A Sideways look at Byron

2004 movie, Sideways, put the spotlight on wine – and Californian Pinot Noir in particular – like no other.  On the eve of our Love Wine and Film festival, we spoke to Jonathan Nagy, head winemaker at Byron, whose rare 1992 sparkling wine was featured in the film…

Sideways really got people talking about wine, and Californian wine in particular. What are your feelings about the impact it made?

“The movie really brought attention to the quality of Pinot Noirs from Santa Barbara County.  This region is truly a special place to grow Pinot Noir.  I think I was a bit surprised how much of an effect it had locally in terms of visitors to the tasting room; and winery sales shot up dramatically.  I enjoyed watching the scenery, wine references, and seeing familiar faces as extras in the movie.   Although the movie brought initial exposure to Santa Barbara County, I think today the wines and uniqueness of the area have created their own energy and global appeal that far extends beyond the movie.”

Did the film makers approach you about including your wine in the film beforehand?
The filmmakers approached us for possible mention and as a potential filming location. We actually declined based on some of the choice language and content.  So the first scene where they broke open a Byron sparkling wine was a surprise. Apparently, it came from the author’s private cellar.”

You don’t make any Merlot at Byron – do you share Miles’ disdain for it?
“Not at all!  At Byron, we focus our production on artisan Pinot Noir and Chardonnay because that is what grows best in our fog-drenched climate and soils.  We want to showcase the distinctive character of these Burgundian varieties grown in Santa Barbara County.”

What is the secret to making awesome pinot noir?
“Truly exceptional Pinot Noir only grows in just a few places in the world; Santa Barbara County is one of those rare places that offers a real sense of terroir. The climate and soils are unique and impart a distinctive character in the wines. I also work with a vineyard team that is committed to growing ultra-premium grapes.”

What is your winemaking philosophy?
“You start by growing high quality grapes and then try not to mess anything up in the winery. For us, gentle handling is paramount.  We like small lot fermentations (2 ton, 4 ton, and 6 ton tanks) where we can be very hands-on and create small wine lots that offer unique character and expression.”

Other than California, are there other countries/regions whose style of pinot noir you like or admire? 
“Burgundy, Oregon, Sonoma Coast and New Zealand are top of mind. Each of these wine regions are vastly different, yet I love how great each region is for producing such distinctive expressions of Pinot Noir.”

Have you watched any other “wine films”?
“I have watched lots of the most well-known ones, like Mondovino, Bottleshock, The Barolo Boys.  I do really like the movie Somm.  It gave me an inside view on what a lot of the sommeliers I interact with have gone through.  I felt like I could appreciate and understand them better. I definitely don’t have what it takes to become a Master Sommelier!”


Buy Byron wines online from the D&D Wine shop.