The Hitching Post, the Santa Barbara restaurant made famous in Sideways, releases a new Merlot this month – an irony not lost on the owners.
The international hit film and its Merlot-hating anti-hero Miles, is credited with creating a Pinot Noir boom.
In the three months after the film was released in February 2005, sales of Pinot increased by 16%, according to analysts ACNeilsen.
Outside Los Olivos Cafe, in the same Santa Barbara region as the Hitching Post, that Miles makes his famous statement, ‘If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I’m not drinking any f***ing Merlot.’
The owners of the Buellton, California restaurant, Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini, made their first Merlot in 1979. Their main production is 12 different Pinots, as well as a Syrah and a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend.
Now they are producing two new Merlots, the 2004 Westerly Vineyard and 2005 Alisos Vineyard, both retailing for US$25. In June they will release a third, 2006 Merlot Santa Barbara County.
‘Merlot has always been an under-appreciated grape in Santa Barbara, and the slam from the movie didn’t help matters either,’ Hartley said.
‘Santa Barbara Merlot offers a great price-to-wine quality ratio. This kind of value is typical of undiscovered gems until they are found by the masses.’
Merlot watchers say that in recent years Santa Barbara growers have learnt a good deal about the appropriate locations to grow the grape – generally inland areas that are warmer than the coastal valleys where Pinot does best.
Written by Adam Lechmere