'Sideways' 10th Anniversary Celebrated at Reunion With Alexander Payne, Paul Giamatti

 Michael Cervin

When Sideways was released in 2004, those involved with the comedy had no way of knowing it would be nominated for five Oscars, including a win for adapted screenplay; rake in $72 million domestically at the box office; supercharge wine and tourism in Santa Barbara; boost Pinot Noir sales and famously malign Merlot.

On the 10th anniversary of the film, director Alexander Payne, star Paul Giamatti and other cast and crew met at the ranch of Jim Clendenen, winemaker of Au Bon Climat, whose Pinot Noir was featured in the film, to partake in a fundraiser and reunion. The $1,000-a-plate five-course meal, which raised $100,000 for Direct Relief International, was held in a tent lined with stills of the film and with appropriately spectacular views of vineyards. One hundred guests attended, including Gary Newman, who is chairman of 20th Century Fox Television and the owner of Jorian Hill Winery in Santa Ynez, and his wife, Jeanne Newman of law firm Hansen, Jacobson, which represents the creators of scripted television dramas such as CSI: Miami, Heroes and Mad Men.

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Sideways created an unexpected economic windfall for Santa Barbara when it originally hit theaters. "I had no idea this would have happened," Payne tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We were just making a movie. You never think about things like this, nor can you predict it." 

Giamatti held the same view. "I’ve never been involved with something like this," he said. "It’s gratifying to know that the film has actually had a measured economic impact on this area."

The film shot for 10 weeks in the region, and three of those days were at The Hitching Post restaurant, which saw a 30 percent increase in business after the film was released and sustained that level for three years. "Our wine sales doubled and restaurant revenue quadrupled, and we were able to get an air conditioner. Thank you, Alexander," said owner Frank Ostini, also one of the chefs for the reunion event. Even now, the restaurant is routinely packed.

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Four years after the film's release, a 2008 study showed that nearly 16 percent of the eight million visitors to Santa Barbara County said they came for the wine, including Merlot. In the film, Miles (Giamatti) vehemently proclaims he won’t drink Merlot and praises the virtues of Pinot Noir. That registered in the minds of the public: Within two years, sales of Pinot Noir increased 15 percent, while Merlot dropped about two percent in sales. The result of a line in a movie? Yes and no. Merlot had been over-planted to begin with, and there was a surplus of inadequate Merlot flooding the market.

The success of the film also spawned a Japanese language remake, Saidoweizu, literally translated as "Something called Sideways," which transported the location to Napa.

Ten years on, the residual effects of Sideways are still felt, though they have diminished. Wendy Chuck — costume designer for all of Payne’s films, including his latest, San Andreas, currently in production — seemed stunned at the reception she and the cast and crew received Saturday night. "I’m astonished for a movie to have such legs," she said. "It’s a true honor to have been involved with Sideways."

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