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Rex Pickett’s wine-soaked novel hits the small stage in Santa Monica
If you think sipping pinot noir is cool, and still recoil at the very mention of merlot, then chances are you’ve seen the movie Sideways. On May 12, the Ruskin Group Theatre will debut the play Sideways based on Rex Pickett’s now iconic novel.
In Sideways, two Los Angeles buddies, Miles and Jack, take a road trip to explore the Santa Ynez wine country and play golf before Jack gets married. In between their misadventures, Miles holds forth on wine, praising pinot noir, dismissing cheap merlot and coveting a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc.
It’s been 8 years since the movie, and nobody— least of all Pickett —expected that Miles’ musings would continue to have so much effect on how people all over the world think about wine. The new play, which Pickett is developing along with director Amelia Mulkey, captures the original character and spirit of his novel while offering something fresh for people who loved the movie.
Pickett chatted with The Daily Sip in between tweeting (@RexPickett) about writing about wine and his new play.
The Daily Sip: So what’s it been like turning your novel Sideways into a play?
Pickett: This play has been one of the greatest artistic joys of my life.
The Daily Sip: Are Miles and Jack in Sideways the play the same guys we saw in the movie?
Pickett: Miles is an out-of-work writer waiting to hear about a novel. He’s not a school teacher. Miles is a funny guy. The play is really funny, and then it turns kind of dark. Jack in the movie is kind of a dim bulb. In the book, Jack is an actor and director. He’s got more depth and feeling.
The Daily Sip: Is it OK to start drinking merlot again?
Pickett: I had no idea that line [about merlot] was even going to make it into the movie or that the line would be uttered with such venom. When Miles says that, Jack was planning to cheat on his fiancée and Miles is trying to self-destruct the thing. The next thing you know, merlot growers are ripping out their vines like maniacs. Duckhorn and others make very fine merlot. But (in the 1990s) merlot growers had started mass farming and farming robotically. Merlot had become a $5 joke-of-a-wine and it was a loud wine. It needed a correction. Cheval Blanc is mostly cabernet franc and merlot, both grapes he disses, so it’s kind of a joke.
Daily Sip: Besides the story, what else do wine lovers who come to the play have to look forward to?
Pickett: The cool thing is … we’ll pour high-end pinot from different wineries in proper stemware every night.
Daily Sip: Was Sideways a wine movie?
Pickett: The fan base for Sideways is not just people in the wine world interestingly. There’s something about Sideways that it’s almost passed into iconic status at this point. There’s all of those people who fell in love with the film and then became wine drinkers.
Daily Sip: Why did you get so into pinot noir?
Pickett: I was intrigued by the poetry in the wine. I love that reaching for metaphor because I’m a writer. Pinot is a very different kind of grape. It’s very difficult and I think that's analogous to being an artist: the difficulty of being able to create something that’s very beautiful.
What is your favorite wine novel? Tell us below.