American wine legend Bo Barrett thinks it’s pretty cool that a movie was made about him, his father and the Chateau Montelena winery. Guests who attended the special wine dinner at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa’s Tiki Beach location on April 17 thought it was pretty cool they got to watch a movie with the guy it was about.
Barrett and his equally famous wine-making wife, Heidi Peterson-Barrett, were the stars of this “dinner and a movie” event that featured a screening of the 2008 film, “Bottle Shock.” After a Champagne welcome reception, a gourmet four-course meal accompanied by wines was served while guests watched the fictionalised film that is based on the true story of one of the most important events in wine-industry history, the so-called “Judgment of Paris.”
In that blind wine tasting, which took place in May 1976, a panel of almost all French judges scored two California wines higher than some of France’s best red Bordeaux and white Burgundy wines. The Barretts’ 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay had the top combined score of all the white wines tasted.
When asked how much of the film was true, Barrett joked, “Well, we won the tasting.”
The down-to-earth Barrett said he was surprised when he learned someone wanted to make a movie about the Judgment of Paris tasting as it related to Chateau Montelana, of which he is currently the CEO.
“I thought it would be an eight-minute movie,” he said with a laugh, noting that making wine in California back in the 1970s was a lot of hard work and not very glamorous.
“Winemaking is agriculture,” he said. “For us, it was a labour of love. My family came from Irish immigrants and we did not have any background in winemaking.”
Comparing fact versus fiction, Barrett said his father was not the person who actually made the winning wine: Mike Grgich, a Croatian immigrant who worked at Chateau Montelana at the time, was the winemaker.
“Bottle Shock” also shows Bo, played by actor Chris Pine, boxing his father, played by Bill Pullman, in an outdoor ring when the two have disagreements, something else that is not true. “We only mentally boxed,” Bo said.
Another big difference between reality and the movie is actor Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Englishman Steve Spurrier, the man who organised the Judgment of Paris tasting, as an arrogant wine snob.
“He is nothing like that,” Barrett said, noting that he still keeps in contact with Spurrier and that the two did some events together for the 40th anniversary of the Paris tasting in 2016.
Barrett said it is true, as the movie depicts, that he was — and still is — an avid surfer, and that Pullman’s portrayal of his father, who died in 2013, was quite accurate. “He was a tough old guy.”
It is also true that American George Taber was the only journalist to attend the 1976 tasting in Paris and that his four-paragraph story in “Time” magazine was how the world found out about the results. Unlike his depiction in “Bottle Shock,” however, Taber was not a middle-aged man and actually attended the tasting the day before his 34th birthday.
Before the start of dinner and the movie, Barrett introduced his wife Heidi after talking about his winemaking journey.
“Along the way, I married up and here is my beautiful wife,” he said, referring to the fact that Heidi has, in some ways, surpassed him in winemaking fame. She has been a winemaker for several of California’s most known “cult” wineries, including Screaming Eagle, one of the most expensive wines in the world. A six-litre bottle of 1992 Screaming Eagle, made by Peterson-Barrett, sold at a wine auction in 2000 for US$500,000, a world record for a single bottle of wine.
Peterson-Barrett’s wines have received five perfect 100-point scores and noted wine critic Robert Parker has called her “The First Lady of Wine.”
In addition to consulting for numerous wineries, Peterson-Barrett is the winemaker/owner of the La Sirena winery. One of the La Sirena wines — 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon — was served at the Kimpton Seafire dinner alongside Chateau Montelena’s 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and paired with a dish called “Turf + Turf.”
“It’s meat and meat,” said Kimpton Seafire Executive Chef Massimo De Francesca. “One is a 90-day, dry-aged strip loin and the other a grass-fed strip loin, which is going to give you a good idea of the difference between the two.”
The wines also presented two distinct expressions of California Cabernet Sauvignon, primarily because of their age difference. Both were rich with concentrated dark fruit flavours, but with seven more years of bottle aging, the tannins in Peterson-Barrett’s wine were softer, giving it a more elegant feel in the mouth.
Although Chateau Montelena makes wine from only four different grapes — Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel — Peterson-Barrett makes wine from many different grapes that grow in California.
“I really have fun making wine, so I branch out,” she said.
Speaking about “Bottle Shock,” Peterson-Barrett said she has seen the film “seven or eight times,” but not recently until the Kimpton Seafire event.
“We did this sort of thing a lot when the movie first came out, but not for a while,” she said.
She agreed with the general assessment that the most important aftereffect of the Judgment of Paris tasting is that it ended the notion that only the French could make outstanding wines. While it is true that in the years after the tasting, California — and particularly Napa Valley — wines grew in prominence, it is also true that the results of that tasting emboldened winemakers in many other countries to create high-quality, fine wines for export markets. That fine wines are now available around the world from such places as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Oregon in the United States is partially due to the wine world’s change in mindset after the Judgment of Paris.
Peterson-Barrett has been to the Cayman Islands many times — she’s an avid scuba diver and particularly likes the diving in Little Cayman — but getting to watch “Bottle Shock” on a big screen set up at Tiki Beach with the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop was a unique experience for her and something she enjoyed. She said she also enjoyed staying for the first time at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and was struck by the attention to detail and how elements of Cayman Islands culture are interwoven in the design.
“Some of [the cultural details] are easy to miss, so you really have to take time to look for them.”