Wine & Pop Culture Don’t Blend Well

For many years now popular culture has been a driving force behind the emergence of marketing and consumer trends. Whether its clothing worn by pop stars, areas of the country that seem hip because the stars have moved there, or creation of hot autos due to their appearance in a hit movie, products and trends can take on new life if pop culture just embraces them. Wine, however, has been bypassed in pop culture’s trendsetting potentialities.

Will the movie “Sideways” change that?

I don’t think so. However, there is no question that Alexander Payne’s small, introspective film set in the Santa Barbara wine country and featuring characters whose passion for wine is real and helps define their motivations, is the finest depiction of the “wine lover” ever committed to film in America.

Almost always wine has been used by filmmakers and writers as an easy way to establish a character’s snobbishness, sophistication, or social status…helping to establish wine as something that “normal people” don’t become passionate about. There have been the occasional films set in wine country, but for the most part this is just another way to define a character’s social status. “Above the Clouds,” a forgettable film starring Keannu Reeves, offered an interesting, though seriously flawed, view of life in a winemaking family. But nothing has approached the inner world of the wine lover (geek?) like Payne’s “Sideways”.

I hope this film gets a wide showing (there is Oscar talk surrounding it) for one scene alone. In it Virginia Madsen’s character offers the most personal, introspective explanation for why she loves wine. So passionate and personal is this explanation that her counterpart on screen, another wine lover who just explained why Pinot Noir eclipses Cabernet as a varietal, immediately falls in love with the Madsen character. It’s this scene, more so than the beautiful vineyard settings and the sometimes comic tasting room moments, that has the potential to draw moviegoers into wine.

“Sideways” can only help create interest in wine. But, given the history of wine’s portrayal in our popular culture, don’t count on a groundswell of new wine swillers.

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