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When Worlds Collide
How the movie "Sideways" changed pinot noir
It was never the intent of Hollywood, I don’t think, to influence purchasing decisions for a product from which they could make no money, outside of selling tickets and ultimately DVDs.
Now, you know that Hollywood moves us to buy goods all the time. Film studios form an alliance with fast-food operations, toy manufacturers, apparel suppliers, and anything else in which they can promote the product and receive income. Simple.
Hollywood says we’ll put your product up on the screen, you pay us, and then you’ll sell more of whatever.
But, in one of the most effective motion picture publicity gimmicks of all time, the movie “Sideways” has brought the grape varietal pinot noir to the forefront of purchasing by the general public, and ultimately practically over-extended the wine.
So many wine lovers have now discovered pinot noir that old suppliers cannot keep up, and new plantings are just now coming on stream.
Yet, from a certain perspective, all is not well in pinot noir-land. Meeting demand with a supply that is not correct makes for good marketing sense, but does it make for good wine?
With the demand almost outstripping supply, we are seeing some pinot noir wines on the shelves that bear little resemblance to what the grape is supposed to be.
Remember that wine is, after all, an agricultural product and, as such, only so much can be made with the raw materials that nature allows. If you need more of such products, you have a couple of choices. First you can buy more land and plant more crop. Or you can use the “Hamburger Helper” approach to extend the available supply; in effect, a human’s ability to create more loaves and fishes for the wanting masses.
In the first case of purchasing more land, there is nothing to say that what is harvested from that land will be correct. The land may not receive enough sun, or there may not be enough moisture, or the soils may be too acidic, or something like that. And the resulting crop will not be exactly what folks want. Yet, it will be available and the wine profiles will be close enough to what is expected; heck, let’s just let it go and get more juice.
In the second scenario, creating more wine from the same amount of grapes, simply leave the grapes out in the vineyard a bit longer assuring that the longer hang-time will develop higher levels of sugars, then send the crop into the winery where extended contact between the skins and the must creates a deep, dark wine, with more alcohol, but with no elegance or subtleties. Rather than a lovely velvet caress, you get a punch in the nose.
In favor of this approach, the flavor profile desired by many American wine consumers, which is the deeper, darker, more tannic a wine is, then it must be better. When you apply that approach to pinot noir, you move away from what the grape loves to deliver.
What you now have is a pinot noir that goes well with a big steak. Not a quality associated with true pinot noir, but if you like this direction, then go with it. Drink what you like.
The power of Hollywood has not only created a demand for which there was not an immediate supply because planting vines takes time before they will make decent wine, but “Sideways” has also changed the taste profile of a grape that’s been around for centuries. That’s a lot to accomplish from just one movie that had no commercial tie-ins.
Luckily, there are still plenty of pinot noir producers who are dedicated to creating wine from this grape that are true expressions of the grape. And that is what wine is, an expression of an agricultural product.
Taste pinot noir grapes on the vine and then taste them in the wine from the bottle. Are they together in tastes and smells? Okay, now you have the wine in the correct fashion.
If a pinot noir taste like a cabernet sauvignon, then you don’t have a good representation. And if you like that, good. Enjoy.
For me, I’m in another camp. Make pinot noir taste like pinot noir. When I’m ready for something different, I’ll buy it too.
A Few Pinot Noirs for Those Who Like Pinot Noir
(without breaking the bank account)
2007 J. Lynne Pinot Noir, Russian River, California
2005 (2006 may also be on shelves now) Davis Bynum Pinot Noir, Russian River, California
2007 Parker Station Pinot Noir, California
2008 Crane Lake Pinot Noir, Napa, California
2006 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California
2007 Adelsheim Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2006 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand