"During one of my treks through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. We were compelled to live on food and water for several days." W. C. Fields, American actor and comedian, 1880-1946, in My Little Chickadee (1940).
Did you see Sideways?
The story of two friends going on a road trip through the wineries and golf courses of Paso Robles wine country won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, two Golden Globes, and a slew of other awards. Good publicity for the wine business and the love of wine, the kind you simply could not buy if you tried. Should we be happy about it?
The plot is simple enough. Two middle-aged men go off on a stag trip the week before one of them is to be married. As expected, they face questions about themselves and their lives. The movie's success tells us the story was well-told and well-acted. The intriguing look at the wine world is what sets it apart for us.
The wine industry was not sure what to make of it at first. There was a surge in Pinot Noir sales (Jack, one of the characters, is a Pinot Noir fanatic). There seems to have also been a drop in Merlot sales (Jack derides Merlot drinkers). This seems to have been about equal from one to the next, at least as a percentage. However Pinot Noir is planted on far fewer acres of land in this country than Merlot is, and therefore we have less Pinot Noir to go around.
If that trend keeps up, we will see a shortage of Pinot Noir this year. Wineries cannot suddenly shift production from one wine to another unless they have a supply of grapes. New Pinot Noir vines would have to be planted, tended, and harvested. Either new land has to be cleared for them, or old vines have to be ripped out. That means years before Pinot Noir production can be ramped up appreciably.
That in turn means that wineries have to face long-term investment decisions. Is Pinot Noir the future? The next great red that all wineries will want to have in their list? Should they plant Pinot Noir instead of Merlot? Or will this only be a fad for a year or so? If that happens, then the winery will be faced with unsellable harvests three or four years down the road. Not easy decisions for the winemakers and vineyard masters and owners to make when peering into the misty future.
The answer depends on what happens this year. My personal guess is that the rush to Pinot Noir will be temporary. The publicity and attention the success of the movie has brought will lead to a different result.
The movie has done two things. The first effect we have with us already. People went to the movie, heard "Pinot Noir" and went out to buy some. When they dine in a restaurant, the words 'Pinot Noir" are liable to come to the fore. Since people are talking about the movie, it repeats and repeats.
The second effect is more subtle and further off. A lot of people saw the movie, a great many of whom were not particularly knowledgable about wine and wineries. I think they are intrigued. I think they are going to find they like wine and want to find out about it. This Spring and Summer and Fall, when someone is looking for something to do, I think they are going to think about the movie and go visit wineries.
There are indications that is already happening, out where the climate and weather make touring wineries a little more fun in Winter. Now it is Spring, and the first big events are unfolding, the times when people can take a day or two to see what it is like to tour a winery. I think the wineries will be busy this year, very busy.
I also think a lot of those people dropping in will be first-timers, neophytes. They won't have a lot of pretension about them, they won't think they already know about wine, and this will be the perfect time to educate them. They may show up knowing only "Pinot Noir", but they will be open to anything. I think the wine world has little to worry about beyond a flood of new customers eager to experience something new and have some fun.
In that process, they will discover the broad range of wine, the delicate tastes and the power, the seduction and the passion, the wide world of sensation that wine brings to us. They will find their own favorites as their horizons broaden: wines they never knew about, and little wineries in hidden places to bring their friends to visit.
When the wave crests, I think the wineries will be very happy not to have ripped out the Merlot and planted anew. Lots of Merlot and Cabernet and Syrah/Shiraz will still be sold. The newcomers will discover their delights and want them for their own.
I just hope they leave some for me.
Last modified: August 07, 2007