Musings by Leah Jorgensen

Vertical 1.0

Miles and Jack are back…

If you haven’t heard they’re back, then you need to get up to speed.

First, there was Sideways the novel, which, in 2004, was turned into a critically acclaimed box office hit starring Paul Giamatti as the self-loathing, failed writer, Miles, who had a deep affection for Pinot Noir, and, ironically, an abhorrence for Merlot (ironic, in that the wine he covets in the film is a Cheval-Blanc, which is a Bordeaux blend of – you’ve guessed it – Merlot).

In Sideways, Miles takes his best friend, Jack, portrayed in the film by Thomas Haden Church, on a two-man “bachelor party” road trip through California’s wine country in search of great Pinot Noir (well, at least for Miles), debauchery (especially for Jack), and a little golf and good food along the way.  All kinds of crazy happens.

The gruesome twosome are back in Rex Pickett’s much-anticipated follow-up novel, Vertical, taking Miles and Jack on another road trip adventure, this time with Miles’s mother on board, as well as her Filipina caretaker.  The novel opens at the World of Pinot Noir event in California’s Central Coast, and follows the foursome, as they visit one wine region after another, between the Central Coast and the Willamette Valley, culminating at the celebrated International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville, Oregon.

“In Vertical – as I did in Sideways – as Miles, I wrote my heart on my sleeve and hung it all out for the world to see,” said Pickett.  “I think it’s deeper than the first book, though just as funny.  It is based on my life experience which has been anything but predictable.  Readers may experience that same unpredictability in Vertical.”

The burning question that’s undoubtedly on the minds of those in the Oregon wine industry is if Vertical will do for Willamette Valley wine country what Sideways did for California Pinot Noir country.  Certainly, all Pinot Noir producers benefitted from the success of the movie.  

Following Sideways‘ U.S. release in October 2004, according to various news outlets (including the Monterey County Herald), Merlot sales dropped 2% while Pinot noir sales increased 16% in the Western United States.   A similar trend occurred in British wine outlets.  Sales of Merlot dropped after the film’s release, possibly due to Miles’ disparaging remarks about the varietal in the film.  However, sales of Merlot in the United States remain more than double those of Pinot noir, the country’s second most popular wine.

As for how the success of the film related to Santa Barbara County, the backdrop of the novel and film, there was a Sideways wine map covering Miles and Jack’s tour.  The movie obviously boosted tourism in that wine region.

I just started reading my copy of Vertical.  In addition to being a freelance writer, a blogger, and a wine industry marketing-communications consultant, I am also a winemaking student, which means my reading time has been limited to Chemistry and Wine Clarification and Stabilization text books.  I plan to read the novel in segments and blog about it as I go along.  I’m not about to do a traditional review of the book.  I’m not that kind of writer.  I’ll try to come up with some clever way to relate the story – certainly with some Willamette Valley Pinot Noir in my glass.

Stay tuned!

View video interview with author Rex Pickett.


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