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Vintners See 'Sideways' Effect

"Sideways," the movie about two guys, a road trip and a whole lot of wine, appears to be sending pinot noir sales upward.

Pinot noir, the relatively obscure red wine beloved by the movie's snobby-but-sweet Miles, has been experiencing a gentle upswing in popularity for some years. But the numbers jumped sharply after "Sideways" opened last fall, according to supermarket, drug and liquor store sales data from ACNielsen.

Pinot noir sales reached 370,000 cases for the 12 weeks ending Jan. 15, an increase of nearly 16 percent from the same period a year ago, according to an ACNielsen analysis to be released Monday.

Interestingly, domestic pinot noir was driving growth whereas a year ago both foreign and domestic pinot noir sales were growing. In California, the sales spike was higher, 33 percent.

Danny Brager, vice president of ACNielsen Beverage Alcohol Team, said in a news release that it's difficult to quantify the movie's exact impact but "it looks like more than a coincidence that this varietal's sales have been stronger than ever since the movie's release."'

Vintners and wine store owners say they've definitely noticed the "Sideways" effect.

At the Wild Horse winery on California's Central Coast, the region where the movie is set, supermarket sales of pinot noir jumped 135 percent, to 480 cases, for the four weeks ending Jan. 15.

"You just don't get those kind of jumps," said George Christie, brand manager. "The Central Coast has been producing some incredible wines for quite some time. I think it's fabulous that a movie like this comes along and now people are trying the wines out."

In the movie, Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, rhapsodizes about pinot noir, a challenging grape to work with since it only grows in certain regions and demands a lot of attention on and off the vine.

The character's quite disdainful of merlot, a consumer favorite, but that wine continues to sell well, according to the ACNielsen data. Merlot was up 3 percent to more than 3.2 million cases sold for the 12 weeks ending Jan. 15 and was the leading red varietal.

"Sideways," which is up for five Academy Awards at this year's Oscars, is also being credited with boosting tourism to the Central Coast, is up for five Academy Awards.

At the San Francisco Wine Trading Company, Gary Marcaletti said it's not hard to spot a "Sideways" customer. "They come in, they talk about the movie and then they say, what's going on with the pinot noir?"

Known by its varietal name in the United States, pinot noir is the grape that goes into France's red Burgundy and has long been a favorite with Marcaletti and other wine connoisseurs.

Marcaletti says he often tells his customers they may start with the big, fruity California cabernet sauvignons and French Bordeaux, "but everybody ends up in Burgundy eventually."

By Michelle Locke

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