Vertical – Passion & Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail- Book Review

verticalLike other readers that enjoyed the boozy Jack and Miles saga, I came to their adventures via the 2004  Sideways movie.  This was the one that launched Paul Giamatti to stardom. In case there is someone who missed Sideways, it’s the story of  two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment embarking on a week-long road trip through California’s wine country, just as Jack is about to take a trip down the aisle.  The movie inspired me to travel to the Santa Barbara wine area many times to visit the wineries and restaurants frequented by Jack and Miles. My BCWinetrends blog made early use of the Sideways theme to discuss the relative fortunes of Merlot and Pinot Noir as a result of Sideways.

With this preamble, let’s take a look at Rex Pickett’s next book, Vertical – Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail.

The story follows Miles’ ill-fated scheme is to snatch his mother from the San Diego assisted-living facility she hates.  Then travel via Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the International Pinot Noir Celebration, the location of an over the top Pinot fueled orgy, to her sister Alice’s home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The road trip includes the foursome and Snapper the dog, bundled into Miles’ Rampvan. Along with a now rich and famous Miles and his stroked out mother Phyllis are her pot-smoking Filipina nurse Joy and an alcoholic and now divorced Jack . The trip winds it’s disastrous course through wine country with Miles and Jack cavorting with voracious women and draining far too many bottles of expensive Pinot Noir supplied with the hope of a product placement in the movie sequel. Miles and his mother part company with Jack and Joy after the IPNC and the books takes on a more serious tone as they continue alone to Phyllis’s final destination.

I read the first version of Vertical when author Rex Pickett self-released the book in 2011 and loved the core story but felt that it needed better editing.  This year Tim Moore, the publisher at Loose Gravel Press, re-release an improved book by deleting the excesses and updating the ending.  I won’t spoil the ending but only say Miles has an interesting phone call with Myra of Sideway’s fame and a more hopeful ending for Miles’ new found sobriety.

An early highlight in the book for me was Miles rant at the Shell Beach pinot festival where he hatches the plot to extract mother from the nursing home.  Several critics didn’t find this part funny, but they obviously hadn’t over indulged with other Pinotphiles and completely let their hair down or they too would have appreciated the drunken humour.

On the journey through Northern California, they stop in Paso Robles at one of my favourite Paso wineries – Justin.  Mile’s quaff’s a bottle of their most expensive wine, a Meritage called Isosceles, 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. Miles loves the wine and extolls its virtues as an excellent “palate change”. This is probably the only time Miles has a positive comment on Merlot, so he must be mellowing from his Sideway days!

The Oregon Willamette Valley part of the adventure is a boozing and frolicking highpoint for Miles and Jack. There are interesting boudoir scenes and expensive Pinot name dropping but I missed the vineyard and wine tasting room hijinks of Sideways.  Pickett apparently relied heavily on local wine writers Katherine Cole and Fred Gunton for the wine details on this section which is very well written.

Once we are free of Jack and Joy on the subsequent trip to Wisconsin,  Pickett elevates his writing to a higher level. This is exceptional prose highlighted by vivid character development and interaction as Miles deals with the common generational problem of how best to cope with an ageing parent’s final months or days. The author brings clarity to the relationship between Miles and his mother and Miles finally confronts his alcoholism and his loneliness.

As a lover of wine stories, I would definitely recommend picking up the latest version of Vertical – Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail.

Disclosure: Vertical – Passion and Pinot digital pre-release draft provided by Loose Gravel Press