Ten years of Pinot Noir glory – Sideways


Written by:

Joe Becerra

Last updated:

chris burrows sideways

The movie “Sideways,” which I believe to be the best wine movie ever made, is ten years old this October. It is much more about wine, but the effect it had on two wine varieties cannot be denied. It has been ten years of Pinot Noir glory since the movie focused on the greatness of a well-made Pinot Noir, especially from the Santa Barbara wine country. The movie just about destroyed Merlot because of one simple statement by the character Miles. Now here we are, ten years later, and the price of California and Oregon Pinot Noir has skyrocketed. Good Merlot is back and popular again among all types of wine drinkers.

This movie holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. First, I love wine and a good story about wine. Secondly, Janelle and I had visited the Santa Barbara wine country in October of 2004, one month before the “Sideways” movie was released to all theaters. We had already known about the movie from our son who works in the movie business in Los Angeles. We stopped in at the Sanford winery where Chris Burroughs was working the tasting room. When we asked if he knew about the movie, he perked up. “I’m in it.” The way Chris talked about it, we thought he had a huge part in the movie. He said he had to join the Actors’ union and went on and on about rehearsing his lines. As it turned out, Chris ended up having one very short line in the movie. It was a lot of fun listening to Chris and getting this photo with him.

chris burrows sideways
Janelle and Joe with Chris Burroughs in the Sanford tasting room

Another reason I loved this movie is it reminded me of guys I knew and traveled with years ago. I think every guy can relate the characters of Miles and Jack to someone they’d hung around with at some point in their lives. Finally, the movie was a great diversion for me. I saw the movie at the Stonestown Theater in San Francisco on November 10. The next morning I was to undergo a significant heart procedure to rectify an irregular heartbeat. The “Sideways” movie was just what the doctor ordered. “Sideways” was a movie for me that I remember and ponder frequently. We have are own DVD of the movie and watch it again every so often.

There are many great scenes in the movie but this one is my favorite. The character Maya speaks about wine.

“Sideways” catapulted Pinot Noir in both popularity and price as Miles repeatedly sang the praises of his favorite grape. He bashed Merlot when he told Jack before entering the Los Olivos Café, “If anybody orders Merlot, I am leaving. I am not drinking any F&#%!@?! Merlot!” The inside rumor has it that Russ Pickett, the author of the book “Sideways,” had a nasty divorce and apparently his ex-wife’s favorite wine was, you guessed it, Merlot. It was very fashionable around that time for women to say when asked what type of wine they would like, “Oh, I will have a Merlot.”

“Sideways” also brought a lot of fame and fortune to the Santa Barbara wine country. Over the last ten years, the wine country has grown dramatically in the number of wineries and tasting rooms. In 2004, the wine country town of Los Olivos had less than ten tasting rooms. Today there are twenty five. Santa Barbara is not just about Pinot Noir, but much more. Many wineries, especially those further east from the Pacific Ocean, focus on Rhone-style wines, both white and red.

We have mapped out a two-day wine route that follows the wineries that were featured in “Sideways.” Follow the adventures of Miles, Jack, Maya and Stephanie. Stop in at the famous Hitching Post and try some of their Pinot Noir. Before heading to Santa Barbara, order the movie “Sideways,” and then follow our Sideways Wine Route. It will be a treat.

Cast of important characters in Sideways

  • Miles – Paul Giamatti
  • Jack – Thomas Haden Church
  • Maya – Virginia Madsen
  • Stephanie – Sandra Oh
  • Chris Burroughs – as himself

Additional Santa Barbara wine country information

  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.