In 2004, Rex Pickett wrote Sideways, a novel telling the tale of two friends, Miles and Jack, that go on a road trip together through Santa Barbara’s wine country prior to Jack’s pending marriage. Six years later, the hotly anticipated sequel “Vertical: Passion & the Pinot” was released. Just last year it was re-edited, illustrations were added, and the book re-released by Loose Gravel Press.
A big part of the success of Sideways is that it caught the attention of Alexander Payne who directed and co-wrote the screenplay for the movie of the same name. The unassuming buddy film starring Paul Giamatti & Thomas Haden Church became a critical darling and ended up a bona fide hit. It also earned 5 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Similar to a singer/songwriter whose breakout album is a smash, it’s a daunting task to try and meet the high expectations for the follow up. Rex Pickett has done an admirable job with Vertical largely because he avoids just re-hashing the same story in a different environment. Although Vertical does involve a road trip involving the same two main characters, this time it’s a journey that provides a more intelligent and weighty take on the prequel.
In Vertical, Miles & Jack are together again this time exploring Oregon’s Willamette Valley region. A seemingly obvious pick for readers of Sideways, as the book literally altered the popularity of both Merlot and Pinot Noir. Miles is a Pinot Noir devotee and one of the most famous scenes from the movie Sideways is that he threatens to leave a restaurant if anyone in their party orders Merlot. We doubt the author or the wine industry had any inclination as to how impactful this one line could have.
Much has been written about the “Sideways effect” given the significant increase in Pinot Noir sales combined with a drop in Merlot sales after the movie’s release. AdVINEtures was somewhat skeptical about this paradox until we visited Santa Barbara County earlier this year and asked various winemakers whether they had witnessed this phenomenon. Each of them said that without question it had a massive influence on wine consumers—one even told us about growers literally ripping out merlot vines because the variety had seen such a decline in popularity. As arguably one of the best Pinot Noir growing regions in the world, no doubt Oregon’s Willamette Valley is thrilled to be featured in Vertical!
As for the book itself, we always struggled with the fact that Sideways was considered by many as a comedy. While there were certainly laugh out loud moments, the characters, particularly Miles, always struck us as sad, almost pathetic. His overwhelming pessimism combined with an obvious drinking problem was more cringe-worthy than humorous. In Vertical, it’s refreshing to see the author deal with his main character in a more compassionate and heartfelt way. There is much more depth to Miles and it is satisfying as a reader to see him redeem himself in a way that is both hopeful and heartwarming.
Vertical still provides moments of hilarity but the trip this time is far more multi-dimensional than a couple of buddies getting into juvenile fun and the result is far more profound. We’re purposely not providing any spoiler alerts in our review largely because this time the journey for both the characters and the reader, really IS the destination. So grab yourself a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir, get Vertical, and enjoy the ride.