If there was a moment for California wine--one in which it went from being something that only came from Napa and Sonoma or was just two buck chuck--and became something relevant in pop culture, it was the release of Sideways.
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This is from a nationwide perspective, of course, as people in Orange County certainly knew of Temecula, Santa Barbara, Paso and elsewhere before Alexander Payne made a film from Rex Pickett's book, but when you consider that California growers and vinters working with Merlot took a huge hit thanks to Miles's definitive take on one of the state's most widely planted grapes--or the bubble of Pinot Noir production which grew from his poetic rhapsodies about that delicate, temperamental and thin-skinned grape--the film held serious sway over the wine-drinking filmgoers. And as whenever something people hold as a secret of their own goes mainstream, there are cries of how the popularity, the success, killed whatever made it great in the first place. Having never been to Santa Barbara wine country--or legally been able to drink wine (!)--pre Sideways, I can't comment on how the movie changed or even maybe ruined the area, I do know that, however easy it may be to hate on Frass Canyon, Fess Parker or any other of the boozetour spots to hit from the film, they did a great service to a great vineyard in promoting Fiddlehead Cellars. Specializing in just two grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, their wines are tailor-made for a Dueling Dishes showdown, which we were able to conduct on a trip to their Lompoc tasting room last weekend.
A Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc is featured in the film, and from the quick tasting notes Miles relays--that there's a hint of clove, and that the wine spent twelve months in French Oak--its easy to determine that this isn't the usual crisp, acidic white wine so often encountered. The specific wine they drink and discuss in the film in the Fiddlehead Honeysuckle, which shows a much richer iteration of the grape, thanks to that year spent in French oak, a treatment more often used for Chardonnay than the usually stainless steel tank-fermented Sauvignon Blancs. I didn't pick up any of the clove mentioned in the film, but the aroma of white flowers and a hint of honeyed sweetness upholds, natch, the wines name.
Up against the Honeysuckle was the crisp and satisfyingly acidic Gooseberry, yet another Sav Blanc, but one that again manages to largely askew the flavors of citrus and minerals, trading them for stone and tropical fruits. The flavors weren't quite as interesting relative to the flavors you come to expect from the grape as those coaxed from the Honeysuckle were, but if victory can be determined by where my dollars went, it was a bottle of the Gooseberry that came home with me.
Fiddlehead is the kind of artisanally minded winery that produces a limited amount of cases for each of its vintages, making them somewhat harder to track down than swill from more commercial vineyards. Buying bottles--or cases--straight from the producer is the best way to go with Fiddlehead and its ilk, but if you can't make it up the coast and are dying to get your hands of a bottle, a list of Orange County retailers who likely carry Honeysuckle and Gooseberry can be found here.