Frank Ostini can't seem to keep his cocktail napkins in stock. The owner of the Hitching Post II (search) restaurant, featured in the Oscar-nominated film "Sideways", is on pace to blow through a three-year supply of 50,000 in the next few months. Customers, it appears, are plucking napkins as souvenirs.
Since the October premiere of "Sideways" (search), which features nearly two dozen locales including Ostini's Western-style restaurant, business has been brisk during what is usually a slow season for Southern California wine country.
Filmed primarily in the bucolic Santa Ynez Valley (search), 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara and 2 1/2 hours from Los Angeles, the movie about two friends on a wine-fueled odyssey before one gets married, has sparked interest in an area normally overshadowed by Northern California's wine country.
The Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau published 10,000 "Sideways" map for tourists wanting to retrace the adventures of the movie's two buddies, Miles and Jack. Within a month of the film's release the maps were gone and 30,000 more were printed. The map also has been downloaded nearly 5,000 times from the bureau's Web site since December.
"We couldn't have imagined it would be this big," said bureau spokeswoman Shannon Turner Brooks. "We had faith it was going to be well-received, but thought it would be an indie or art-house movie that would have limited coverage."
Not so — "Sideways" recently won the Golden Globe or best musical or comedy and is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture. The film has made about $50 million at the box office and the Oscar buzz prompted Fox Searchlight to release "Sideways" to 1,000 more theaters last month.
Now, some businesses are offering "Sideways"-themed packages.
Guests at the Wine Valley Inn & Cottages (search) in Solvang, for example, also receive a gift certificate for a meal at a Danish restaurant and a bottle of wine from the Firestone Vineyard (search), among other items. The restaurant and vineyard are two places Miles and Jack visit.
Marie Knelange has decided to integrate the film into her own wedding in May. Knelange, who recently moved from Montana to Santa Barbara County with her fiancé, Nathan Naidas, plans to shuttle about 60-70 wedding guests to three wineries.
"We're movie buffs and we wanted to do a wine tour as part of the wedding," said Knelange, 36, "so when we saw the movie it was a perfect fit."
If "Sideways" is released on DVD before her wedding, Knelange would like to give copies to her bridesmaids.
"Everybody will think we're crazy, but we wanted to do something different," she said.
Bob Gifford, a Chicago resident who visits California on business several times a year, decided after watching "Sideways" to include a first-time stop in wine country in January.
"We saw the movie a month ago and wanted to see what it's all about," said Gifford, 57. "The movie definitely enhanced it."
At the Sanford Winery, customers recognize tasting room manager Chris Burroughs from a scene in which he pours, as Miles, the connoisseur, teaches Jack, the novice, about the subtleties of wine. Burroughs has been asked to pose for pictures and sign bottles.
"Even though I feel a little absurd, people recognize me and it's part of the experience," he said.
Burroughs adds that visitors shouldn't be misguided by some of the messages in the film, which he calls "a twisted love song to wine."
"We're not trying to put wine up on a pedestal," he said. "It's just fermented grape juice."
Still, he and other locals don't mind watching the film spread word about the Santa Ynez Valley, which despite its award-winning vintages has long been overshadowed by vineyards north of San Francisco.
"We hope that the movie creates a greater awareness that California wine is not confined to just the Napa Valley," Burroughs said.
Back at the Hitching Post, where Ostini was getting ready for customers to arrive one recent evening, advance bookings have tripled, filling the dining rooms and prompting him to consider expanding hours. Business, he says, is up 30 percent.
"The attention we've received has been incredible," said Ostini, 52. "It's taken us to a different status."
The walls of the restaurant's bar, where Miles bellies up, are adorned with pictures from the film and a giant wine bottle signed by the cast.
Indeed, the film's star might not be anyone in the cast but one of Miles' favorite wines — the Hitching Post-produced Highliner (search). Of 350 cases of the 2002 vintage released in December, only 100 remain. Ostini expects to release at least 600 cases of the next batch.
Ostini acknowledges he had concerns when filmmakers first approached him. He worried that portraying a couple of guys draining glass after glass might portray the wine industry in a bad light. Instead, the film seems to have inspired novice drinkers to sample different varieties.
"It's the best marketing decision we've ever made," he said. "This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
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