California Wine: Celebrating 'Sideways' at 10 Years Old


Some movies, at best, get a DVD re-release on their tenth anniversaries. "Sideways," 2004's surprise Oscar-lauded tale of a sodden Santa Ynez bachelor party romp focusing on a mismatched pair of friends, sad-sack Miles and fading-actor Jack, well, it recently scored a bunch of fine fêtes instead. For as much as the film starred Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, Thomas Haden Church, and Sandra Oh, it also starred Santa Barbara wine country. And Santa Barbara wine country likes to throw parties.

Hosted at the exquisite ranch of one of the region's grand, not-so-old men Jim Clendenen outside of Los Alamos, there was a $1,000 per plate Direct Relief International fundraiser one night, but the night before was more of a down-home celebration for an ever-growing wine region with a guest list featuring a who's who of area winemakers. (If a bomb went off, winemaking in California would have been set back several decades.) Clendenen was not only generous with his home but also with his wine, Au Bon Climat, starting with a large format bottle of 1997 "Le Bauge D'a cote" chardonnay that was a color gold that Jay Gatsby would dream of. Turns out Santa Barbara can make wines that age just fine -- which is particularly impressive for a region that hasn't been growing grapes that long -- and even the best whites, like ABC's, can develop into lovely honey.

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Helping host the party was Frank Ostini of the Hitching Post II, setting of several of "Sideways" scenes and the home to incredible red oak grilled steaks and fine pinot noir. Part of the fun was the turn back the clock portion of the wine list for the evening, all sorts of wines from the early part of this century (is it too soon to write that without seeming pretentious?). As with the ABC chard, the older reds showed beautifully. Again they were generally poured from large format bottles, even better for aging since they are less susceptible to oxidization and temperature fluctuations. For instance, that 1994 Hitching Post Bien Nacido Vineyard pinot still showed amazing fruit for its 20 years, but took on some of the finer deeper things that age brings to burgundy, more earth, more graphite.

Then again, younger winemakers didn't fail to show off, either. No recent releases showed better than Gavin Chanin's pinot noirs, both under his own name and an exquisite 2012 Lutum Durrell Vineyard pinot that is everything a Sonoma Coast wine can be, sort of a sonnet of wine -- poetic, pure, exacting in its form yet breathtaking too.

As for the food, while both Clendenen and Ostini helped out, the stars were Alabama's Jim 'n Nick's BBQ who brought a heritage breed pig to slow roast along with them. We toasted to the pig's tasty sacrifice with Ascendant Spirit's Breaker 33 bourbon, keeping things local thanks to the talented chefs from a distance.


And there's partying in Santa Barbara wine country with director-writer Alexander Payne and actor Paul Giamatti. As you can see from one picture he looks in better shape now than he did then playing the dowdy and depressed wannabe writer Myles who has to call his impossible novel The Day after Yesterday because Today is too uncomfortable. And while in the photo it looks like someone just suggested to him to drink some merlot, let's clear up that misconception of the movie - -it's not that Myles hates a grape, for after all, his precious 1961 Cheval Blanc is partially merlot. No, he's totally freaked he's about to go on a date with a woman he's idealized, and wants any way out. Divisions drawn around the lines of taste, that he knows something about.

Of course, I personally have a tender spot for a middle-aged man who realizes that a mediocre, regular life is the best he can hope for and thereby develops a cultish knowledge of wine to justify drinking so much of it. And am eternally grateful Santa Barbara has so much generous grapey goodness its willing to share.

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