Wine stars in Sideways
So it was with Sideways, a new film written and directed by Alexander Payne and starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. After opening in New York, Los Angeles and major Canadian cities in October, it finally arrived here ... last week.
Why are we talking about a movie in The 30 Second Wine Advisor today? Simple enough: While Sideways is really a romantic comedy about personalities and relationships, it's as deeply steeped in wine as a well used oak barrel; and the beautifully scenic wine country of California's Central Coast plays a supporting role worthy of an Oscar nomination on its own.
I won't spoil the movie's plot by describing it in detail; let's just say that it offers an offbeat wine-country twist on the standard boys-meet-girls-and-complications-ensue story line, accompanied by enough frank talk about sex that it's really not a movie for the kids. But Sideways is much more about its characters than its simple story line, anyway. The strongest compliment I can pay is that through canny direction and acting, a couple of fairly unlikeable characters - the neurotic, twitchy little guy (Miles, played by Giamatti) and his dumb and sleazy buddy (Jack, played by Church) - crept into my emotions and suckered me into actually liking them.
But if you go, go for the wine. Giamatti's character is a true "wine geek" - not, as some general-media reviews have labeled him, a "snob," but a hobbyist (not unlike many of us, perhaps) who seems most successful in keeping his personal demons at bay when he's on the wine road, hitting the tasting rooms, talking about malolactic fermentation and uttering lines like "A little citrus, maybe some strawberry, passion fruit. And, ah, there's just, like, the faintest soupcon of, like, asparagus. And there's just a flutter of, like, a nutty Edam cheese." One of the movie's strongest scenes, for me, came when Miles and the love interest he keeps at nervous arm's length, Maya (Madsen), somehow manage to turn a wino-tech conversation about Pinot Noir and wine appreciation into romantic prose-as-poetry.
And the wine country? Ah, the wine country. The Santa Ynez Valley makes a stunning backdrop for the film, and a couple of hours spent in the theater, awash in vineyard and village scenes around Los Olivos, Solvang, Buellton and environs, made me want to leap into the back seat of Miles's little red convertible and join those guys on the wine road.
Sideways has been nominated for six Independent Spirit Awards, the art-house version of the Oscars. The awards, which honor "quirky low-budget films ... which must have a degree of independent financing," will be announced in London on Feb. 26, the day before the Oscars.
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When I featured this new Sauvignon Blanc with its curious label in Monday's edition, I mentioned that the producer's choice of the common word "NO" as the wine's name made it supremely difficult to find information about the wine on the Web.
Happily, two representatives of the company emerged from the woodwork in response to my request, and I'm happy to pass along a little more about the wine and its background today.
Hank Bremer said his company is "a small regional brokerage company," which sourced the grapes from a single vineyard owned by one of his partners in the NO project, Betty Hill Estate Vineyard, on Clear Lake in Lake County, Calif. (Lake is surely the least familiar of the four "North Coast" counties, which also include Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino.)
"The wine was made at Taft Street winery in Sonoma under the direction of the winemaker from Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek," Bremer said. "The wine will be made at Mauritson form now on."
Despite NO's slick and seemingly mass-market-style packaging, Bremer's Tennessee associate Pat Kerrigan said it's actually a smallish venture ... so far.
"The brand was created by a very small group of friends that are in the wine business at different levels. It has nothing to do with a large corporation ... it is almost a garage type operation," Kerrigan wrote. "Total production is about 2,000 cases."
Kerrigan added, "We created it because of the niche we saw for fresh, crisp, un-oaked Sauvignon Blanc in a trendy, eye catching, simple package. We also thought that the Stelvin [screw-cap] closure was the way to go to attract young wine consumers. It has been a hit in the few markets we have released it and will become a little more widely available in the next few vintages."
As for that next vintage, Bremer said, "The 2004 is looking very good and we were fortunate enough to commit before we knew it was going to be such a light harvest. Sauvignon Blanc is suddenly in high demand."
NO was launched only in September and doesn't have a Website yet, Bremer said. When the site launches, I'll pass the information along.
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Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004