Cork-Popper 

Sideways finds its natural audience at Wente Vineyards' outdoor movie series.

Sideways was not only one of the most entertaining movies of 2004, it was a full-fledged marketing bonanza. From its very first publicity push, director Alexander Payne's upscale buddy film about the amorous misadventures of two men in Central California wine country has been promoted to audiences not only as a funny story, but as a how-to guide for would-be students of the grape. Experts praised it for getting its wine-connoisseur details right, and viewers have taken note of the wines that lead character Miles and his friends quaff onscreen. The Oscar-winning comedy (Best Original Screenplay), now a hit on DVD, also helped popularize winery tours and sold numerous bottles of pinot noir -- sales spiked after the movie's release. This Thursday evening, Sideways is the centerpiece of a summer outdoor movie series at (surprise!) a winery -- The Cinema at Wente Vineyards, a periodic lineup of screenings at Wente's Restaurant, 5050 Arroyo Rd. in Livermore.

"Sideways really has helped educate the public about how to taste wine," enthuses Ken Hoyle, Wente's vice president of retail marketing. "There is certainly more to it, but the movie helps make wine tasting more accessible. It is a really well-written story with a couple of actors with great onscreen chemistry. Sideways certainly has increased awareness of enjoying wine in general." The film hit the bull's-eye for wine drinkers, and winemakers pounced on the opportunity. "In over twenty cities across the US," Hoyle says, "after viewing the film at the initial release, moviegoers were treated to a wine tasting featuring wines from three Livermore Valley wineries: Wente Vineyards, Murrieta's Well, and Tamás Estates." (No merlots, we hope.)

At Thursday's Sideways show, Wente is offering a special tasting and gourmet dinner, with wines from ten Livermore Valley wineries and a buffet dinner for $49 per guest -- 21 and over, please. The tasting begins at 6:30 p.m., the movie at 8:45. And yes, pinot will be served. Later this season, Wente is also hosting the California Independent Film Festival, an indie showcase screened at various valley wineries ("We show the films in our barrel room"). To learn more, visit WenteVineyards.com

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