When penning his novel Sideways (St. Martin's Griffin), upon which the now-popular movie of the same name is based, author Rex Pickett drew from his own experiences touring Santa Barbara County wine country. The region is known for its great Pinot Noir--Pickett's favorite varietal. A self-taught wine lover, Pickett peppered his book with plenty of wine wisdom and even more wit, showing his appreciation for wine (and those who make it) on several levels.
Pickett credits his wine-tasting trips for lifting him out of the doldrums, proving that when life gives you sour grapes, you throw them away and go off in search of better wine.
Wine Spectator: How did you get into wine?
Rex Pickett: I started going to tastings during my divorce in the mid-'90s. I felt enophilically challenged, and I didn't like people putting me down. So I taught myself. I'm an autodidact, always have been, and I love that side of wine. There's so much to know about it.
WS: Your main character in Sideways, Miles, is a Pinot Noir fanatic. Do you share his proclivity?
RP: If someone shows up with a bottle of Pinot, they have my heart. To me, Cabernet can be great. I love Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, but there's something about Pinot. It's like chasing a beautiful woman. Sometimes she's not always like you think she's gonna be, and other times she can be so transcendent. There's just something mysterious about her, something seductive about her.
And like Miles, I'm also not a Merlot fan. Well, if someone opens a 1982 Pétrus, I'd be more than happy to share it, but most Merlot tastes the same to me.
WS: Do you also frequent Santa Barbara County?
RP: I wrote Sideways out of a really desperate point in my life. I had a pretty good run in the '80s, made a couple of films, and then I found myself in the mid-'90s and a lot of bad things were happening to me. I used to go up there on weekends to escape and play golf, and then I started visiting wineries and really got to know a lot of the winemakers. I'm in another world up there.
WS: In the book you poke fun at some of the pretentiousness associated with wine drinking. What gets your goat?
RP: I hate the snobbery part of wine. I hate it when people try to one-up each other, because so much of it has to do with how much money you have. If at a certain level, people are putting you down just because you don't have the wallet to drink better, I despise that aspect of it. Fine, if you're Bill Gates, you can brush your teeth with Romanée-Conti, but the important thing is being able to enjoy wine on whatever level you can.
To me, wine falls into the same category as film and literature and art: You can appreciate it on an aesthetic level. You want to express yourself and be articulate and eloquent, but not lord it over people. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be knowledgeable about something.
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