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Santa Barbara Businesses Praise the 'Sideways' Effect

7 Oct, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Ask just about anyone doing business in this picturesque wine country, and they’ll sing the praises of Sideways until you ask them to stop.

Well, almost everyone.

“Merlot lost a third of its market share after the film,” laughed Gabe Saglie, a wine columnist for the Santa Barbara News-Press. “While pinot [noir] has seen a 15% to 17% jump.”

While makers of merlot may still be seething at Paul Giamatti’s character Miles swearing: “I am NOT drinking any f---ing Merlot!” everyone else is still reaping the benefits of the film a decade later. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Oct. 7 released a 10th anniversary Blu-ray Disc of the film, which put Santa Barbara wine country and the businesses featured in the film on the map.

“It’s wonderful, the tremendous amount of success that poured into this area [after the film’s release],” said actress Virginia Madsen (Dune, The Number 23), following a screening of the film. “There was a while there when I couldn’t walk into a winery. It would turn into a three-hour shoot. [Sideways] changed my life.”

It changed the lives of a lot of people. Dick Doré of Foxen Winery & Vineyard said that after Sept. 11, 2001, his business suffered for years. After Sideways: “We couldn’t make enough wine.” The winery was debt free a year after the film’s release, thanks to the influx of tourists wanting to visit the winery seen in the film.

Sideways did a lot for us, and did a lot for Santa Barbara County,” said Martin Brown, winemaker with Kalyra Winery, which is featured in the film. “And thankfully we were already making a pinot!”

Matthew Negrete, GM for Los Olivos Wine Merchant Café — where Miles bashes merlot outside and drunk dials his ex-wife inside — points to the initial DVD release of Sideways as the turning point for his business. “When it came out on DVD, it was five people deep at the bar,” he marveled. “It was awesome.” The restaurant still offers a Sideways dining option: a three-course meal with a glass of wine for less than $40.

Frank Ostini, owner of The Hitching Post II (the restaurant repeatedly featured in the film) said that before Sideways, he only sold less than 4,000 cases of Hitching Post wines a year. Today that’s 22,000. “And it’s only because of Sideways,” he said.

As for the merlot dig, Madsen likes to point out that some of the complaints from vintners are unfounded if they actually pay attention to the film.

“People in Napa send me letters wanting me to make up for it,” Madsen laughed. She points out that the 1961 Château Cheval Blanc that Miles depressingly chugs in a fast food restaurant out of a paper cup is a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. “You wine snobs,” she said, smiling.

Ostini said that there was simply a lot of “crap” merlot at the time at the time, and that Sideways simply thinned the ranks. “And pinot became ascendant,” he added.

Sideways writer and director Alexander Payne (who won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film) is still shocked about the business impact the movie had for Santa Barbara County.

“It’s just a movie,” he said.

Not for the people out here, it isn’t.

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