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2003 Carhartt Merlot

Have you ever wondered why the writers of “Sideways” chose Merlot as the unfortunate benefactor of a pop culture phenomenon?

I think I have unraveled the mystery.

As Miles famously ranted in the movie, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f—Merlot.” 

Almost instantaneously, a nation of wine drinkers set down their glass.

Aside from the small inconsistency of Miles’ prized wine being a Merlot-based Chateau Cheval Blanc, the thing that I’ve wondered most is why Merlot?  Why not choose Zinfandel or Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay or any number of other varietals?

Based on the conversation I had this past weekend, I think I have the essential truth, or at least the 6th hand anecdotal, twisted truth.  Paul Harvey might not say, “Now you know the rest of the story.” He might, however, say, “now you know the gossipy back-alley truth,” though. 

I went to a wine tasting on Saturday with some friends at Lush Wine & Spirits in Chicago.  Lush specializes in carrying wines that are not carried anywhere else in Chicago. 

As a side note, the recent changes in Illinois law that allows a retailer to buy Direct-to-Trade should be a boon for Lush.

As an additional side note, I was completely dumbstruck when Twisted Oak’s “The Spaniard” was a part of our tasting.  Apparently, Twisted Oak and the folks at Lush are fast friends. 

As a third side note, you want to talk about an ego boost: The person that conducted our wine tasting reads my site.

All that aside, the store is what a wine shop should be, or at least what I would do if I had a wine shop—obscure, high-end bottles in a point’s free environment.

One of the winery’s Lush carries is Carhartt.  The winery, located in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, is a small producer with a strikingly distinctive label.  With six varietals in the wine shop, Carhartt stood out based on variety, moreso than any other winery present in the store.

Carhartt is a well-noted winery with some very positive accolades to their credit.  Somewhere in the family of the same folks that bring working class folks the Carhartt line of clothing, these guys are cattle ranchers turned vintners and their flagship wine is Merlot.  It is their bread and butter.

Supposedly, when the production team for Sideways was scouting out locations for the movie, they stopped by Carhartt with a very strong desire to use the Carhartt location. 

The Carhartt folks thought about it, thought about it some more and said, “no thanks, we don’t want you to film at our winery.”

The film people said, “But, we’re from Hollywood.  Think about the fame that will come to your winery.”

And, the Carhartt’s still said, “no.”  They wanted to privately tend to their 10 acres of vines and their flagship Merlot.

In a bit insider’s upshot, the writers famously wrote in the famous derision towards Merlot as a shot at the winery that turned them down.

Is this true?  Hell, I have no idea, but the story went over well when Erin our tasting hostess was schmoozing with us—and it went over especially well after hording the bottle of El Jefe’s The Spaniard for my sixth generous pour.

My review of the 2003 Carhartt Merlot can be found here.


Posted in, Good Grape Wine Reviews. Permalink | Comments (5) |


On 06/11, Robert wrote:

I thought that the Merlot line was in the book (therefore pre-dating the scouting for locations) and actually was said because Merlot reminded Miles of his wife.

Your story sounds MUCH too cruel even for Hollywood, or am I just too naive?

On 06/12, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

I can’t help wondering about the source of this implausible tale.  And yes, Merlot WAS in the book before the movie people ever got ahold of it.  Seems to me the reason was transparent. At the time,  anyone who wanted to pretend he knew something about wine when he didn’t, would order merlot. Cheap merlot was the swill of choice at cocktail parties among those to whom “white wine” was synonymous with “Chardonnay” and “red wine”, long synonymous with “cab”,  had become also synonymous with “merlot”.

On 06/12, Brooke Carhartt wrote:

Wow - good story, but I’m afraid it isn’t true. Yes - we are merlot producers (and growers), and Hollywood doesn’t impress us,necessarily, but - I don’t think we would have been rude to anyone about merlot or our wines in particular.It is interesting how “stories” begin, and where they eventually end. It’s helpful to “go to the source!” We’re in our tasting room 6 days a week.

Mike and Brooke Carhartt

On 06/12, Jeff wrote:

thanks for the comments, all!


You gotta love the blogosphere.  I should’ve know that a friend of a friend would have tipped you off to this post.

I stand corrected on the story and lesson-learned too—“trust, but verify.”

BTW, I’m not a big Merlot drinker, but I love your bottle.

But, you have to admit, it is a good story.

Thanks for reading and all the best,


On 05/24, TN Pas Cher wrote:

a big Merlot drinker, but I love your bottle.
But, you have t


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