"Sideways," released in 2004, is arguably the most influential wine-themed film in American history. It grossed $250 million, damaged Merlot’s reputation with a single line, and people are still debating whether the film alone caused Pinot Noir sales to spike, or was merely a factor in the variety’s astonishing success.
The film, directed by Alexander Payne, was based on a novel by the same name written by Rex Pickett, and his latest literary endeavor is the sequel, Vertical. The self-published novel will be available on Amazon.com in November. In his first interview about Vertical, Pickett talks to WE about the possibility of a follow-up movie and his tumultuous experiences post-Sideways success.
Wine Enthusiast: Why did you write a sequel to Sideways?
Rex Pickett: My agent didn’t want me to. I think he thought I needed to broaden my scope, so I wouldn’t be considered a one-trick pony. But everywhere I went, when people found out I wrote Sideways, they’d say, "When’s the sequel coming out? I want to see Jack and Miles again." So I called my agent and told him I really want to write the sequel.
WE: Why did you name it Vertical and what does it mean?
RP: I had trouble with the title, so I started polling people. At a wine shop I go to, this guy said, ‘How about Vertical?’ I wrapped my head around it and found it has multiple connotations. I like one-word titles. And Miles really does get vertical in the end. You’ll find out what it means.
WE: What can you tell us about the plot?
RP: It starts seven years later. Miles is a successful author and a successful movie has been made of his novel, just like with me. Jack is now divorced and on the skids, can’t get work, drinks too much. Miles’ mother has had a stroke and she wants to be with her sister, in Wisconsin. Miles gets offered to be the master of ceremonies at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, in Oregon, as I was. So he hatches up this hare-brained scheme where he leases a handicapped-equipped van and hires a pot-smoking Filipina caretaker and, with his mom’s Yorkie terrier, they all take off with Jack to Willamette Valley, on their way to Wisconsin.
WE: Do they go to California?
RP: Yes, they stop at Santa Ynez Valley for a night and they stay at the Buellton Marriott, and go to the Hitching Post Restaurant. Miles is a success, just like I was, and so he’s swarmed. He goes to Justin Winery, in Paso Robles, for an event and then they go through Napa and Sonoma. They have lunch at Domaine Chandon, and then Miles and Jack go to Gary Farrell’s winery, where they get pretty looped, and something happens with the dog. Then they park their butts for three days in Willamette Valley and do the whole IPNC thing, the winery tours, the salmon bake. After that, they start dropping off, one by one. It ends very emotionally, with Miles and his mom heading to Wisconsin.
WE: Will there be a Vertical movie?
RP:Fox Searchlight, which made Sideways, is reading it, as is Sideways producer, Michael London, and so is the director, Alexander Payne. Fox owns the film rights, so they can greenlight it. They’re all basically waiting on Alexander Payne. [ED: Pickett’s partner, Tim Moore says the likelihood of a Vertical movie “is apparently very good. Fox needs a hit. Sideways was a smash and we trust that Alexander Payne is very enthusiastic about Vertical.
WE: That famous line about Merlot—what was the genesis of that?
RP: What’s happening in that scene for me is that it’s not that Miles disdains Merlot; it’s that he’s just really unhappy that Jack is going down this road of wanting to have an affair because he feels like he’s going to get blamed for it. So he’s saying anything to be obnoxious: "I’m going to blow this dinner, I’m going to do whatever." It was just one line and it gets a big laugh when you see it with a big audience. But I had no idea it would have such an impact because to me, it was just Miles being a bit of a snob at that very moment.
WE: What happens when Vertical comes out?
RP: There will be a tour: we go to Paso, take a breather, then to Domaine Carneros and Gary Farrell, then it’s Willamette. And that’s just the beginning.
WE: How did Sideways change your life?
RP: The film was so loved and so personal that I became a celebrity. I can go to a wine bar and when they ask me what I do and I say I’m a writer and I mumble that I wrote, "A little thing called Sideways," I turn ten years younger! It’s better than Botox! I’m not joking.
Read more about Vertical here.