The new movie "Bottle Shock," which opened around the North Bay on Friday, may have movie-goers wondering: What's fact? What's fiction?

The film, which is not a documentary, is loosely based on the Paris tasting in 1976 that shocked the wine world when California bottlings out-scored French.

It focuses on the winning chardonnay in the tasting and the people behind it, Jim and Bo Barrett (played by Bill Pullman and Chris Pine, respectively), a father-and-son team from Calistoga's Chateau Montelena.

This being a Hollywood version of history, there are many embellishments. Perhaps the most far-fetched is that a Calistoga bar in the early '70s would carry a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc.

We went to one of the true-life characters for help in sorting reality from fabrication: Gustavo Brambila, who is played by Freddy Rodriguez, was assistant winemaker at Chateau Montelena during the summer of 1976.

The scenes and plot lines that follow are all in the film, but are they true-to-life or fantasy? (Answers at end.)

In the film:

1) Bo Barrett is portrayed as an unruly surfer dude who frustrated his father because he wanted Bo to be more ambitious at the winery.

2) The Barretts have a boxing ring on the winery property and Jim often boxes with his son.

3) Gustavo has a fling with the winery's college intern.

4) Bo falls for the same UC Davis intern, who's a sexy wine geek.

5) Jim Barrett both owns the winery and is its head winemaker.

6) The Chateau Montelena chardonnay turns brown for 24 hours after bottling, devastating Jim, who believes his new release is doomed.

7) Gustavo stands up to and nearly comes to blows with a truck driver, showing his bravado.

8) Jim and Bo are shown living at the winery during the summer of 1976.

9) Bo and Gustavo are portrayed as close friends, with Bo the prankster and Gustavo the serious one.

10) Gustavo is fired by Jim in 1976 for producing wine under his own label.


1) True

2) False

3) False

4) False. There was no romance, and the intern -- actually from Europe -- on whom the character is based didn't work at the winery until the early 1980s.

5) False. Mike Grgich was the winemaker who produced the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.

6) False. The wine only turned off-color post-bottling temporarily, and real-life winemaker Grgich knew exactly how to handle the situation.

7) False. The confrontation never happened.

8) False. The Barrett family lived in Southern California, and Jim, a certified pilot, frequently flew into Santa Rosa to spend time at the winery.

9) True, and they are still good friends.

10) False. Gustavo was never fired; he left the winery on good terms, and in 1996 became a vintner himself, making wine under his own label.

Peg Melnik is at 521-5310 or