Wine stars in documentary


Apart from the Oscar-nominated 2004 film “Sideways,” wine’s never gotten much of a starring role in movies.

Maybe its sensual properties just don’t translate. Maybe it’s been too obscure a part of American culture until now.

Three North Bay filmmakers think it’s time to give wine its due, at least in documentary form. They recently released a fun and informative 60-minute film on the California wine world, an overview called “A State of Vine.”

“It isn’t every day that Fred Franzia, the father of the notoriously and deliciously affordable “Two Buck Chuck,” agrees with the philosophy of pricey Silver Oak winemaker Daniel Baron,” said Christine Scioli of ZAN Media. Scioli shot, directed and produced the film with her husband, Don, and daughter, Niki.

Both Franzia and Baron are interviewed, Franzia’s presence giving the Sciolis good reason to cut to a hilarious YouTube video of bar band The Fresh performing “Two Buck Chuck.”

The inclusion of Two Buck Chuck — and Franzia — was Niki’s idea, borne out of the experience she had bringing a bottle of the inexpensive elixir into her Wine Business Studies class at Sonoma State University, a program from which she recently graduated.

“They wanted to sever her head,” Christine recalled.

Added Niki, “The idea that 300 million bottles of his wine have been sold and one person will say they hate it and one will say they love it —we all felt we needed to include it.”

“A State of Vine” abounds with familiar scenes (goats roaming, mustard growing) and familiar folks, from Franzia to car-racing legend Mario Andretti (deemed “the legend”), wine publicist Harvey Posert (“the pragmatist”), Hagafen Winery kosher winemaker Ernie Weir (“the naturalist”), farmworker-turned-vintner Reynaldo Robledo (“the patriarch”), with his daughter Vanessa, and former mayor of Santa Rosa Mike Martini of Taft Street Winery.

“It preaches to the choir a little bit,” Don Scioli said. “But it’s also for the uninitiated — there’s enough information there — while people who are into wine will know the personalities.”

Indeed the film does a good job of providing a primer on wine, providing stats on the California wine industry (jobs created, bottles produced) and describing such concepts as appellation, acidity, barrel aging, toasting, bulk wine, sustainability and the millennials. But it also lets its subjects expound on weightier concepts.

Bob Foley, the winemaker for Pride Mountain Vineyards in St. Helena, is allowed to opine on mountain-grown grapes being the best, citing a vintage TV ad for Folgers coffee: “Didn’t you listen to Mrs. Olsen in the ’60s? Mountain grown is the richest; there’s more expression, intensity of color, intensity of flavor.”

Another highlight: winemaker Randy Pitts of Harvest Moon Estate Winery in Santa Rosa explaining how his dad first developed their vineyards in the 1970s “powered by Budweiser.”

Then there’s the charismatic Andretti, who surely could have been a movie star, explaining how he first came to the Napa Valley in 1976, “looking for God’s country.”

The racing legend uses his past to further describe his present, saying, “I never knew how to work on a race car. I’m not a mechanic, so I rely on someone else to do that job. With winemaking, I rely on someone else to do that job and I enjoy the finished product — that’s my winning smile.”

Meanwhile, the film has fun pitting Napa against Sonoma and calling out the contrasts still in evidence throughout Wine Country — where on a given day you may find guests at the Sonoma Mission Inn, still in their comfy robes, enjoying an afternoon wine tasting and 4-H kids competing in the county’s annual swine auction (where, the film instructs, the going rate is $8 per pound of pig).

Don and Christine Scioli have been in the film business for 27 years, Don an alumnus of USC’s fabled film school, where he roomed with future Oscar-winning director/producer Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future I, II and III”, “Forrest Gump”). The couple, natives of Philadelphia, decided to base themselves in Northern California after landing a gig to shoot commercials for Sacramento-based Weinstock’s department stores.

“We came to California because we watched ‘Falcon Crest’ on TV and thought it looked much, much better (than Philadelphia),” said Christine.

Niki remembers visiting wineries all over Sonoma and Napa as a kid, part of her parents’ self-orchestrated wine education.

“For years after we moved here we wouldn’t order gewurztraminer because I didn’t know how to say gewurztraminer,” Christine remembered. “The first time our local deli was having a wine tasting we almost dropped our drawers. How civil is that — there’s a wine tasting on a Thursday afternoon and they give you wine?”

Based in Novato with their three kids (Niki, in addition to twin brother-sister Zack and Alex, for which ZAN Media is named), the Sciolis did commercial work for years before segueing into shooting software game videos and then political campaigns, which is still their bread and butter.

In fact, “A State of Vine,” which they finished shooting in September, had to be put on hold for a few months while the Sciolis worked on political campaigns for candidates throughout Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Don started editing the documentary right after the Nov. 4 election, taking about two months to get the film where he wanted it to be.

Though it’s not a world he had covered before, Don found the wine industry had a lot in common with the film world.

“There’s an entrepreneurial aspect because it’s usually one family, one winery,” he said. “Everybody thinks they know something about wine and everybody thinks they know something about movies.”

For now, “A State of Vine” can be ordered online or found locally at Wine Hardware Stores. Further distribution is still being worked out, though Don had a somewhat encouraging phone call a few weeks ago after sending an old classmate of his, now at Warner Bros., a copy of the film.

“This guy from Warners calls — they never call,” he remembered. “I called him right back and he goes, ‘Hey, I love the documentary, I’m a boozer, I loved it.’ Of course, they’ve only done one documentary in the last 10 years - ‘March of the Penguins.’”

Let’s see, here’s the pitch: A group of merlot-hating penguins walk into a tasting room

You can reach Staff Writer Virginie Boone at 521-5440 or
Published: Friday, Aug 3, 2007



The most direct way to get a copy of the documentary, “A State of Vine” is through ZAN Media’s dedicated Web site

It will also be available soon

at the Wine Hardware Stores

in Sonoma (536 Broadway)

and St. Helena (659 Main St.), (800) 616-9463,
Copyright © 2007 The Press Democrat
427 Mendocino Ave., P.O. Box 569, Santa Rosa, CA 95402 — 707-546-2020