Stars and Vines: Sideways Reunion Brings Out Hollywood and Wine A-Listers

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
Photos by Bob Dickey,
(story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/4/14)

“We’ve got some stories to tell tonight!”

That’s how restaurateur and winemaker Frank Ostini greeted guests, to cheers, at a celebrity dinner Saturday night that commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Oscar-winning film, Sideways.

Direct Relief's Thomas Tighe, actor Paul Giamatti and vintner Frank Ostini
The event featured the movie’s lead, actor Paul Giamatti, and its director, Alexander Payne.  Actress Virginia Madsen, who plays a Hitching Post II server who becomes the love interest of Mr. Giamatti’s character, joined the event briefly via Skype, live from Budapest, where she’s currently making a movie.  The affair was hosted by well-known Au Bon Climat winemaker Jim Clendenen at his home, a rambling vineyard in Los Alamos known as Rancho La Cuna.

The experience was one of the big-ticket lots at the Santa Barbara Wine Auction, which was held at Bacara Resort in February.  Ten tables of ten went for $10,000 apiece, raising $100,000, and helping organizers set a record $1 million take that night. 

Each table raised $10,000 for Direct Relief
The Auction is put on biennially by the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation on behalf of Direct Relief, the Goleta non-profit famous for leveraging its relationships with pharmaceutical and shipping companies to deliver medicines to needy patients both locally and around the world.  Just last week, Direct Relief delivered an emergency medical supplies shipment to Sierra Leone, in Western Africa, to help battle the Ebola outbreak.
Since its launch in 2000, the Santa Barbara Wine Auction has raised more than $3 million for Direct Relief.  “Thanks to donations made by people like you, Direct Relief has already helped more than 10 million people this year,” Thomas Tighe, the group’s President, told Saturday night’s crowd.

Director Alexander Payne and "Nebraska" actress Angela McEwan
It wasn’t just Hollywood stars who came out to mingle and shine.  Celebrities of Santa Barbara’s culinary scene were there, too, including Chefs James Sly and Michael Hutchings, who prepared hors d’ouevres like grilled abalone on the shell and deep-fried oysters for a lawn party that preceded dinner.  And some of the region’s top winemakers, like Seth Kunin, Cold Heaven’s Morgan Clendenen and Big Tar Wines’ Aaron Watty, played sommeliers and poured throughout the night.

Other food and wine leaders in attendance included Gray Hartley, Mr. Ostini’s well-known winemaking partner, Dick and Jenny DorĂ©, of Foxen Winery, 20th Century Fox Television executive and vintner Gary Newman, of Jorian Hill Winery, and Chef Ron True, of Santa Barbara’s Arlington Tavern. 

Foxen Winery's Dick and Jenny Doré
Under a sprawling white tent, and with the movie Sideways projected onto the canvas above, diners feasted on five courses, featuring salad of locally-sourced produce, grilled shrimp, roasted quail and grilled filet mignon.  Each course was paired with what Mr. Ostini called “Sideways-era wines” – bottles like the Hartley-Ostini 2001 Pinot Noir, which appear in the film and are no longer readily available to the public.

Sideways, which won an Academy Award in 2004 for Mr. Payne’s screenplay adaptation of Rex Pickett’s book by the same name, was shot in Santa Barbara wine country, mainly.  And pinot noir, a wine known to grow particularly well in this area, features prominently.  In fact, the movie is still credited with ramping up consumer demand for Santa Barbara pinot and for helping several businesses featured onscreen thrive. 

Chef James Sly (second from left) briefs his culinary crew
“Our [Hartley-Ostini] wine production quadrupled, and business at the Hitching Post doubled,” Mr. Hartley said Saturday.  “But our mantra has stayed the same: high quality, affordable prices.”

Among the stories Mr. Ostini would tell: one about a standing fan that he used to help cool off the crew during filming (and which ended up making a brief cameo).  “I’m happy to say we now have air-conditioning,” he joked.  “Thanks a lot, Alexander!”

Saturday’s fete ended a two-night visit to Santa Barbara wine country by Mr. Giamatti and Mr. Payne, who also met guests at Rancho La Cuna on Friday night for a pig roast.

Hosts Jim Clendenen and Frank Ostini
Olive trees cradle the road into Rancho La Cuna
Look for upcoming local events commemorating Sideways' 10th anniversary on social media: #Sideways10.



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