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The Fifth Lead Character
Running through the comedy and mixed emotions of SIDEWAYS is a constant stream of wine – red wine, white wine, cheap wine, precious wine, wine that brings friends closer, wine that's abused and of course, the wine that seals a kiss. From the glorious 1961 Cheval Blanc sitting sadly idle in Miles' cupboard to the Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc he shares and savors with Maya, to Stephanie's vaunted, untouchable Richebourg, SIDEWAYS has a "wine list” that would tantalize any wine aficionado.

The liquid backdrop of wine was part of SIDEWAYS' allure for Alexander Payne, who believes wine is something that has become quite meaningful to a lot of ordinary people, despite its one-time reputation for inviting snobbery and elitism. Payne has watched with pleasure as the culture of wine in America has evolved into something much more casual and egalitarian in recent years, becoming more about personal enjoyment and education than elite critiques.

"The American wine industry has really succeeded in democratizing wine,” says Alexander Payne. "It's something lots of people are involved with now – there's been an explosion in wine clubs, tasting clubs. It's not at all unusual for a struggling school teacher like Miles to be a wine fanatic now. It's simply a matter of going out and getting the knowledge.”

Though there are many different grapes in the world, most wine is made from a few specific selections: among them, Cabernet, a red wine famed for its rich, fruity flavors and heavy tannins; Merlot, an easy-drinking red wine that has become extremely popular in the US; Pinot, considered the premiere red wine grape and renowned for its complex, difficult-to-perfect flavors; Chardonnay, a popular fruit-forward white; Sauvignon Blanc, a lighter white wine featuring herbal flavors and considered the new alternative to Chardonnay; and Reisling, a sweeter white wine often served with dessert, though gaining in popularity as a dinner wine.

Through a happy accident of geography and weather, Santa Barbara has become one of the most sought after grape-growing regions in the U.S., with thousands of acres of award-winning vineyards. Though an amateur wine fan himself for the last decade, Payne wasn't particularly knowledgeable about Santa Barbara County's burgeoning winemakers. So he spent a considerable amount of time just touring the wine country, familiarizing himself with the bottles that would be featured in the film. "I've learned enough to know that I still don't know a whole lot,” says Payne. "But I'm also less frustrated with how much I don't know. I've come to see that knowing wine is kind of like yoga, it's something you practice but never master, you just keep chipping away at it.”

He continues: "For the film, I simply picked wine that I liked, or bottles from winemakers I liked. I didn't necessarily pick the absolute best wines – but the ones that we most enjoyed.”

At times, the production's closeness to the local winemakers led to some delicate situations. In one instance, the script calls for Maya to drink an Andrew Murray Syrah and proclaim: "I think they overdid it. Too much alcohol; overwhelms the fruit.” The problem was that production designer Jane Ann Stewart was living on Andrew Murray's property as a guest.

"We finally asked him if he minded if we use that line and, in a wonderful twist of events, he surprised us and said; ‘Sure, I completely agree with the critique.'”

The filmmakers ended up shooting at a number of local wineries including Foxen, Kalyra, Fess Parker and Sanford. Bottles featured include Sea Smoke, Fiddlehead Cellars and The Hitching Post's private wine label, Highliner.

Of course, there can be a dark side to steady wine consumption, which Miles becomes all too familiar with in SIDEWAYS – in one heartbreakingly comic sequence he is so in need of a dr


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