An all-star cast was assembled for this past weekend’s World of Pinot Noir seminar “Hollywood and the Vine” which examined the role of wine, specifically Pinot Noir, in both films and popular culture. Celebrating the 10th year anniversary of the iconic wine film Sideways, the seminar took an expansive view of the last ten years of wine-film history, gathering wine greats and Santa Barbara legends Frank Ostini (famed winemaker and chef and of Hitching Post II) and Chris Burroughs (“Chris from Sanford”) of Sideways fame alongside representatives of the new wine-epic, Somm, Master Sommelier Brian McClintic (Les Marchands Wine Bar and Merchants) and DLynn Proctor (Penfolds Winery Ambassador) to explore just how important wine is in popular culture.
The seminar began with an introduction of the films followed by discussion on how each affected both the panelists as individuals as well as the impact on the world of wine as a whole.
Sideways, a film about the fictional journey of two friends throughout Santa Ynez wine country, was a revolutionary film for the wine industry and put Santa Barbara County on the map as a premier wine destination.
How impactful was the film on the world of wine? After one expressive comment from the lead character Miles about not wanting any “F@*!ing Merlot,” wine sales for Merlot plummeted and Pinot Noir sales rose a whopping 16% within the first three months of the film’s release, and continue to rise even today, a result known as the “Sideways Effect.”
The film also resulted in a surge in tourism for the Santa Ynez Valley, an effect not always welcomed by the small town residents. When asked what impact the film Sideways had on the community of Santa Ynez, Ostini saw only positive, however, stating that the film crew “taught us to be proud of who we were and what we were…they showed us the beauty of our valley.”
The 2013 breakout documentary film Somm, on the other hand, follows a select group of master tasters who have been chosen to take what may perhaps be the hardest test around, the Court of Masters’ level 4 Master Sommelier exam. Whether “riding the wave” or initiating the change, the film portrays the rising trend of sommeliers as the new rock stars of the food and beverage industry. Including sommelier legends such as Fred Dame and Rajat Parr, the film follows not just the grueling prep work undertaken to prepare for the exam but also explores the personality types required for such an undertaking.
One of the main stars of the film and award winning sommelier DLynn Proctor humbly addressed this rising phenomenon of the “rock-star somm” stating that “at the end of the day, we’re servers. We serve you, and want you to come back again.”
Proctor then led a brief, yet thorough, introduction on how to taste wines using the notorious Court of Masters tasting grid. Following the mini-tasting-lesson, the four wine legends were then pitted against each other for a winner-take-all blind tasting of five wines.
First up to bat was Proctor who tackled the 2011 Jack Creek Pinot Noir from Templeton, CA. Nailing it to a tee, Proctor demonstrated just how effective the Court of Masters deductive method of tasting really is. McClintic took on the second wine which was a Pinot Noir from Penfolds, followed by Ostini tackling the ringer, a Santa Barbara Riesling from Tatomer. Burroughs assessed Ken Brown’s Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the final wine, tasted by McClintic was a delightful 2002 Highliner Hitching Post, the wine obsession of the lead character Miles in Sideways, brought from Ostini’s own cellar. A final wine was then poured for the audience to blindly taste, which ended up being a Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes region of New York. Let’s just say, no one in the audience nailed that one.
Addressing some of the difficulties many have with tasting evaluations, McClintic gave a great analogy for understanding how to evaluate tannins and acid, comparing a tannic wine to a cup of tea in which the bag was left in too long. Acid, then would be the addition of a lemon to same cup of tea.
McClintic further explained the trouble many modern wine drinkers have in understanding “sweetness” in a wine. While patrons may request “sweet wines,” most are instead looking for wines that have elements affecting perceptions of sweetness, such as oak, ripeness of fruit, and alcohol level, rather than a wine with high levels of residual sugar. McClintic explained that the challenge of a somm is to decipher what the customer truly wants when ordering a wine.
So who won the faceoff? Well that’s easy, we did. And our prize? The privilege of being able to taste some of the great pinot noirs in the presence of some of today’s wine industry’s biggest stars.
For future events and seminars by World of Pinot, check out their website
For those interested in learning more about Santa Barbara wine country, consider attending this year’s Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend, a festival held April 10th-13th, featuring seminars, winemaker dinners and a grand tasting with over 100 Santa Barbara wineries. Tickets can be purchased here