For many wine lovers, Sideways is perhaps the most famous film ever made about wine. Based on a best-selling novel by American author Rex Pickett, it was released in 2004 and starred Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen. The movie won more than 100 awards, including an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay — and it set off an international passion for pinot noir that still shows no signs of letting up. Since the film’s release, Pickett has adapted his novel for theatre, and this month, Sideways — the play — will debut on stage. The Ruskin Group Theatre Company is presenting the show in Los Angeles, Calif. Opening night is May 18; the play is scheduled to run for 10 weeks. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to ruskingrouptheatre.com.
Pickett spent some time chatting with Wine Access executive editor Shelley Boettcher, discussing his life, love, the new play and how he got started writing Sideways.
Watch for an essay by Pickett in the August-September issue of Wine Access and check out his blog and website at rexpickett.com. His second novel, Vertical, is the follow-up to Sideways, and is on sale now.
When Sideways — the play — opens, will Pickett be on stage? “Absolutely not. I’m not an actor! I wouldn’t sleep at all if I had to do that.”
On what Pickett would drink, pre-Sideways: “I drank wine but I didn’t really know that much about what I was drinking. I was married at the time. She liked sauvignon blanc. We didn’t drink low-end stuff and I always enjoyed it, but I didn’t know what I was drinking.
Then his marriage ended. His mother had a massive stroke. And he was broke.
How he found the inspiration to write Sideways: “Really, it all started with golf. I used to be a great golfer when I was a kid, but I quit when I was 14. I got back into the game when I was older … but playing golf in L.A. is a drag unless you are rich, so I started going north.”
North of Santa Barbara, that is, to La Purisima golf course, near Lompoc. “There was nobody on it. It was paradise. I played golf by myself. I was broke but I’d go up and come back in a day. That’s about 300 miles [480 kilometres] of driving, so I’d say to myself, ‘Maybe I should just stay overnight and get a cheap motel.’ I’m a creature of habit and I’d stay at the Windmill Inn. Then I needed a place to eat. There was the Hitching Post and there was nobody there midweek. I’d go have a burger, a couple of glasses of wine and a place to stay. For $150, my life was really good. “Now you can’t even get in.”
What his ex-wife thought about Sideways: “When I sat down to write Sideways, I had really hit rock bottom. Barbara [his ex-wife] was the love of my life. We were and still are very close … but she told me I should burn my novel. She hated it.”
On being recognized as the guy who created Sideways: “Not everyone recognizes me, but when they find out who I am, it’s nuts.”
How he learned his technical wine knowledge: “There was a little wine shop near me, where, on Saturdays from 3 to 5 o’clock, they’d pour wines. I was so lonely and depressed, I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t ask a girl on a date, but for four dollars, I could go taste wine. And I live right on the border of some pretty wealthy people. They’d come down, and the guy that worked there would take out his anger about his little salary on the inventory. The people were rich and had these big cellars…. It just seemed fascinating to me, and I wanted to know more about it. “But there’s only so much you can learn by drinking. The Oxford Companion to Wine, Sideways owes a great deal to that book. You just go to the topics you’re interested in, and you dive right in.”
On his life these days: “I’m much more content. My life was pretty sh***y in the ’90s. When you’re broke, and you’re writing and living by your wits or whatever — that can be romantic in your 20s, but in your 40s, it’s not romantic. It’s just sort of a f***kin’ drag.”
What’s next for Pickett: “I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at the North American Wine Bloggers conference [Aug. 17 to 19 in Portland, Ore.],” he says. “And my ultimate dream would be to direct Vertical [the movie followup to his second novel].