Wine solves a problem for Hollywood

In a world where cinemas are shuttered and Netflix is cheap, how do you get people to stream new movies? You offer them wine. W. Blake Gray has the story.
 

The front label of The Argument wine
The front label of The Argument wine

Two of California’s most famous products are more difficult to sell in 2020. Hollywood can’t induce many people to sit in theatres. The state also has a glut of wine after successive large vintages, but small wineries can’t reach consumers through their usual channels of restaurants and tasting rooms.

Robert Schwartzman, a nephew of filmmaker/winemaker Francis Ford Coppola, is trying something new. For his new film The Argument, Schwartzman concocted a package deal that he is selling online: $35 for a bottle of wine labelled The Argument plus a code to stream the movie.

“We’re all fighting for shelf space,” said Schwartzman, who produced and directed the film. “We’re all fighting for attention in the market, on the wine side and the film side. Because of direct to consumer, it’s opened up these windows for collaboration. The wine industry should embrace them with open arms.”

The concept might have potential for the future. What if there was a Star Wars wine-streaming package: how many people would buy the bottle just to own it?

“There’s a lot of wine out there that is not made by the people who grow the grapes,” Schwartzman said. “Maybe we are entering a time when new voices are going to enter the wine space. If we can find ways to collaborate and cross-promote with movies, or with musicians, or with athletes, I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

A crucial point is that the wine is legitimate: a Sonoma County Pinot Noir made by the Wonderland Project from three vineyards in the Petaluma Gap and Sonoma-Carneros AVAs. It’s fresh and varietally correct, and in the California market that makes it worth about $20-$25 retail. That means streaming the movie only costs about $10, which is a lot cheaper than the $30 plus $7 subscription cost that Disney is asking Americans to pay to stream the film Mulan. However, shipping is $19 extra, unless the customer buys two extra bottles of The Argument wine.

Schwartzman, who spent 15 years as front man for the pop-rock band Rooney, spent enough time in wine country that he had connections to source the wine. While he could have gone to his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, he didn’t.

“I don’t want to bring in everything down the family path,” Schwartzman said. Instead he went to Wonderland, which had some Pinot Noir from a custom-crush project that was ready to bottle.

“The label turnaround was very quick. The compliance side was very quick,” Schwartzman said. “They squeezed us in and I’m appreciative of that. They had the infrastructure set up to ship to different states.”

Schwartzman didn’t go looking specifically for Pinot Noir. In the film, the characters drink throughout, but most drink a fictitious expensive Bourbon. 

Schwartzman made a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon labelled The Argument for a Hollywood film preview, and the audience loved the bottles printed with the same logo as the film, so he decided he was onto something.

“I was open to whatever they had to be honest,” Schwartzman said. “I love Pinot Noir, but I can’t imagine us turning down some juice that was ready to go. I’m glad it’s a red. I drink white wine during the day, but I drink red at night and I watch movies at night.”

I tried the package as intended: I watched the film on my laptop with a glass of the wine. It’s a comedy in which a group of people keep restaging the same cocktail party in order to resolve who was right in a stupid argument. You watch the same people do the same things over and over, until after nearly an hour there’s a twist and the film suddenly becomes interesting. For the first 56 minutes, the wine made the movie bearable; I’m not sure I would have made it to the fun conclusion without it.

“If the movie did not naturally have a tie-in to wine in some way, I don’t know if it would work as much,” Schwartzman said. “The movie takes place at a cocktail party. Everyone’s drinking throughout the night. There’s a lot of sipping. It just seemed kind of fitting to tell people, ‘Have your own cocktail party.’”

W. Blake Gray

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