Jan 23, 2022 - Economy

How the movie "Sideways" may have made pinot noir worse

Red wine being poured into a glass

Photo: Finn Winkler/picture alliance via Getty Images

Remember "Sideways," one of the best movies of the early 2000s? The story followed two middle-aged friends through a drunken tour of Santa Barbara wine country — and also had lasting affects on the California wine industry.

Why it matters: The 2004 movie affected demand for different wine varietals. Paul Giamatti's character was insistent that "I am not drinking any f--king merlot." In the years that followed, demand for California merlot softened while demand for the character's beloved pinot noir soared.

But what about supply? How did winemakers adjust their production to the shock created by an Oscar-winning movie? New research published in the Journal of Wine Economics offers a surprising answer.

The big picture: Eight co-authors from the University of California-Davis, relying on agricultural data, found that the real change post-"Sideways" was that vineyards produced more pinot noir grapes in valley areas of California that are ill-suited to growing pinot noir.

  • They posit that large winemakers wound up growing not-so-good pinot noir grapes in inhospitable land, then blended the wine produced from those grapes with the good stuff from coastal areas, thus stretching their supplies further to accommodate higher demand.

Side note: Actually, merlot is good.

The bottom line: A pop culture phenomenon that made California pinot noir more popular may have paradoxically made it worse.

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