ST. HELENA, CA: Sutter Home Winery knows that white zinfandel isn't everyone's varietal of choice. But as the company celebrates the 30th anniversary of the pink drink it created, it's getting the word out that California's wine industry wouldn't be able to toast its own success without white zinfandel.
"It doesn't get as much respect as it deserves," said Mary Ann Vangrin, the winery's director of PR. "[CEO] Bob [Trinchero] has said in a culture that drinks Kool-Aid and Coke, it's difficult to get people to jump to a high-end cabernet sauvignon. But with white zinfandel, it's a 'bridge' beverage that people enjoy, and often it gets them to try other wines. A lot of people use it as a starter wine to develop a palate and taste for wine. A lot of people have moved onto other wines by starting with white zinfandel."
That's the story that Sutter Home and its agency of record, Ketchum, are presenting to the media. So far, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the Cincinnati Enquirer have all interviewed the winery, as have business radio journalists.
"When we were thinking about the 30th anniversary, we wanted to tell the story about what a great entrepreneur [Trinchero] is," said Ketchum VP Drew McGowan. Thirty years ago, Trinchero was trying to make a red zinfandel, and by accident, invented white. "Most people don't know the story," McGowan added. "He created a new varietal of wine that has changed the wine industry."
California wineries sold $14 billion in wine in 2002, according to the Wine Institute. And Americans sipped 595 million gallons of wine last year, more than any other year on record.
"Eight percent of the wine in the country is consumed by 20% of the population," said Vangrin. "And while people may look down on white zinfandel, the industry sells 20 million cases of blush wine each year. And 60% of those who start with this wine stick with it. It's time to give white zinfandel its due."
Sutter Home and Ketchum are focusing on a mix of media, from food and wine writers to those outside the industry, such as business publications that would be interested in the entrepreneurial angle and lifestyle magazines more interested in wine and Napa Valley.
"We're really seeing a lot of interest in this part of the history of wine, and its influence on the growth of the industry in Napa Valley and Northern California," said McGowan.