Did Someone Say "Sideways 2"? Five Questions for Alexander Payne

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
Photos by Bob Dickey, wineguydotcom@yahoo.com
(story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/14/14)

High-profile events celebrating the 10th anniversary of Sideways are already underway throughout Santa Barbara County.  Earlier this month, for example, it brought out director Alexander Payne and actor Paul Giamatti for a weekend among the vines in Los Alamos, located about an hour north of downtown Santa Barbara.  And there’s more to come, especially when Fox Searchlight, the studio that produced the film, re-releases it in a commemorative Blu-Ray DVD this fall.

Alexander Payne at the Sideways Reunion Dinner, August 2, 2014
The Sideways hoopla in Santa Barbara County makes sense.  After all, the film, which won an Academy Award for Payne’s screenplay adaptation, clearly raised mainstream awareness of its wine country and of pinot noir, the area's red wine darling.  Even a decade after the credits first rolled on the silver screen, the movie has been good for local business, indeed.

I met Payne at one of those Los Alamos events – a lavish dinner at winemaker Jim Clendenen’s rambling ranch in Los Alamos.  Co-hosted by winemaker and Hitching Post II restaurateur Frank Ostini, it helped raise $100,000 for Direct Relief, the Goleta-based medical services non-profit that benefits thousands of needy patients each year, both at home and around the world.  A few days later, I reconnected with the Los Angeles-based director to get his take on the film’s reverberating influence -- and to ask him, once and for all, if a Sideways 2 is really in the works.
Me: Are you impressed that Sideways continues to create buzz?
Bob Dickey's original Sideways Map shows Jack's and Miles' many stops
AP: I am surprised.  Surprised at the explosion it occasioned when it was released 10 years ago, and surprised that it has not dwindled more.  But the fact is that people still want to take the Miles and Jack tour; they are attracted to Santa Barbara County.  It’s great news for the film but also for the aspirations of Santa Barbara, because it means that the American wine country in general is not just defined by Napa and Sonoma.  And here’s something funny – I recently asked Paul [Giamatti] if a week or two go by, still, without someone cracking a merlot joke.  And he said, ‘A week or two?  Try every day!’”

Me: You must notice changes now when you head to Santa Barbara wine country.

Foxen Winery's Dick and Jenny Dore 
AP: Superficially, absolutely.  When I’m driving through Solvang, Santa Ynez or Los Olivos now, I feel like an old-timer.  Who are all of these upstarts?  People ask me for advice – Where should I taste?  And I have no idea because there are so many new wines.  I like Foxen, Curran, Sea Smoke, and I try Frank’s [Ostini] wines, of course – the old standards.

Me: Do you agree that Sideways helped shape the public’s perception of Santa Barbara wines?

AP: Oh, yes.  But it also made people more aware of wine in general – of drinking wine and how to begin to think about it.  For me, personally -- I already liked wine, but the film educated me about farmers and winemakers.  Not just tasting, but becoming hip to the whole picture.  For the public, the film made wine more accessible at the same time that home-brewed beers and craft beers were increasing in popularity, too.  It helped the wine industry stay apace.  And Santa Barbara wasn’t the only one to benefit; I got an inquiry from the Napa Film Festival to have a 10-year Sideways commemoration up there.  So it has been good for wine in general.

Me: Would Sideways have worked as well if it hadn’t been set in Santa Barbara County?

AP: Well, Rex Pickett’s book was about two guys who go to Santa Barbara because of its proximity to L.A.; you can get there in under two hours.  But there is something more endearing about the fact it was a little-known wine region and Miles could feel as though he owned it.  It made it intimate.  Even with explosion of wine in Santa Barbara, one still feels an intimate relationship with those winemakers and wineries in a way that would not be possible in a place like Napa, where everyone’s got these vast aspirations.  In that sense, Santa Barbara is more akin to Sonoma, where people who make wine are more accessible.

Me: So when will you be working on Sideways 2?

AP: Never.  Rex wrote a second book, Vertical, which I really enjoyed.  But if there’s ever a movie made about it, it won’t be with me involved.  I’ve moved on.

Me: You know, Rex is working on a third book about Miles, based in Chile, where he recently spent several months doing research.

AP: Oh, really?  Well, then change my answer from “Never” to, “But never say never.”

Gray Hartley (of Hartley-Ostini Wines), actor Paul Giamatti, The Hitching Post II's Frank Ostini and Alexander Payne
Payne, a three-time Oscar nominee for Best Director, had become known for the films Citizen Ruth, Election and About Schmidt before Sideways was released in 2004.  Since then, his star power has grown with The Descendants and, most recently, Nebraska.  He’s currently working on securing financing for his latest script.

For upcoming events commemorating Sideways’ 10th anniversary, check out social media: #Sideways10.



  1. Great piece. Linked it on my blog. Everyone loved it. Hope you got a couple extra hits off it!

  2. if only i could find a job in that glorious area