If you have not been to the theatre in a while here’s the perfect excuse. Go and enjoy the classic film Sideways now brought to the London stage for a wonderful night of nostalgia, wine, comedy and a strange taste for Pinot Noir. For Chuck Cramer, Terlato Wines and Sanford it was a great opportunity to link up with his iconic story and connect with the trade.
When the new Sideways play was looking for a wine partner, Chuck Cramer was quick off the mark to bring Sanford not only to theatregoers but to more restaurants and bars across London.
When news broke earlier in the year that Sideways, the classic film all about wine, California dreaming, and men behaving badly on the road, was coming to the stage in London, speculation immediately started in wine circles not about who would play the iconic characters that made it such a cult film. But which Californian wine brand would win the golden ticket to be the play’s key wine partner?
The UK’s Wine Institute of California was even brought in by the show’s producers to try and find a suitable match.
They did not have to look too far before they had found their real life Miles. Step forward Chuck Cramer, aka Mr CA Wine, who may have lived in the UK and London for the best part of 16 years, but is Californian as they come, being born and bred in Los Angeles.
In his role as UK and European consultant for US wine company, Terlato Wines, and its range of Californian wines that include Sanford (distributed through Matthew Clark), Chimney Rock (also Matthew Clark) and Rutherford Hills (distributed through The Wine Treasury and the soon to be released sparkling wine, Iron House (Wine Treasury), this was too good an opportunity to miss.
As he told The Buyer. “This was not a question of ‘can I do this’, but a question of ‘I have to do this’.”
The producers and cast of Sideways, which runs at London’s St James’s Theatre until July 9, could not have found a more enthusiastic or suitable wine member of their cast. If Cramer could get them to replace the fruit juice and iced tea that doubles up as high quality Pinot Noir on stage then he would.
For Cramer there was only one wine that could be possibly be paired with Sideways. Sanford. Not only because it produces some of the finest Pinot Noir in California, and can claim to have the oldest Pinot Noir vines at Sandord & Benedict Vineyards going back to 1971.
But arguably more importantly it is the first winery where the film, and now the play’s two main protagonists, Miles, the self-obsessed wine man, and Jack, who is in search of his last ‘free’ sun, sex and rock n roll experience before getting married, first go to on their road trip.
Its winemaker, Steve Fennell, says Cramer, still gets asked about Sideways at least three to five times a week by visitors.
It also quickly comes up in conversations that Cramer is having with buyers around the UK, as so many people associate the wine with the film.
Sanford,” explains Cramer, “is also close to the author, Rex Pickett’s heart.”
He should know. For as well as being the official wine of the play, which includes seeing the wine poured on stage, it is also the house pour at the St James Theatre bar and restaurant, and Pickett has agreed to host three exclusive wine tasting events with Cramer for theatregoers after certain performances.
For ultimately, as all Sideways fans know, Miles the frustrated author and romantic wine lover is really Pickett himself on stage. So he does not have to try too hard to be enthused about any of the wines that Cramer is able to show from the Sanford portfolio.
Putting Sanford on the map
The exclusive wine tastings are just one part of an impressive list of tie-in activities that Cramer has organised to maximise the Sanford link up with Sideways.
“I really need to capitalise on the Sideways link up to build awareness and distribution of Sanford in the right key accounts,” explains Cramer.
Which is why he came up with the idea of the Sanford/Sideways Wine Map. Which The Buyer has been very happy to link up with here (in the right hand column) on the website.
In it the map sets out all the restaurants, hotels and wine merchants that have agreed to stock and sell Sanford during at least the full run of the Sideways performance, as well as carry point of sale and promotional material.
Cramer’s hope is that most, if not all, the prestigious accounts, will agree to keep listing Sanford once the play has finished. He has not done badly already, having increased his distribution in London by four times with the Sideways link up.
There is then the hope that it could well then be transferred to the West End for a further, even more higher profile run.
It was also important for Cramer to link Sanford up with the right premium accounts. Twelve of the fourteen on the map, for example, are high end restaurants with two independent wine merchants, The Last Drop in Chelsea and Eagles Wines in Battersea. The on-trade listings include Smith & Wollensky, which is offering a glass of Sanford wine with a meal if customers arrive with a Sideways ticket or programme, M Restaurants, Brinkleys in Chelsea, St James’s Court Hotel, JW Marriot Hotel, Conrad St James, The Ebury, Edwardian Mayfair Bar, Booking Office at Rennaissance Hotel and Marriott West India Quay .
Most are offering Sanford wines by the glass whilst M Restaurant at Victoria is offering a special menu to theatre goers that includes a carafe of white and red for £65.
To help push theatregoers in the right direction Cramer also took out an advert for the wine map in the play’s programme. For having watched actors sipping and swigging the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for two and a half hours you really want to go and have some for yourself.
“It is also making a nice natural link for the restaurants themselves and hopefully bringing them extra customers straight from the threatre,” says Cramer.
As for California in general, Cramer could not be more happy about the opportunities for not just his wines but the country as a whole.
“We are seeing so many more US-style restaurants open up where California wine is such a natural fit,” he explains.
Sommeliers are on board
It seems, at last, sommeliers and high end wine drinkers are very much on board with what California can offer, he adds.
“Six years ago a lot of sommeliers would turn up their noses at Californian wine. Not any more.
“California also offers them a lifestyle choice for their lists. People have been either there and want to experience it again or they aspire to go there. They look good on a list.”
Cramer even sees the “sweet spot” for Californian wine to be between £50 to £175 such is the interest and willingness to spend money on quality wines. “The Sanford style of wine has the purity of fruit, the balance. They are well structured,” explains Cramer.
“They are also perfect to drink now. The 2011 or the 2012 is ideal for now, but could equally age for another 15 years. We have also benefited from the prices being asked for Bordeaux and Burgundy in recent years.”
There will be those who might associate Cramer more for his time in the UK selling first Spanish and then Italian wine. But he sees both those projects as helping him get to his true passion. California. “I just feel like I have come home with Californian wines, and I am very grateful to Terlato Wines for giving me that opportunity. But California is my home town and it’s great to be able to talk about wines from where I am from.”
He also recognises that he is a bit of a rarity in the US wine scene in the UK. “There are not many people selling Californian wine here in the UK who are from there, so it does give me a little advantage. It certainly helps with the storytelling.”
Which brings us neatly back to the play. Sideways is at the St James’s Theatre until July 9.
How could we not write about Sideways and not include that scene.