In Santa Ynez Valley, A Toast to 'Sideways'

Frank Ostini and his Hitching Post II are popular  with
Frank Ostini and his Hitching Post II are popular with "Sideways" fans, who are invading Santa Ynez Valley, Calif. Firestone's merlot (left) tastes great, really. (Ric Francis - AP)

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By Kimberly Edds
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2005

Buellton, Calif., is not a fancy town. It doesn't pretend to be. It's hard to be pretentious when you're known for the motel shaped like a windmill that hovers over the freeway.

The Days Inn here used to be little more than a cheap room for work crews to dust off and grab a beer or a stopping point for tourists on their way to bigger and better things.

And then came the hit movie "Sideways."

Nestled between rich green hills swathed in yellow and purple wildflowers, the wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley has long played the forgotten stepsister to Northern California's Napa Valley and Sonoma. A 45-minute drive north of Santa Barbara, it was a spot locals prided themselves on but few others were aware of.

But the Oscar-nominated film about the meandering road trip of a has-been actor and a struggling writer through Santa Barbara wineries has let the world in on their closely guarded secret. California wine doesn't have to come from Napa Valley. And "Sideways" fans from around the world are rushing to see for themselves.

What it lacks in prestige, the valley makes up in approachability. It's quirky. It's comfortable. The rooms are cheap, the steaks are big and the wine is pretty darn good. And tracing the adventures of Miles and Jack, the road buddies in "Sideways," has been made even easier with a map produced by the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau. The maps, which outline 19 locations used in the movie, along with addresses and phone numbers, are disappearing as quickly as they can be printed.

A room at the Days Inn will set you back just $49.99 during the week. If you can get in, that is. Fifteen Jack-and-Miles fans have reserved rooms for a complete "Sideways" experience in April.

That experience includes a trip to the Fess Parker Winery to see the "spit bucket."

"No one has ever really consumed anything out of this thing," said Tim Snider, the vineyard's vice president of marketing, waving the green pail a distraught Miles guzzles after getting the bad news about his novel. "But people still want to see it."

And so they come to this 714-acre vineyard owned by Fess Parker, who hung up his coonskin cap after playing Walt Disney's frontiersmen Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett to make some pretty fine reds. They snap pictures. They stare off at the veranda and comment on how it looks so much like it did in the movie. And they taste some wine--pinot noir, of course.

"A lot of people are trying it because of the movie. And hopefully if they try it, they'll stick with it," Snider said.

At the rural Sanford Winery, a converted dairy barn at the end of a long gravel road, tastings run $5. Weekend crowds have more than doubled since "Sideways" was released nationally--and the five Academy Award nominations the picture received have only intensified the buzz. You don't have to be a wine connoisseur to fit in. You just have to be willing to learn.


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