Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The (Second) Judgment of Paris – The Real Story in the Making

September brings with it the cool nights and warm days of harvest, the process of crushing and fermenting of grapes into wine, and this year, the beginnings of a story to “set the record straight.”

This month, the second movie about the legendary Judgment of Paris begins shooting. The first movie, based loosely around the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 was Bottle Shock, released in 2008. Made in the comedy-drama format, former Times reporter George Taber and British wine authority Steven Spurrier have said that the movie was not factual, and according to Spurrier, contained “many, many pure inventions.”

Judgement of Paris
After five long years, Spurrier and Taber will get to tell the real story of the blind wine tasting, held 37 years ago in Paris, that transformed the wine industry forever.

Steven Spurrier
In 1976, Spurrier was a British wine merchant in Paris who supported and promoted French wines. He organized the Paris Wine Tasting as a means to promote these wines around the world. The “best of the best” in the French wine world were invited for a gala tasting in May at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Paris.

Winemaker Mike Grgich
In Order of Prefrence

A total of nine judges from the French wine industry took part comparing four white Burgundies against six California Chardonnays and ranking them in order of preference. When the judging was completed and the scores tallied, the top ranking white wine was a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena in California, crafted by winemaker, Mike Grgich.

Warren Winiarski
In Order of Preference

In the red wine category, four red Bordeaux’s were compared to six California Cabernets, again in a blind tasting. After the scores were collected, a 1973 Cabernet
Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap in California was found to be superior to the French wines. The wine was made by Stag’s Leap owner and winemaker, Warren Winiarski.

George Taber
French Judges
George Taber was a journalist for Time magazine in 1976 and the only reporter who attended and reported on the blind wine tasting and its astounding outcome - that U.S. wines had defeated France’s most renowned wines for both top positions!

The French refused to take the results seriously. They immediately began casting doubt on the competition, claiming that the French wines Spurrier had selected had been too young or of poor quality.

But when Taber’s story, Judgment of Paris, appeared in the June 7, 1976 edition of Time magazine, it was the turning point for California wines. This blind tasting showed that the French had acknowledged winemakers in America could make world-class wines. It was the end of the reign of French wines as superior to all others, and revolutionized the wine industry throughout the world.

1976 Judging
The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 has been duplicated all over the world. All of the judging’s held since then have ended with similar results. 

Taber's Book
In 2005, Taber wrote a book, “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine". It was published in 2006 by Scribner. Taber had  decided it was time to set the record straight.

Robert Kamen
Now, it looks like a movie, based on Taber’s account, will finally be made. Robert Kamen, a Hollywood screenwriter, wrote the screenplay. He’s also written Lethal Weapon 3, The Karate Kid 1, 2 and 3, and A Walk in the Clouds (another wine movie.) 

Tom Hiddlestone
Italian businessman Jonathan Rotella will produce the movie with backing from Steven
Spurrier, one of the original participants in the event.

Rumors abound that English-born Tom Hiddlestone may play Spurrier in the movie.

Warren Winiarski
The film will focus on Polish-born Warren Winiarski, the winemaker from Stag’s Leap, and his dream to craft award winning wines in California. When he and Steven Spurrier meet, Spurrier is striving to be a well-known Paris wine retailer. The two begin working together and both realize their dreams.

While I enjoyed the movie Bottle Shock (give me a romantic story about an underdog and wine, and I’ll toast it every time), it’s time for the full story about the competition to be told by those who were there.

Which makes you wonder - what if George Taber had not been present at the judging that day in May? How long would it have taken for the wine world to evolve to where it is today?

June 7, 1976 Cover
After all, it was this four-paragraph article in the Modern Living section of Time magazine that has helped to usher in changes, and assist in advancing the wine industry to where it is today.

No release date has been set for the movie Judgment of Paris, but if you want to celebrate with a bottle of one of the winners, when the film comes out, be prepared.

One of the few remaining bottles of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay sold at auction in 2010 for $11,325. A bottle of Stag’s Leap 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon now brings over $10,000, if you can find it.

But it would be money well spent because, not only are these bottles of historical significance; apparently, they cellar well…

~ Joy