Dining » Vol. 36

Santa Barbara Wineries 10 years after Sideways

By Tim Korby

The great wine themed movie Sideways was filmed in California’s Santa Barbara County during a 10-week period in October/November 2003. Following the film’s release in 2004, the world became aware of the quality of wine being produced by the quiet wine region. Suddenly, the area became inundated with fans wanting to follow the Sideways Trail. Since then, things have changed for many of the wineries in Santa Barbara.

The first winery mentioned in the film is Byron Vineyards, of Santa Maria, which was owned by Ken Brown. Brown sold Byron to Robert Mondavi, who, in turn, sold it to the Jackson family, which also owns Cambria Winery, next to Byron Vineyards. Byron still produces a range of wines, including a very nice pinot noir.

The first winery that is visited in the movie is the old Sanford Tasting Room, where Miles (Paul Giamatti) gives a lesson to Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on how to taste wine and a long flowery description of the vin gris that they taste. Richard Sanford no longer owns the winery but has sold it to Terlato Wines, which has built a new wine-making facility just a short way up Santa Rosa Road. Sanford is still a leader in the production of pinot noir and chardonnay in Santa Barbara’s Santa Rita Hills.

One of the epicenters of the movie is The Hitching Post II Restaurant, which Miles frequents on his sojourns to wine country. It was here that he met Maya (Virginia Madsen), imbibed on Hitching Post’s Highliner Pinot Noir and recommended the ostrich steak to Jack. The Hitching Post has recently built a new winemaking facility right up the road in Buellton, and at that new facility, Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley makes their highly sought after pinot noir.

At the old Foxen Vineyards tasting room, Miles and Jack help themselves to a glass of pinot noir while the tasting room attendant’s back is turned. Foxen has recently built a new tasting room and wine-making facility where it continues to produce world-class pinot noir.

While having dinner at The Los Olivos Café (remember the line “I’m not drinking any f-ing merlot”?), the first of many wines consumed that night is Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc. The wines from Fiddlehead are still in high demand because they are some of the best wines produced in the county.

Later that night, Miles and Jack open a bottle of Andrew Murray Syrah, which ~ coincidently ~ is the winery behind Firestone Vineyards, where the two couples wander amongst the tanks and barrels. Andrew Murray’s syrah remains a small production, world-class wine, and Firestone’s sauvignon blanc is a great example of the white wine that can be produced in Santa Barbara. The Firestone family has since sold the winery to Robert Foley, who also owns both Lincourt and Foley vineyards, which are also in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Another scene that everyone who saw the film remembers is at Frass Canyon, where Miles tries to drink from the spit bucket after finding out that his book isn’t being published. This was actually filmed at Fess Parker Winery. Yes, that Fess Parker, who portrayed Daniel Boone and Davey Crocket. Fess is no longer with us, but his son, Eli, is still making a full array of wines, including a very good and popular chardonnay.

If you haven’t seen the movie Sideways in a while, then I suggest that you grab a bottle of Santa Barbara County pinot noir, open it up, relax on the couch and turn on the movie. We did, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Tim Korby is the director of Julio’s Liquors and the-AngelShare.com online wine store. He started in the wine industry in California in 1976 and moved to the Boston area in 2000. In addition to being a retail wine buyer, he has taught wine courses since 1984 and has regularly written newsletters, articles and blogs since 1981. Tim travels the world several times a year to find just the right wines for his customers and to learn the true romance of the wines he sells.

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