Montelena Chardonnay, a fact that makes the reds' omission from the film that much more jarring (I also thought it odd the way the white win was announced mid-tasting in the film, something that I'm quite sure wasn't revealed until the reds had been tasted, too. But I nitpick here.).

In spite of these inconsistencies, however, I enjoyed Bottle Shock. My favorite thing about the film was its depiction of 1970s-era California wine country, a time when enthusiasm for our juice was high but our reputation yet to be made. People often say that certain things - be they wine, vacation spots, even people - are far more pleasant when they're on the rise than when they've already achieved stardom. Bottle Shock depicted an era in California winemaking we can all be proud of, an era when winemakers truly were farmers, and when Napa Valley wasn't overrun with so many Disneyland-like attractions and zillion-dollar restaurants. And while we can never reclaim the past (hey, I'm the first to admit I relish in much of Napa's modern-day bounty), it's fun and - most important - grounding to take in and celebrate the nostalgia of Napa's earlier days.

Everyone who has contributed to this thread - and anyone who's just read the post - please note that it was announced yesterday that the sale of Montelena to the Reybier has NOT gone through and is in fact a dead deal. You can read more about it at Decanter:

http://www.decanter.com/news/271576.html

Reybier said the deal hit some "speed bumps" as a result of the rocky markets. The property is also reported likely to remain with the Barrett family "for the foreseeable future."

What do you think?! Good or bad news?

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