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Aug 7, 2008 06:15 AM

"Bottle Shock"

Has any one else seen this? We went last night and quite enjoyed it - about the California/France blind wine tasting in 1976 in which California wines won the tasting.

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  1. I was at the NY premier last week. Interesting movie, if very factually flawed.

    Actually, this was the story from the point of view of Chateau Montelena, who produced the Chardonnay that won. Unfortunately, Jim Barrett's animosity toward Mike Grgich, the winemaker who made that winning wine, led to Grgich's name and character being stricken from the movie. and that's not the only fallacy that was perpetrated.

    Gorgeous scenery, however, and good movie.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ChefJune

      As for Grgich... Success is the best revenge!!! And he has done very well.

      1. re: ChefJune

        Grigich didn't want to be in the film. “The main reason that he’s not part of the movie’s main theme is that he said ‘I’m not interested in being part of the film,” said the producer of the movie Brenda Lhormer.

        ““Marc Lhormer said the original script, written by Los Angeles attorney Ross Schwartz, did include Grgich as a major character. But after ‘Mike said he didn’t like it’ and the script was criticized for having too many characters, the decision was made to rewrite it, reduce Grgich’s role, eliminate mention of Winiarski and focus on ‘the drama of Jim Barrett as a lawyer struggling against the odds to realize a dream of making a go of owning a winery.’”

        Grgich was written out of future drafts of the screenplay, as was Lee Pesiach, the manager of Chateau Montelena, who was the real guy with the Cheval Blanc, and that bit was reassigned to Gus, whose role was bigger than in real life. The relationship between the father and son was invented, as was the blond intern, as was the smarmy American friend of Spurrier, Maurice. The role of the hippie was written out, so Bo became the hippie in the next version of the screenplay. George Taber, the Time magazine reporter, was a young guy in 1976 and in the movie he’s old. Same more or less with Spurrier. Spurrier’s business was successful. In the movie, it’s not. The real idea for the Paris Tasting came from Patricia Gallagher, who collected the samples.

        The scenery is almost all Sonoma. The grapes in the winning wine were mostly from Sonoma. The movie leaves out the entire story of the red wine from Napa that also won that year — Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet. The tasting had significance because both the winning white wine and the red wine were from California.

        The screenplay went through a lot of drafts. Lannette Pabon had the original idea, her husband Ross Schwartz wrote it in 2004, 2 years before the book “Judgment of Paris.” The director, Randall Miller, also was credited as a writer, along with his wife Jody Savin. Brenda Lhorner and Marc Lhormer, who live in Sonoma, were producers.

        Interview with the writer of the screenplay

        1. re: justalittlemoreplease

          And the producer's response to the St Helena Star article is revealing as well:
          <<brenda lhormer wrote on Aug 29, 2008 12:47 PM:
          " My name is Brenda Lhormer and my husband and I are the producers of Bottle Shock. I do not understand why you didn't contact us at all. If you had, I could have explained why we chose the filming locations (permitting and union issues; spacial constraints for equipment; our DP's visual requirements, etc); why we chose not to focus on Mike Grgich (who deserves his own movie to be sure); and why we made the creative choices we did. We did not write the script. Ross Schwartz's script was rewritten by Jody Savin and Randall Miller. We live here in Sonoma and adore Napa. We chose to tell a story inspired by a historic event that put Napa Valley on the map and changed the way the world looked at California wines. The movie is a love letter to Napa Valley! It was our intention to make this movie to build a bridge between our valleys. It is irresponsible for this journalist to not even contact us, and make factual errors, as well as unfair accusations in his article. I have been traveling with the film and audiences around the country are saying how they didn't know about the Judgment of Paris competition and how amazingly gorgeous Napa Valley is. They have fun the movie. They see it, want to come here and buy our wines. That is all that matters. Again, if you would have called us, we could have explained why we made the choices we did to make the movie more dramatically appealing to the masses, not just to those who live here and are in the industry. We wanted only to entertain and inspire people who see our film. Brenda Lhormer >>

      2. I thought Grgich was the winemaker who actually created the wine. It was a Hollywoodization of something significant that happened between the U.S. and France and vaulted U.S. wines into international prominence. The story, though parts of it were true, was kinda sappy and the acting was OK. The photography of Napa was beautiful. It didn't have the humor, or the acting, of Sidewise. IF ANYONE KNOWS THE NAME OF THE WINE PRODUCED BY THE REAL GUSTAVO, I'd love to try it if it isn't too expensive. My wife and son and I visited Chateau Montelena that year, when all the publicity broke, but we couldn't get a bottle of the wine that won and had to settle for a later year. It was, as I remember, very wonderfully dry and set a standard for us. We had been drinking stuff like Growers Zinfandel. Now I've heard from some knowledgable friends that Chateau Montelena is somewhat haughty in its approach to visitors, but that may be a rumor. Certainly their prices are high.

        2 Replies
        1. re: EclecticEater

          <I thought Grgich was the winemaker who actually created the wine. > He was! and you can still get a reasonable facsimile at Grgich Hills.

          I understand he plays a large part in the second movie coming out later this year, "Judgment of Paris," which sticks to the story as told by Taber much more closely.

          Gustavo's winery is Gustavo Thrace. Here's a link:

        2. I found it fun if very light and factually ridiculous. Alan Rickman's performance makes the film. The rest is mostly generic Hollywood nonsense, most of the plot could as easily been about painters or musicians or athletes.

          Gustavo Brambila started his winemaking career at Monthelena in 1976, so couldn't have done most of the things his namesake character does in the film—though Mike Grgich could have.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Granted, much of the screenplay is invented, but Gustavo Brambila grew up in the winemaking business and has known Grgich almost his whole life. Brambila's dad worked for Grgich at Beaulieu, and even as a kid Brambila did odd jobs for Grgich. Grgich knew him well by the time Brambila went to UC-Davis wine school, and my guess is that he worked for Grgich at Montelena informally during his Davis school years before he was formally hired by Grgich after graduating in 1976. He was the first Mexican-American graduate of UC-Davis.

          2. The movie is mostly about the relationship between Jim and Bo Barrett (which, I hear, continues to be somewhat contentious to this day) and how their Chardonnay made it to the Paris tasting. The Spurrier character and the Paris tasting are major highlights but not the focus of the movie. Mike Grgich's absence is regrettable but few viewers will be aware of his role. There is another movie coming out later this year that focuses more on the tasting itself.

            I enjoyed it and think it will do well at the box office. Rëminded me a bit of A Good Year (with Russell Crowe). The scenic views are outstanding and it does convey am 'artisanal' perspective of California winemaking (which I think is still essentially true today). Whether it does for Chardonnay what Sideways did for Pinot Noir remains to be seen.

            What's really ironic is that Montelena was sold to Chateau Cos d’Estournel

            43 Replies
            1. re: Midlife

              "The Judgment of Paris" won't be coming out this year, it hasn't started production yet.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I had read that it was in production and coming out later this year or early next year. Wikipedia lists it as in production but that could be any phase I guess. As someone ITB, they can't make enough wine movies fast enough for me.

                1. re: Midlife

                  Some stories from about a year ago said it was coming out this year but at that time the script wasn't done. IMDB lists it as in development.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Robert Kamen, who wrote the screenplay, is looking for "financing," according to the August 8, 2008, Ventura County Star. Since another movie about the Paris tasting has already been made, it's not at all a certainty that the more factual "Judgment of Paris" movie will be made.

                    Info source:

              2. re: Midlife

                < Mike Grgich's absence is regrettable but few viewers will be aware of his role. >

                All the more regrettable, imho since without him they wouldn't have had that wine! Kinda hard to dismiss the winemaker in the telling of the tale, but they did a great job of that!

                1. re: ChefJune

                  I wonder the extent of his role. I'm not sure. Montelena told me (long before any movie was ever in the works) that he left the winery before the wine was ever bottled or released. So the winery grew the grapes, and perhaps Grgich decided when to pick and oversaw fermentation, but may not have even participated in the final blend, or made a decision about the release. In any case, he was not the winemaker when the wine made it to Paris. I should check Taber's book to hear his perspective.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    According to Taber's "Judgment of Paris," the 1973 chardonnay was blended (by Grgich) and bottled in December 1974 and released in September 1975, and Grgich didn't decide to leave Montelena until after the Paris tasting put him in a position to start his own place.

                    According to the book, Jim Barrett visited the winery only occasionally, since unlike the character in the movie he was still working as a lawyer.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Thanks for that.

                      That's a different answer than what Chateau Montelena itself said to me when I posed the question directly a number of years ago. They said that Grgich had left CM quite a while before the Paris tasting, and that he was definitely not the winemaker at Chateau Montelena at the time of the Paris tasting. In any case, Jim had been the "executive" winemaker all along.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        The Grgich Estate site would seem to echo the timing and definitely says he made the wine: "Mike's most celebrated achievement came in 1976 when a Chardonnay he crafted for Chateau Montelena beat the very best wines in France in a now famous blind tasting in Paris.......In 1972, Mike joined Chateau Montelena as winemaker and limited partner. Four years later the success of his Chardonnay at the Paris tasting led to fulfilling his life long dream of owning his own winery. In 1977, joining forces with Austin Hills of the Hills Bros. Coffee family, Mike created Grgich Hills Cellar, located in Rutherford, the heart of the Napa Valley."

                        I guess Taber is the detailed source of exactly when Grgich actually left Montelena. The above suggests he was still there in '76 but doesn't state that specifically. "Crafted" SHOULD include seeing the wine through to release..... wouldn't you think?? Whether he was employed at Montelena on the date of the tasting would be irrelevant.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          Grgich was still there at the time of the tasting:

                          "Miljenko Mike Grgich, the winemaker at Chateau Montelena, said he made 1,800 cases of the 1973 chardonnay; all of which has been sold." --"California Labels Outdo French in Blind Test," the New York Times, June 9, 1976


                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Thanks for that link, Robert. The New York Times text is a bit vague -- it describes the case numbers and fermentation but doesn't necessarily confirm that Grgich was still at CM at the time of the Paris Tasting.

                            I loved this line of copy:
                            "The 1973 Montelena is available for $6.60 a bottle in a few stores in the New York area..."

                          2. re: Midlife

                            Obviously, there's been some bad blood between Montelena and Grgich. It appears Chateau Montelena wishes to discount Grgich's participation for some reason, and Grgich wishes to play up his contribution. Of course, the big question is, "Why?"

                            Certainly Grgich wishes to be given credit for making the wine, but as in most cases of a wine receiving an award, it is "the winery" who makes the wine, and not the winemaker. Understandable when you consider that most wine is made in the vineyard, and that fermentation/vinification is a small part of the process. And that the winery may not wish to give credit to a winemaker who has left the winery.

                            The timing issue is an interesting one, and I know for certain what I have heard firsthand from Montelena -- that Grgich definitely was not the winemaker at Chateau Montelena at the time of Paris Tasting, and that he had left to form his own winery (though it may have been in the planning stages) by 1976 when the the Paris Tasting happened.

                            I live here in Napa Valley, and the Paris Tasting has been widely discussed through the years -- long before any movie or Taber book, and I have chatted up some of the players (and those who knew them) as I've crossed paths with them, including Grgich, the Barretts and Winiarksi.

                            From those conversations, one thing written here does ring false, and that's the idea that the Paris Tasting "win" gave Grgich additional kudos to form a new winery. The new winery (Grgich Hills) was already in the works by the time of the Paris Tasting. Grgich already had a very good reputation as a winemaker for Beaulieu (for a short time with Tchelistcheff), Mondavi and Chateau Souverain, among others, before he ever made wine for Montelena, so he didn't need any win to form a new winery with Austin Hills, though that win certainly helped. Grgich has been involved in some rather unsavory lawsuits over the years -- notwithstanding his winemaking talent -- so the man has definitely created some widespread bad feelings in the valley.

                            As I'm able in the next few weeks, I'll make some phone calls to a few "old-timers" around the valley in an attempt to glean the inside story.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              The New York Times called Chateau Montelena after the 1976 tasting and interviewed the winemaker, Mike Grgich.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                When the NYT interviewed Grgich in 1976 about the Paris Tasting wines, he may not still have been the CM winemaker. Grgich could certainly still speak with some knowledge about the wines he made for his (former) winery.

                                In any case, I'll try to tease out the truth, Robert. However, the conventional wisdom in the valley is that Grgich had left CM by the time of the Paris Tasting, which is the story I've heard all along here in the valley, in spite of what Taber says.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  Grgich left in 1977, when his five-year contract was up, and his successor was Jerry Luper.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Jerry Luper made wine at Montelena long before Grgich left. He was part of the winemaking team, along with Grgich, that made the 1973 chardonnay that won the Paris Tasting. Luper was the winemaker for many of Montelena's red wines beginning in 1974, if not earlier. He was the head winemaker in practice for some time before Barrett formally made the announcement in 1977.

                                    BTW, Luper didn't get any credit in the movie "Bottle Shock" either, and he was a brilliant winemaker. Grgich forged a deal with Hills in 1976 and had been looking for a new position ever since he and Barrett had had a major falling out. Chateau Montelena itself has said that Grgich was no longer at the winery when its 1973 wine won the May, 1976, Paris Tasting.

                                    The interesting question is, what made Jim Barrett so mad at Grgich?

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      In the early 1970s, Jerry Luper was winemaker at Freemark Abbey, where he (with help from co-owner Brad Webb) made the 1972 chardonnay that came in sixth in the Paris tasting.

                                      Luper quit in 1976 and spent a year in France, where he did one vintage for Allan Hirsh. He took over as winemaker at Montelena in 1977.

                                      Grgich made his deal with Austin Hills at the end of 1976.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Check again. Luper has talked several times about making the '73 Chardonnay at Montelena (he considered the Paris win a bit of a burden), and he wrote the winemaker notes for the Montelena red wines beginning in 1974. He *also* made wine at Freemark, and did one harvest in Europe. Grgich was (bounced) out of CM sometime soon after the 1975 harvest, probably early 1976 and was scouting around for offers. He entertained several, and danced with the idea of doing business with Hills for months before the deal was inked in late 1976.

                                        Taber's book is good, but it's incomplete in terms of details. Some of the other Napa history books fill in the blanks on the people and timing.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          Luper didn't write any notes for wines released before 1977. The 1974 zinfandel was bottled after the Paris tasting and released in 1977.

                                          The facts in Taber's book are consistent with everything else I can find in print about the wines and people involved. I find no support for the claims that Grgich was not still winemaker at Montelena at the time of the tasting, or that Luper worked there prior to 1977.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            There are several interviews with Luper around in which he talks about the '73 Chardonnay he made with Grgich at Montelena.

                                            You may not have been able to find that information, but the information exists and is accessible online.

                                            You may also wish to check with those in the winemaking industry (Luper is in Portugal now, I believe). You could also check with Chateau Montelena itself and ask your questions directly to them (as I have done), or delve into some of the Napa wine history books.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Here’s a reference for you, though I’ve read several times that Luper made wine at Chateau Montelena before he was officially declared winemaker in 1977.

                                              This is from "The Wines of the Napa Valley," by Larry Walker. Walker is writing about Bouchaine [Winery], when he says that:

                                              “…in 1982, Jerry Luper was hired away from Chateau Montelena as the winemaker. (Luper was part of the winemaking team of Montelena’s Chardonnay that swept the boards at the 1976 Paris tasting.)”

                                              And a link for the same passage:


                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                Sloppy mistake. Luper was the winemaker who made the Freemark Abbey wines in the Paris competition.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    Luper was indeed hired away from Montelena in 1982, but Walker is confused about his role in the Paris tasting.

                                                    Luper was the winemaker at Freemark Abbey from 1969 to 1976, where he made two of the wines in the Paris tasting, which is probably what confused Larry Walker. Luper then quit, spent a year in France, took over from Grgich at Montelena in 1977, and moved to Bouchaine in 1982.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      You're implying that a winemaker makes wine for only one winery at a time. Not true at all.

                                                      Winemakers often make wine for 2 or more wineries at a time. This is normal, and what Luper did, and easily explains any confusion about the "formal" dates of hiring and departure you've cited above.

                                                      It's not difficult to make wine at a couple of wineries in the US, especially as a part of a team, which Luper was, and then hop on a plane to France and vinify wine there.

                                                      Moreover, a winemaker can easily work two harvests per year (both northern and southern hemispheres) and make the wines or consult on them at several wineries in each hemisphere.

                                                      The dates of "formal" hiring announcements and official tenures don't reflect most of the working arrangements in the winery biz, or informal working arrangements or the comings and goings of personalities -- things that never make their way into a press release or onto a resume.

                                                      Just as an example: It was said earlier in the thread that Grgich "left" Montelena in 1977: Grgich had made a deal with Austin Hills and was designing their new winery in mid- to late-1976 even though Grgich Hills Cellar was "formally" started in July, 1997. Grgich also "formally" left Montelena in 1977, but had obviously left that winery earlier than his "official" departure.

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        I just wrote Larry Walker a note, and sent two emails to Jerry Luper. I'll make a few calls tomorrow or Tuesday.

                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                          <I just wrote Larry Walker a note, and sent two emails to Jerry Luper. I'll make a few calls tomorrow or Tuesday.> Why don't you ask Mike Grgich? hes still alive and well!

                                                          1. re: ChefJune

                                                            It's difficult to get a straight answer from Grgich. He'll talk with some ego about the Paris Tasting, but will not talk about what happened at Montelena. It's a sore spot with both Barrett and Grgich.

                                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                                          Shortly after the Paris tasting, Grgich informed Barrett that he'd be leaving at the end of his five-year contract, cashed out his equity, and bought 20 acres in Rutherford, but he didn't make his deal with Austin Hills until the end of 1976.

                                                          You could ask Brambila when Grgich left, though it was clearly after the Paris tasting:


                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Robert, I've read the same thing. I'm not disagreeing with the text you've paraphrased or copied. It appears that what actually happened is a little different. That's what I've been saying all along.

                                                            There was a huge argument between two forceful ego-driven personalities long ago at Montelena, one that has resulted in more than 30 years of bad feelings. So much so, that Grgich was essentially ignored in a movie about a wine that he made.

                                                            The info that you've repeatedly offered -- though you may not know it -- is a bit sanitized or cleaned-up. I realize you may think the text you're quoting is absolutely accurate, but the truth is more hidden.

                                                            Like I said, I've recently written some of the players...and I will report back, but until then, I'm not going to go back and forth with you when I can quote the same text you're quoting to me back to you -- I've read it too. It's not the whole story.

                                                            And unlike you, I've actually talked to the winery where Grgich worked and made the wine -- and directly and pointedly asked this question. I've given you that answer repeatedly.

                                                            You don't want to accept that, instead believing what's been written to allow at least one person to save face.

                                                            I've quoted to you from one history book, and you have not accepted that information either, and it comes from an established wine writer and historian who has a fine reputation. I've read other history books of the Napa Valley and I've talked to several of the major players firsthand. And I will talk to a few more shortly.

                                                            So, I will leave this for now.

                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                              What actually happened is that Jim Barrett lost his star winemaker shortly after the 1976 tasting that put his winery on the map, and has ever since been downplaying Grgich's role in making the wine.

                                                        3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          OK, I did some checking and I’m back here to report.

                                                          First, the Jerry Luper thing. Talked to man himself, and he was making wine everywhere in the early 70s, from Diamond Creek (he made wine there for 20 years), to Freemark Abbey, to Stonegate to Allan Hirsch and even Chateau Montelena. However, Jerry didn’t begin work at CM until 76, when he was fermenting red wines during harvest when one well-known Bay Area wine writer interviewed him (with whom I spoke). According to Luper himself, he did not work on the ’73 award-winning Chardonnay, as Larry Walker wrote his book. Walker, though a wine historian, was incorrect.

                                                          Gustavo Brambila began working at CM in 1974, while he was still in wine school, according to the man who hired him, the cellar master at Chateau Montelena at the time (and with whom I spoke for two hours). Brambila had known Grgich since he was a little boy, and Brambila’s father worked with Grgich at Beaulieu. Brambila and the cellar master left CM when Grgich did, and followed Grgich to the new winery. The cellar master left Grgich Hills shortly thereafter, got his own wine degree and has worked since as a winemaker in his own right.

                                                          Grgich. Grgich and Barrett didn’t get along almost from the get-go, according to the cellar master at Chateau Montelena. A little background helps explain this. Grgich certainly had a big ego, and he was given little credit for his winemaking skills in several positions before Chateau Montelena. At Christian Brothers, under Brother Timothy, Grgich got no credit when it was he who made the wines and not Brother Timothy. Working at Beaulieu under Tchelistcheff, Grgich got no credit either — all the glory went to Tchelistcheff. Then, over at Mondavi, Grgich’s boss was Michael Mondavi, and above Michael, the formidable Robert Mondavi. Grgich made a good deal of the wine at Mondavi, yet his title was Quality Control Expert. So even though Grgich had made wines for a half-dozen wineries, not once had did he have the official title of winemaker and could receive credit for his efforts.

                                                          Understandably, Grgich had this pent-up need for recognition and for glory. He'd been around big egos -- four are named in the above graf --and you could say, he had picked up some of their bad habits. At last the day comes when the official title of winemaker is offered to Grgich by Leland Peschiach and Jim Barrett at Chateau Montelena. Finally given credit for his winemaking, Grgich’s ego — which was always big — gets out of hand. Grgich claims the credit for the new CM wines without acknowledging the winery or the partners. This infuriates Jim Barrett (actually all the partners). Barrett has a huge ego also. Moreover, he’s sunk a serious amount of money into his new winery, is trying to build name recognition and is angry that Grgich isn't giving the winery and and the partners due credit. Combine that with the CM partners’ intent to become a respected winery for red wines, and not white wines, where Grgich excelled, and you have two opposite goals. There’s a clash between Grgich and Barrett (and partners) on several levels.

                                                          According to the cellar master at Chateau Montelena, the arguments between Grgich and Barnett and partners were frequent and heated pretty much from the beginning. Grgich, seeing the writing on the wall, begins looking for a new job in 1975 — well before the Paris tasting. Grgich, like Luper, made wine at several wineries at the same time, but Montelena was his main job. Grgich considers offers, but none offer him a partnership, and Grgich wants/needs that now. He begins talking to Austin Hills in 1975, but doesn’t get the deal he wants. The two keep trying to strike a deal over the next few months, and finally they do, and begin designing the new winery close to the time of the Paris Tasting. Though Grgich is still under contract at CM, he has already announced his departure and is publicly planning the new winery. Luper begins working on the red wines (perhaps the whites too though I was unable to confirm this) at CM in fall of ’76, before he is officially named winemaker in July, ’77. That month is when Grgich officially left, and the same month when Grgich and Hills broke ground on the winery they had been designing for a year. As mentioned, the cellar master and Brambila follow Grgich to the new winery.

                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                            "I tracked down the real Gustavo Brambila one recent afternoon where he was filtering wine for his GustavoThrace Winery ... His father worked for Beaulieu and Mike Grgich. It was through that connection that Grgich hired Brambila at Montelena in 1976, where he worked for only one year. He arrived three years after Grgich made the epic 1973 Chardonnay ... [Brambila] never did get the chance to taste [it] ..."


                                    2. re: maria lorraine

                                      "Understandable when you consider that most wine is made in the vineyard, and that fermentation/vinification is a small part of the process."

                                      ML - I've spoken with many winemakers who say they have to work with what they get from the harvest and others who seem to feel that they have a huge influence on the end result. I've always kindof felt that they can take away more than they can add, but I don't know that I could quantify it that simply. Does it depend on who you ask, or is it verifiable empirically??

                                      1. re: Midlife

                                        Sometimes the winemaker has an enormous effect on viticultural practices, sometimes not. It depends on the winery. However, it's often said that great wines are "grown," and the winemaker's most important job is not to get in the way.

                                        1. re: Midlife

                                          From Taber's book:

                                          "When the refractometer readings started hitting 21 degrees Brix on a consistent basis, Grgich alerted his crew at the winery to get everything ready for the arrival of the grapes. ... In late August, Grgich started to see on some vines an occasional shriveled grape that looked like a raisin. That and the refractometer readings showing an average of 23.5 degrees Brix indicated the harvest was at hand ... [Picking started] at dawn when the grapes were still cool and finished at about two o'clock because afternoon heat could damage the recently picked grapes before they were crushed."

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            That's normal sugar-testing -- every winemaker (or assistant) does that. What I loved about Grgich's chardonnay winemaking was that he didn't use malolactic fermentation.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              ml, thank you for sharing your considerable knowledge. Reading your posts throughout this thread made the movie more enjoyable for me & my dh.

                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                I was responding to your comment that "as in most cases of a wine receiving an award, it is 'the winery' who makes the wine, and not the winemaker. Understandable when you consider that most wine is made in the vineyard, and that fermentation / vinification is a small part of the process."

                                                Grgich absolutely agrees that the wine is made in the vineyard, which is why he was also largely responsible for the quality of the grapes:

                                                "... starting in the spring of 1973, Grgich regularly visited the three vineyards where the Chardonnay was being grown. Although it was not his property, he believed the old saying, 'The best fertilizer for a vineyard is the owner's footsteps.' ... All through the spring and summer he and the growers walked the vineyards inspecting the crop. ... The growers and the winemaker talked about whether they should put sulfur on the vines ... Grgich ... did not agree [with UC Davis] about that preventative approach, especially in 1973 since the grapes showed no signs of mold or mildew. He also disagreeed with the recommendation of the professors to irrigate the vineyard once a week. Early in the season, Grgich told his growers to water the vines only once--in the middle of the summer. ... while visiting a grower, Grgich usually collected between two hundred and five hundred berries ... took the berries back to the laboratory at Chateau Montelena and did more extensive studies ... By the middle of August, Grgich was visiting each vineyard every two or three days ..."

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Grgich truly believed (believes) in allowing the vineyard to make the wine. He was a master of simplicity as well as employing new technology only when he felt it contributed to the flavor of the wine or its stability for aging. Though it wasn't his forte, he developed a good wine chemistry understanding while working at Beaulieu, and he began assiduously testing field samples while at Mondavi and continued that throughout his career. Grgich worked with several people at CM to make the winning wine -- Brambila, and Luper, among them.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    Brambila had no more to do with the 1973 Montelena chardonnay than Luper did:

                                                    "After going to college on a baseball scholarship, Brambila wound up in enology grad school at the University of California at Davis, then moved on to a position at Chateau Montelena in 1976. This was, coincidentally, the same year that Montelena's Chardonnay won the famous Paris Tasting ...

                                                    "Brambila worked under head winemaker Mike Grgich, volunteering to do cellar grunt work. 'I didn't have a clue how pumps and hoses worked,' Brambila admits, 'so I took it upon myself to start at that level. I didn't want the other winery workers to think I was just a college kid with an attitude.'"


                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Please read the reference above about Luper's participation in the making of the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.

                                                      Certainly Gustavo Brambila's character in the movie is mostly invention, but his real life story is quite impressive.

                                                      Brambila had known and worked for Grgich when he was a kid, long before he went to Davis wine school. Since he'd known Grgich for so long (nearly his entire life) by the time he went to UC-Davis, my *guess* is that Brambila did some work for Grgich at Montelena during his wine-school years (odd jobs, harvest, etc.) before he graduated in 1976, when he was then formally hired by Grgich.

                                                      Grgich pretty much confirms this, often saying that he hired Brambila after graduation because he was such a hard worker, which implies some work history together.

                                                      But I'm not at all sure Brambila had any sensory impact on the 1973 Chardonnay, even though he was known to have an excellent palate while still a student at UC-Davis. Instead, he may have collected lab or barrel samples, racked wines, bottled, or performed any of the myriad tasks needed at a winery. But he is part of the Montelena winemaking team that Barrett wished to acknowledge! And, of course, Brambila has gone on to be a great success in his own right.

                                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                                  ML -- "What I loved about Grgich's chardonnay winemaking was that he didn't use malolactic fermentation."

                                                  This wasn't Grgich's idea -- he learned it from Michael Mondavi, when he worked for Robert Mondavi winery. He got little credit for the wines he made there.

                                2. My wife and I loved this movie. She dragged me the other night, and I was pleasantly delighted. Some wonderful acting, expecially from Alan Rickman. Freddy Rodriguez and Chrs Pine both do a great job, as does Bill Pullman in an unusual role for him. I thought it was really funny, and charming, and had a really good energy about it. It's too bad the movie had to loose the guy who actually made the wine, but unfortunately, sometimes characters get combined and things get changed for the sake of drama but I thought the movie was really delightful. Great date movie - my wife and I finished off the evening with a bottle of wine. = }

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: crow57

                                    We knew not to expect much so had a fun time seeing it. The theater was packed on a Sunday afternoon -- very unusual, but maybe since we're in the San Francisco Bay Area there is a big interest here for the film. Yes, it's very Hollywood and many things are changed/made up for dramatic purposes. And some of it is clumsily written, but the scenery is gorgeous. Agree that Rickman and Rodriguez are the standouts. And, yes, couldn't resist going out to Cafe Brioche (a French restaurant in Palo Alto) afterwards, though we indulged in a bottle of M. Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone instead of anything from Napa Valley. :-)