A Little Zing from Zinfandel

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Paso Robles, which lies about halfway between LA and San Francisco, may be famous for its Rhône Rangers, but many Pasos (as the locals style themselves) wouldn’t have you overlook their Zinfandels. To that end they are holding a festival—winery events, tastings, auction, hoopla and folderol—March 18-20. (There might even be lollygagging, for all I know, and shilly-shallying, too, for the Pasos are a reckless crowd.) Anyway, I am partial to Zinfandel in all its infinite variety, including Italy’s Primitivo and Croatia’s Crljenak Kaštelanski, for many reasons. Right now it’s because the Pasos have produced a truly witty television ad for their festival.

And because I’m not going to be geographically constrained, I’ll add that further zing is provided by Joel Peterson of Sonoma’s Ravenswood. Peterson, founder and president of same, originator of the battle cry “No more wimpy wines!” was elected in November  to the CIA’s Vintners Hall of Fame, which he entered treading upon the prostrate bodies of those who cling to the pernicious belief that wine belongs on a pedestal instead of on the table. Anyway, click on the arrow below to see Paso’s nifty commercial.


We’re required by statute to quibble a bit here: An alpine peasant playing a Neapolitan tarantella on a Sicilian accordion in Tuscany has nothing to do, in whole or in part, with Primitivo, which is the wine of Puglia. It’s probable that the spot’s producers were guided by the fact that many Americans think Tuscany is Italy and have never heard of Puglia. Never mind; that’s wine on the screen, and it’s looking good.

Wine advertising has seldom been very good, has it? In print, lots of bottle shots. On television, much the same. Puritanism is one cause: You can show the product, pour the product, even hold the poured product up to the light, the better to admire its splendid hue, but you absolutely cannot show people drinking it, cannot give the impression that they like it or will enjoy themselves if they drink the stuff.

A few years ago, Gallo’s Turning Leaf put a pretty fair TV spot on the air: it showed, as I recall, a handful of attractive twenty-somethings at a cookout, and as the Turning Leaf was poured they declared themselves officially off duty for the weekend by tossing their cellphones into the lake.

The 1960s were a dark time for wine advertising. Italian Swiss Colony gave us their Little Old Winemaker (below), a caricature so egregious it took two littleoldwinemaker_fr actors to  play the part (if you can remember their names there’s probably something wrong with you; if not, see the answer below). Millions of Ameri-cans who’d never heard of Soave until Bolla began advertising it relentlessly came to believe that Soave Bolla was the name of the wine, so when they wanted a bottle of Soave they reflexively asked for Soave Bolla. That  certainly didn’t hurt Bolla’s sales.

Things improved in the ‘70s, when Paul Masson hired Orson Welles to intone “We will sell no wine . . . before its time” (today the role would likely go to James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman). Welles was a mighty figure and he looked it; he brought class to the commercials and to wine itself, which was treated seriously, but not stuffily. He needed money at the time, and so also made commercials for Carlsberg beer; G&G, a Japanese whiskey; and frozen peas. It’s worth taking a minute to go to YouTube and enter orson welles paul masson. You’ll find an assortment of his Paul Masson commer-cials and as a chaser a couple of superb outtakes. In one he stops a shoot to re-direct and script-doctor the commercial for frozen peas; another is titled Orson Welles Drunk Outtakes for Paul Masson Wine Commercial (for that one you should be a] sitting down and b] well aware of your surroundings, be-cause LOL and ROFL are likely to prove gross understatements. Like, not in church is what I’m saying.) Another reel, titled More Drunk Orson Welles Outtakes, is briefly funny, but a spoof.)

Oh—the Little Old Winemaker. He was played by Ludwig Stössel, who was the face, and Jim Backus, who was the voice.

©2011 Bill Marsano

One Comment to “A Little Zing from Zinfandel”

  1. Eunice Fried 6 March 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    If I came upon this without a byline, I would still know it was written by Bill Marsano. It has the wit, the outlook, the razor sharpness, the originality to be his and only his work. A HIT !


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