In 2004, the indie flick Sideways was released in just four theaters, but it had a big impact, earning five Oscar nominations and $110 million worldwide. “I thought it was just going to be a nice little comedy,” filmmaker Alexander Payne tells us. Instead, the movie became known for something else so notable that it has a name: the Sideways Effect.
In this episode, we explore all the outsize effects of this one little movie on the huge wine industry. Did a single line of dialogue really tank merlot sales for decades? Did an ode to pinot noir jumpstart demand for this expensive grape? Did Paul Giamatti’s sad sack character change our relationship to yet another wine, one barely mentioned in the film?
Today on Decoder Ring, all of these questions and this one: Is it long past time to start drinking merlot?
Some of the voices in this episode include Laura Lippmann, crime novelist; Tim Farrell, wine buyer for Brooklyn Wine Exchange; Rex Pickett, novelist and author of Sideways; Alexander Payne, director, screenwriter, and producer; Jeff Bundschu, owner of Gundlach Bundschu; Steve Cuellar, professor of economics at Sonoma State University; and Kathy Joseph, owner of Fiddlehead Cellars. We also mention Travis Lybbert’s paper corroborating the “Sideways Effect,” which you can find here.
Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is senior supervising producer of narrative podcasts.
If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at DecoderRing@slate.com
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