Movies are important! What happens when you add wine.
- Mike Willison
Most wine enthusiasts read or saw the tale of soggy and fragile Miles as he wended his way through California wine country with his philandering friend Jack in "Sideways." Some people even figured out that the story isn't really about wine, but rather the journey of self-discovery of one sour guy that has found himself in a bit of a rut caused by social, personal and professional ennui, with wine country as the background. Others, too, even realized that Pinot Noir, the brittle and tenuous grape variety that Miles holds so very dear (although secretly taking the silver in favor of his gold medalist Cheval Blanc, made of mostly Cabernet Franc and Merlot), is a thinly veiled metaphor for Miles or, more specifically, the way Miles views himself: a simple thing in need of just the right amount of love, sun, water, and elemental intake to produce something of incomprehensible beauty and wonder.
I then began to wonder who else we could cast in the shroud of grape variety metaphor. To wit:
Cabernet Sauvignon (Hollywood) - The character would be some obstinate tightwad that is stuck in his ways and goes into his dotage convinced that everyone else is woefully uneducated so he treats all of humanity like shoe scrapings. As he reaches his death bed, alone, wrinkled, bitter, a prune, fetid and vainglorious he has no regrets and his last thoughts are of firing his house staff before he has to pay them any overtime. Starring Jeremy Irons, Max von Sydow or Frances Fisher
Viognier (Hollywood) - A young, charismatic Frenchman unexpectedly excels at the American game of baseball and is drawn to the stadium limelight by a showy, greedy and tanned talent scout for the LA Dodgers (Chardonnay, played by Matthew McConaughey) that has wagered his career on the young star. In order to guarantee Viognier’s success, Chardy gets him hooked on HGH and the inevitable excesses that come with fame (think Jeremy Giambi or Kenny Powers) which of course lead to his muscle-bound demise. The wistful denouement has Viognier coaching in the Carolina League for the Lynchburg Hillcats of Virginia which, quite clearly, suits him perfectly. Starring Gaspard Ulliel, James Franco or Robert Redford
Zinfandel (Canal+) - Looking for substantive meaning in his life, a wealthy Wall Street business tycoon leaves his job and his oppressive, mean-spirited and pinched-looking fiancée in search of the family and life he never knew. The film is lousy with sweeping, long, and contemplative camera shots that highlight the natural beauty and wonder of his voyage of self discovery. He visits extended family in Puglia, Italy where he falls in love with a local open-diving spear-fisherwoman that reveals to him his heart. They together travel to his family’s ancient home in Dingač, Dalmatia in Croatia where the fig trees, Zabrada Mountains and the Adriatic Sea provide a stark, open contrast to the rusting, closed-minded culture of the old bauxite miners trying to encroach on Zin's family farm (they parallel the Wall Street tycoons, of course). They will fight to preserve the family heritage, for each other, and ultimately for their souls. Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Alessandro Nivola or Colin Firth
- Carrie Kalscheuer
While I'm all for drawing comparisons between wine and one's other interests, the movie/wine metaphor falls short for me. I don't immediately think of plot lines when I think of wine, nor characters reflected in the lifecycle of the grape. Rather than regale you all with comparisons to zombie-driven, apocalyptic-themed action films or fluffy romantic comedies (which, as anyone unfortunate enough to have watched movies with me will tell you is all I watch), I'm going to speak to the Sideways phenomenon.
Sideways, and the subsequent impact that it had upon the wine world, amazes me to no end. Yes, the character of Miles may well be a metaphor for the Pinot Noir grape itself, and that might be exactly the correlation both author and director are going for, but it actually bothers me to think so. The reason is both simple (I love Pinot, despise Miles) and complicated.
The complicated bit: when someone mentions Sideways, it is almost always in the context of Pinot Noir or Merlot, as if this is solely as far as the mentioner got in his or her research on wine and that by seeing the film, said mentioner has now become expert on all things Pinot and Merlot. The first bug on this is one you've already touched upon: that wine is merely a backdrop for the bigger story. Had that been widely recognized, I dare say I may actually enjoy this film. However, not many seem to understand this. Moreover, the dialogue, while happily accurate in certain scenes (Miles explaining how to properly taste a wine), is pretentious and egregious in others.
Possibly the worst of these last two is hidden within the "phenomenon" I alluded to earlier. There was a marked increase in Pinot sales and an almost equal decrease in Merlot sales after the release of the movie. As someone who heads up the direct sales program for a Pinot Noir-producing winery, this makes me happy. But as a wine geek, this irritates me. How could one comment in a movie tank Merlot sales? Because pretention in the wine world goes a long way, even if only delivered by a character in a movie. Miles seems an expert, yet he's really not. He's an amateur taster; a writer with ample time to drive into wine country. A better tactic is to find out for yourself what you prefer to drink, ‘cause see, the joke of the whole thing is in your first paragraph – the prized bottle in Miles' collection is exactly as you describe: Merlot blended with Cabernet Franc. So much for "I will not drink a x*%@ing Merlot!"