It’s been over a dozen years since the movie Sideways hauled in five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, leading up to the 2005 Academy Awards. The film about fear and loathing in Southern California wine country only walked away with one award – the slightly less coveted Best Adapted Screenplay – but the impact it had on the wine industry might actually be its biggest legacy.
For those unfamiliar with the flick – cough, millennials, cough – Sideways follows a trip through the Santa Barbara wine region by two buddies, a handsome soon-to-be-married actor Jack Cole, played by Thomas Haden Church, and a down-on-his-luck divorcee Miles Raymond, remarkably performed by Paul Giamatti. Two of Giamatti’s most memorable scenes are, one, a passionate explanation of his love of Pinot Noir, and two, screaming the line “I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!”
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As NPR recently pointed out, to this day, Pinot Noir has exploded in California while Merlot has had to fight to regain its image. “Pinot Noir production in California has increased roughly 170 percent since Sideways was released,” wine industry analyst Gabriel Froymovich told NPR. Astonishingly, California wine grape production in general is only up about 7 to 8 percent over that same period. Meanwhile, in the three years after Sideways came out, Merlot sales dropped about 2 percent, according to one study, which also found that Pinot Noir sales jumped 16 percent over that same period.