Remember when ice wines were the hottest new trend? What about the current reign of rosé? Of course, we can’t forget about the hundreds of “champagne campaign” graphic T’s littering every Forever 21 storefront. Wine comes and goes in trends, and Rex Pickett’s 2004 debut novel “Sideways” made Pinot Noir the latest trend. Adapted into a wildly successful movie directed by Alexander Payne, “Sideways” introduced us to Miles and Jack, friends who struggled to find their identities at the bottom of a barrel traveling through Santa Barbara County. Now we have a sequel, cleverly titled “Vertical,” and the differences are vast in the best way.
“Write drunk, edit sober.” These famous words, often misattributed to Hemingway, perfectly sum up the lifestyle of Miles, the lovable, if not entirely altruistic, main character in “Vertical.” The plot is a metanovel format, with Miles serving as a literary mirror to Rex Pickett. Miles is also an author, who successfully published a book about wine-fueled shenanigans and saw it adapted to the big screen. His best friend Jack is an aspiring actor, who has fallen on harder times. If you are familiar with the first iteration of this duo, you may notice that they have flip-flopped, with Miles finding better luck and Jack becoming a newly single, binge-drinking cynic.
The overwhelming success of Miles’ novel has made the pair far more attractive to the ladies, and money is scarce, so when Miles has to escort his mother Phyllis to a new home, he hires Jack to travel with them as a wing man. Also joining this family road trip is Joy, Phyllis’ caretaker, who lights up at every chance to escape the criticism and accusations of Phyllis. Oh, yeah, there’s also a dog, Snapper, who was snatched from one of Miles’ ex-girlfriends and is rescued to join the group. What a happy, harmonious unit this band of alcoholic misfits is.
If the first novel and movie were a carefree romp through the vineyards, this novel is the morning after. While there are still wild shenanigans (doctors offices, veterinary clinics, bathtubs of Pinot Noir) the real focus is the mother-son relationship and Miles’ developing sense of maturity and responsibility. He’s presented as a downright unlikeable protagonist throughout the first three-quarters of the book, so it’s satisfying to see his character deepen and grow past the Viagra-fueled rampages and sloppy starts. His dialogue will have you groaning: verbose, boasting, and filled with “did you really just say that?” moments. This makes it all the better when he finally realizes what he truly values and repairs his relationships. The ending is worth the literary trek!
This is a wine blog, so we were more than excited to check out the wineries and varietals featured in “Vertical.” Miles serves as the master of ceremonies at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinniville, the heart of Oregon wine country. Miles and Jack drive through the Santa Ynez Valley, including a stop at Justin Winery and Foxen. In Sonoma, we see the folks at Gary Farrell. These choices make us think Rex would be a great wine tasting buddy, in addition to a great writer!
You can retrace their steps and drink your way through their “Sideways” travels using this guide: Wine Country Getaways.