By Christopher Calicott · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
Sideways was an okay movie. I haven't written a review on the film but suffice it to say that without any real sympathetic characters in the story there isn't much to root for. I mean, who steals from their mom? What a couple of creeps, those two... But when you're right you're right. Paul Giamatti's character echoed the sentiments of a huge number of fed-up wine drinkers when he told his "friend" Jack:
"...if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!"
He said it, indeed. It was a very memorable line at what had to have been the funniest moment in the film and lots of people have since quoted Miles' line. Where Merlove and I probably part ways is the merlot equivalent of the chicken and the egg syndrome: which came first?
From the beginning of the film, Merlove seems to be putting forward the idea that Sideways, as a film, created the perception in newbie wine drinkers' heads that merlot is bad wine and if you consider yourself a serious wine drinker, you should shun merlot (and probably drink pinot noirs.) The reality is, as is usually the case, more complicated. My personal experience with Sideways, at the time of its release, was more of a "thank you! It's not just me!" validating moment. Back then, I had personally developed a real loathing for real life scenes basically identical to the one in the movie, where a couple of random people you meet want to order "murr-lohhh," if for no other reason than the fact that they thought it sounded intelligent rolling off of their tongues, while the actual merlot wines being produced (and ordered) were uninspired at best and oftentimes undrinkable. This was the reality of the time, as Merlove actually goes on to illustrate rather well, over the course of the 100 minute-long documentary.
There are scenes in the film of lettuces being farmed in northern California and talk about the rush to replant these farms with merlot vines in terroir that is not ideal by producers that are driven by a pure profit motive, not a love for wines. This was my experience with merlot as a varietal before the film Sideways came out. And this is my one major fault with the Merlove's premise, or at least what appears to be the premise from much of the footage of wine industry people speaking about merlot in the film: most of them (but not all) put the decline in interest in merlot squarely at the feet of the film Sideways. My impression is that the reality is more akin to my personal experience at that time than what some merlot growers want to believe. It's the wonderful way our free markets work: demand spurs more production; greed causes supply to be increased - often dramatically - by people who are not market leaders, until the quality of the product leads to a shift in the tide for demand, often suddenly. There are quotes from wine industry professionals in the movie that agree with me saying that this anti-merlot sentiment was already well under way at the time of Sideways' release. The one thing that Sideways seems to have done is serve as a touchstone of sorts for people's ideas about merlot wines. Sadly, it has been all too easy for people to fall into this limiting pattern of thinking because of the quality of merlot wines produced. It is very good for wine enthusiasts, indeed, that this tide has turned with regards to merlot, and many merlot producers have had to either start taking greater care with their fruit or replanting with something else, because there is far too much mediocrity in the wine world, as a whole, and for quite some time California merlots - as far as I am concerned - were at the forefront of that mediocrity. It is good for markets to undergo these purifying cycles. Merlot is making a comeback and some of the wines being produced are absolutely awesome. Take Coho Wines Michael Black Vineyard Merlot, as an off the cuff example: it is in my personal collection. It's a really good, really interesting merlot (and will become even more so with time.) This change in attitude towards merlot has made wine producers work harder to make a better expression of their land and their merlot grapes. That's very good for wine drinkers.
With the exception of some cheesy "mer-luuuuuuhvvvv" voiceovers, Rudolf McClain has done a good job as a first time filmmaker. There are some great humorous elements in the film and the simple and fun animations work well for the movie. Merlove doesn't go out of its way to take itself too seriously and that's something that's really needed in the wine world, as a whole. I was very impressed seening McClain's enthusiam for filmmaking on Wine Library TV recently, and I love the fact that not only did he just decide to make a film, but actually completed it. Most people don't get that far. For that reason alone, he gets bonus points and respect. He gets more for helping bring balance to the wine conversation in the United States, as Apologist-in-Chief for merlot. To love Merlove, you're definitely likely to be someone who is passionate about wine. If you love wine, this film should be on your must-see list.