Editor’s Note: Grape Escapes

On the legacy of “Sideways” and MN wine’s emergence

A table with glasses of wine sitting between two empty lawnchairs.

photo by ackerman + gruber

The film adaptation of Sideways remains one of wine’s biggest mainstream moments. In it, Paul Giamatti’s soliloquy about thin-skinned, temperamental pinot noir grapes uncorked something in many of us. Sure, he’s projecting personal traits a bit, but his point still lands: Making great wine, even in the welcoming climates and terroir of California or France, is a worthwhile labor of love. For anyone lured in by products that are small-batch, homegrown, farm-to-table, or artisan, wine is impossible to ignore.

To cultivate a wine community in the frigid North, it has also taken a bunch of dedicated scientists at the University of Minnesota decades to develop even a handful of worthy “cold hardy” varieties. And it requires even more dedication for local vintners to turn those grapes into bottles that stand up to the centuries-in-the-making competition. But repeat customers drinking Frontenac Gris whites and Marquette reds at wineries all over the state show that it’s happening. Just last year, the U of M grape researchers released the Itasca grape, a high-sugar and low-acid white that could seriously escalate production of dry white wines locally over the next decade.

The wineries across Minnesota that also offer food, events, and natural beauty spotlight another aspect of the Sideways storyline. This one has nothing to do with mouthfeel or quaffability. It’s about seeking out adventure and cultivating relationships—be they new, old, thin-skinned, or temperamental. As we enter fall, it’s peak road-trip season: The car windows are down, the leaf colors are turned up, and the grapevines are primed. In short: Cheers.