When the news broke yesterday that actor and winery owner Fess Parker had passed away, we knew we had to write about it. That’s because Anne met Parker when she did a profile on him for the May 2004 issue of Wines & Vines magazine.
Yes, Parker’s Santa Inez winery has been roundly (and sometimes justifiably) satirized and criticized for populist, mediocre wines that only sold because of his name. But not all of his wines were that bad. Some were even pretty darned good. We haven’t tasted them in a good long time, so can’t say where they are nowadays.
But there is no question Parker used his name to sell wine. Why not? The name had value, and he was fully conscious of it and made a point of using it. More to the point, he purposely became the face of the winery that his children actually ran, not to mention the two hotels he owned and his other businesses. Behind all that folksy charm (and he was charming), the man was one savvy businessperson.
He told Anne in their interview that he asked Walt Disney for 10 percent of the merchandising money from the Davy Crockett series that made him famous and got it. Granted, the merchandising industry was still in its infancy. Disney had been making some nice change off Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck toys since the 1930s. However, Parker’s request was remarkably astute for the time – and he had no way of knowing that sales of coon-skin caps were going to go through the roof.
Fess Parker Winery certainly isn’t the biggest, nor the oldest winery out in the Santa Ynez Valley. But it’s always been one of the most popular and probably has been a significant drawing point that got people out of nearby Solvang and out touring the surrounding hills and other wineries, particularly when the industry was relatively new. That’s why Anne went out there the first time.
We tended to avoid the place after that because it is one of those slick operations that we don’t really care for and the wines weren’t good enough to get us past that. And it was also usually crowded, and we hate that. But maybe it’s time to check in again – after the fuss has lessened. In the meantime, we raise a glass to Fess Parker and say our prayers for his soul and his family.
You can find Parker’s basic obituary here on the Yahoo site – both Yahoo and MSN.com picked up the Associated Press obit.