Ross Schwartz, age 58, grew up in Hollywood—his father, Sherwood Schwartz, created the television shows Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. After a successful career as an entertainment lawyer, Schwartz decided to try his hand at scriptwriting for the big screen. A story suggestion from his wife turned into the first draft of the script for Bottle Shock, a feature film about 1976's "Judgment of Paris" tasting that stars Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman. The film debuts in theaters in August. Schwartz recently talked with Wine Spectator about finding drama in a wine tasting and Napa's wild roots.
Wine Spectator: How did you become interested in wine?
Ross Schwartz: I went to school in Berkeley in the '60s. When other people would go off to riot, I would do my fair share of that, but I would also go up to Napa. I would knock on doors and say, "I heard you make wine," and they'd invite me in and cook me lunch and pour me wine. My wife and I still drink wine every day. We have verticals of Shafer Hillside Select and Araujo going back to 1993. I bought heavy in the 2000 Bordeaux, [but] not the first-growths—those are a little pricey. I Love Lynch-Bages. Mostly I'm [into] Left Bank wines—I prefer Cabernet-based Bordeaux. From when we went to Budapest [to research a script], we have cases of Tokaji, which was a whole new discovery for me. I drink a lot of California [wine], some Pinots, but Paso Robles tends to be too big for me. You can find really interesting wines, somewhat subtle, in the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria regions.
WS: What was the inspiration for the script, and how did you research the story?
RS: My wife took a wine history course at UCLA in 2001 or 2002. I had just finished my last script and she said, "You know what you should do? The Judgment of Paris." It's a great underdog story and one that people should know, [although] a bunch of people sitting around and spitting wine is not dramatic. I met with Mike Grgich [of Grgich Hills], Jim and Bo Barrett [of Chateau Montelena] and Warren Winiarski [formerly of Stag's Leap]. I didn't even know if there was a story. I thought I was going to make it a murder mystery at the time. About 45 minutes into the interview, Jim told me the story of the Chardonnay turning brown. I thought, "Oh, there's the drama, I don't have to do a murder mystery." I finished the script and had it certified in 2004.
WS: How historically accurate is the movie?
RS: It's not a documentary. It's a movie, and it has to be dramatic, so you add things, but what you try to add are within the realm of what went on, and it might have gone on then, or it might have gone on later, but it did go on. Things are embellished a little. There were certain things that I thought were essential: that people would know who won the tasting, and that they would want to go and buy a good bottle of wine afterward.
WS: Have people who have read the script or seen the film compared it to Sideways?
RS: Shortly after I finished my script in 2004, I went to a tasting down at Hollywood and Highland, where I live, and Hitching Post was pouring wine at a jazz festival down there. I know those guys from traveling in the Central Coast region. They told me that there was a little indie film that had just finished filming at their place, called Sideways, and I said, "Oh, I just finished writing a film about wine." They said, "Don't worry about it, it's just a little indie, it won't do anything."
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