Pinot Noir’s Ascent
The movie about a wine aficionado, Miles, and his friend, Jack, on a weeklong adventure through the vineyards of California’s Central Coast.
Sideways earned more than $100 million at the box office, five Oscar nominations and a win for best adapted screenplay.
He is a glass half empty kind of character whereas his friend, Jack, is a glass half full.
Miles dismisses a wine by saying, “It tastes like the back of an L.A. school bus.”
Whereas Jack says, “Tastes pretty good to me,” the perpetual optimist.
But the killer line in the movie, the one that made shock waves through the wine industry was Miles’ retort, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving, I am NOT drinking any (expletive) Merlot!”
Wine consumers mimicked actor Paul Giamatti’s anti-Merlot stance and sales of Merlot went down as it was dealt a blow to it’s public image.
“You know, it was just a joke,” said Oscar winning director Alexander Payne. ” I never would have predicted this film would hit the zeitgeist.”
“People called it the ‘Sideways effect on Merlot,'” said Steven S. Cuellar to USA Today, chair of the department of economics at Sonoma State University.
The Rise of Pinot Noir
But the real star of Sideways is Pinot Noir, which a Nielsen analysis showed hitting record levels, up 16% in the months after
Sideways and sales have continued to increase at a rate of nearly 9% in the years since.
When Maya, played by the sublime Virginia Madsen, asked Miles what is it about Pinot Noir that he loves so much?
Miles answers with honestly instead of condescension for the first time, “It’s a hard grape to grow…It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected.
Only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.
Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and . . . ancient on the planet.”
It was that description that lead men in suits in Manhattan who only drank beer and spirits to start picking up wine glasses instead of high balls.
Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon calls Pinot “sex in a glass” and one of America’s most influential winemakers, Andre Tchelistcheff declared that “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot noir.”
One of the many reasons Pinot Noir elicits such passionate fans is because it’s really hard to grow and a great bottle of Pinot Noir is rare to find.
The grape’s thin skin makes it susceptible to rot and fungus, mildew, wind, frost, soil types and even pruning techniques.
It is also known as the’heartbreak grape’ as it is the most challenging grape to grow. It’s sensitive to terroir (environment), it requires cooler, dry climates and well drained chalky soils to achieve it’s full potential.
The movie Sideways inspired a new audience to enjoy craft wines in the Burgundian style.
A wine from Burgundy might be less fruity and have more earth and mineral notes while Wines from California and the rest of the World have a riper, more fruit-centric flavor.
According to Vinepair, “France Pinot is know as Burgundy, after the region where it’s made. The wines from Burgundy have flavors of ripe red berries, sweet black cherries, mushrooms and what sommeliers call forest floor, that smell you get from freshly fallen damp leaves.”
Red Burgundies have traditionally been very expensive because of the temperamental nature of the grapes but affordable Pinot Noir can now be found in California, Oregon, Australia, Chile and New Zealand.
The broad range of bouquets that Pinot Noir can produce sometimes confuse tasters and modern winemakers are creating a more fruit-prominent, cleaner style of wine.
California and New Zealand Pinots are darker wines that can tend toward a Syrah (or even a Malbec) in depth and alcoholic content.
French monks cultivated Pinot Noir since the 1400’s until the Church owned vineyards were seized and distributed to families in Burgundy during the French revolution.
This shift resulted in independently owned and run vineyards that are still thriving today.
Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions.
California’s Central Coast
California’s Central Coast is a large American Viticultural Area that spans from Santa Barbara County in the south to the San Francisco Bay Area in the north with around 100,000 acres devoted to growing wine grapes.
Pinot Noir is one of the few reds that can be grown in cool regions and best grown near the ocean like California’s Central Coast and in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Pinot has an early break bud in spring and ripen, and for this reason has been grown widely in cool climate regions.
Paso Robles is located in California’s Central Coast and has approximately 26,000 vineyard acres planted with wine grapes.
It has similar soils to much of France and the grapes planted there fully ripen with balanced sugar and natural acidity.
The Central Coasts proximity to the ocean with it’s cool temperatures, fog and ocean breezes has the elements to grow the best Pinot Noir in the world.
Sextant Pinot Noir
Sextant Winery in Paso Robles is devoted to creating unmatchable, old world varietal wines by taking full advantage of the ideal wine grape terroir of the Central Coast region.
Grapes are grown to their optimal maturity, creating unique wines of supreme quality.
The 2014 Pinot Noir is very light and drinkable. It is highly aromatic, redolent of clove, sour cherries and fresh red fruit with bright acidity and cola.
It does opens up to become very flavorful with time so don’t give up after taking your first taste.
Sextant is an old-world navigational instrument that used the sun, stars and horizon to navigate across open water and the winemakers are devoted to expanding the horizons of the Central Coast wine region.
The Central Coast: from Wine Ghetto to Wine Mecca
The Central Coast region where Sideways was filmed continues to feel its impact.
After Sideways people from all over the world recognized the Central Coast was producing phenomenal wines.
“Sideways hit a nerve at a time when Americans were ready to take their wine drinking to another level.” said Tom Pirko, managing director of BevMark.
He compares the movie’s success to another historic wine event, the 1976 Judgment of Paris, where California wines bested bottles from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
“What we really have is an industry that found its way because of a little movie, and Pinot Noir almost is synonymous in many people’s minds with red wine,” Pirko says.
Wine is a living thing
“I like to think about the life of wine,” says the character Maya . . . “How it’s a living thing…I like how wine continues to evolve… because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks… And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline . . . And it tastes so (expletive) good.”
Serving and Storing Pinot Noir
Since the aging of wine is a chemical reaction, below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, wine hardly ages at all but increase that by 20 degrees and a wine might reach its peak in just a few months.
The reactions that take place in a bottle are complex and to keep these reactions and wine should be stored at the cooler end of the temperature range.
Serving and storing Pinot Noir at the proper temperature is a delicate balance to reveal the subtle nuances of the wine’s flavor.
Ideal Pinot storage temperature is about 55 degrees F and best served at 58F. This is cellar temperature not room temperature.