Poured with Pleasure

Bill Marsano’s blog on wine and spirits and cocktails: "If it’s good in a glass, I’m pouring it."

Tag: Zinfandel

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

Golden State Tax Crackpots

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Amazing, is it not? Our republic enshrines separation of church and state yet is equally devoted to sin taxes. The latter originate with the Puritans, a group of crackpots who fled religious persecution in England so they could practice it here. Their mean, joyless ethos lives on. H.L. Mencken deftly described it as ‘The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.’

Enter Josephine and Kent M. Whitney of San Diego, whose fevered wish it is to send California taxes on alcohol to the moon. Currently those taxes are 65 cents a bottle for liquor, 11 cents a six-pack for beer and 4 cents a bottle for wine. Claiming that alcohol use and alcohol-related problems cost California $46.7 billion a year, the Whitneys want to impose increases that the word astronomical is helpless to describe. If by August 23 they can collect the signatures of 433,971 registered voters who also happen to be loons, they’ll put on November’s ballot an initiative calling for taxes, respectively, of $17.57 (a 2700% increase), $6.08 (5500%) and $5.11 (12,775%).

Yes, I know it’s awfully close to April 1, but the Whitneys launched their application last December.

The money raised would, according to the Whitneys’ pious hopes, go to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs for the doing of good. How much money would that be? An extra $7-$9 billion, the state estimates. But I suspect the state is smoking fairy dust and basing its guess on such gorgeous unlikelihoods as a] full compliance and b] consumption remaining at 2010 levels. Gros chance! as they say in France.

Prohibition via taxation is not going to work—not as the Whitneys think, anyway. For confirmation I turned to my legal prognosticator, Silo Vance, the ruminative ace detective of California’s Cattle Feed Marketing Board. ‘If Californians live up to their reputation for lunacy and pass the measure, what you’ll get is not more revenue but less, so the state will have to tax trail mix, organic fruit juice and Miley Cyrus instead. ‘Californians are a creative lot, so there’ll be tax avoidance (which is legal) and tax evasion (not) on a scale unparalleled since the 1920s. Lawyers will get rich inventing ways for people to get wine without actually buying it. Like forming winery investment clubs that people can buy shares of and then take their dividends in product. Or they’ll sell raffle tickets that pay off in bottles and cases; whatever. They’re lawyers, remember. They will figure it out.

Puncheon Judy, the producer of a ‘California reddish table wine’ called Motley Cru for the benefit of the BATF but known to its constituents as One-Buck Chuck, expects ‘no decline in consumption—just in taxable consumption. If people will drink my stuff [whose label boasts “made from any grapes from anywhere”] they’ll drink anything—Old Spice, Aqua Velva, vanilla extract. Wine they make in the kitchen sink and gin they make in the bathtub.’

It wouldn’t be the first time, Thirsty Reader. During Prohibition, many California wineries shut down and wine  production plummeted, but the grape harvest actually increased. The smart money cleaned up by not making wine. Instead they grew grapes by the long ton—getting millions in federal loans for new vineyards–and sold DIY wine kits. Ukiah Grape Products Co. sold fermentable juice and got clean away with it until a federal judge thought it a bit much that Ukiah agents, in outstanding displays of on-site service, made house calls to bottle their clients’ wine. Fruit Industries Ltd. also sold juices and concentrates, and is even now fondly remembered for Vine-Glo—‘bricks’ of dried grapes sold complete with pacWine Brick (Vine-GloAd) smkets of yeast and stern warnings to keep the two away from water lest the unthinkable occur. (Actually, what occurred was the undrinkable.)

There was a varietal aspect. Zinfandel was a favorite for such foolery because, given its head, it will crop like mad–12 tons an acre will shoot out of the ground with such vigor as to constitute a menace to migrating game birds and local poultry. (Indeed schismatic philologists insist that the word zinfandel derives from the Croatian for birdshot). The resulting wine, or ‘wine-like beverage product,’ did much damage to the grape’s reputation.

But I digress; taxation is our screed. Suppose the Whitneys’ taxes to come to pass and California does reap $7-$9 billion from them. How much do you suppose will go to ending alcoholism and its related problems? I’d guess about as much as goes to ending smoking.

Every year every state in the union gets a handsome bunch of bucks from Big Tobacco as part of the agreement with the states’ attorneys general to take an annual settlement rather than sue tobacco companies day in and day out. The money was needed for and would be directed to fighting tobacco addiction and keeps kids from smoking.

A few years later the New York Times took a look-see, hoping to find a sea of butt-less, clean-lunged teenagers, only to discover that 46 of the states had found higher and better uses for all the money. There are many things to be said against politicians, but few of them are so stupid as to kill a golden goose.

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Credits. Upper: photo by Joe Gibson of Cracked Pots, made by his wife, Karen Gibson, the Quilt Queen of Hendersonville, Tenn., to a design from Rosie’s Quilts. A Vine-Glo advertisement.