Novato filmmaker creates wine and liquor documentaries

Well it certainly seems that an evening out featuring dinner and a movie are off the table, at least for a while. So is going out to a bar for a drink. And a winery or distillery tour might be seen as bordering on the criminal. So what is a spiritually challenged person supposed to do during a lock down and SIP situation? Luckily for us, a local filmmaker has stepped up to the plate, releasing several Marin County produced wine and spirit documentaries all localized for our consumption. If we can’t actually be there, maybe we can watch someone else be there instead.

Don Scioli, 71, of Novato’s Zan Media had hit upon the documentary idea when his daughter Niki, 35, graduated from Sonoma State, first with a degree in Wine Business, and later in 2009, with an MBA.

“Maybe we should do some documentaries on the wine business?” he recalls asking.

The result was three documentaries all shot primarily in Sonoma and Marin and all made available on Amazon Prime last month.

“You can shoot anything in the Wine Country and it looks good any time of the year,” Scioli says. “It always looks good.”

The first, “Routes to Roots: Napa and Sonoma,” originally released as a “State of Vine” in 2007 and then re-edited and re-released in 2018, features “Two Buck Chuck’s” winemaker Fred Franzia, champion racecar driver and winery owner Mario Andretti, award-winning winemaker Bob Foley of Pride Mountain Vineyards (Pride is also connected to the Pride Institute in Novato’s Hamilton Field), and Daniel Barron of Silver Oak Cellars, along with others, and is a  straight forward documentary centering on the Napa/Sonoma wine rivalry. Interesting primarily to people already interested in wine. But then Scioli had a completely different idea.

“Let’s do a show about people who are really into wine but aren’t really wine makers,” he says.  Zan Media, already had the perfect person for the job. “[Niki] who is a really good producer did a lot of research and came up with the list of participants featured there in “A Passion for the Vine” says Scioli. Zan Media really is a family affair, also including daughter Alex as a production assistant.

Originally released in 2016, the second documentary includes a diverse ensemble featuring amongst others: David Coverdale the lead singer of the rock bands Whitesnake and Deep Purple (who now hails from Lake Tahoe), Dick Vermeil, a native Napan, and former NFL coach, former Marinite Jonathan Cain, songwriter and keyboardist for the rock band Journey, and Carmen Policy the former president of the San Francisco 49ers.

“Jonathon [Cain] flew in from Nashville just to do the shoot,” says Scioli. “He used to live right down the road from me. When we used to go to Fresh Choice, we used to run into them. Hey, there’s Journey over there eating some veggie stuff.”

Scioli has endless stories about the shoots. “We love wine,” he says. “I’ve tasted just about every wine in Northern California,” he adds without much regret.

“The best guy though, was David Coverdale, talk about charisma, talk about charm, he’s got the great voice, he’s funny as hell and he knows everything there is to know about wine.”   

The third documentary, titled “A Cocktail Orange: Shaken and Stirred” and filmed in 2018, is about the contemporary cocktail and spirits world and features local brewer/distiller Brendan Moylan (of Moylan’s Brewery in Novato and Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma) amongst others.

“I knew Brendan [Moylan] back when he was making beer in his garage,” says Scioli. “That one was more of just a sort of half an hour fun thing to do,” he says of the 30 minute film.

Documentaries weren’t always Scioli’s thing. “I worked in Hollywood for about 10 years,” he says. Scioli had worked on two feature films for Alan Landsberg, before forming Zan Media in 1980 with his wife. 

“In the 80’s we had a couple of huge retail accounts,” he says. “We did about 200 commercials a year for about six or seven years, and a couple of feature films,” he says.

Settling in Marin in 1983, he co-wrote and directed a theatrical horror/thriller called “The Beckoning”  based loosely upon the events surrounding Sir Francis Drake’s landing in Marin County.

“In Northern California you basically have to do everything, you can’t really specialize too much if you are in the film business,” he says. “Luckily, I went to USC film school, they taught me to do everything there.”

Scioli’s wife and partner of 39 years, Christine, passed away in February of breast cancer. “She was the writer and producer,” he says. “She was the A-team; her name is on all the projects. She was a big part of it. I might have had more of the technical expertise, but she was a lawyer who became a producer. One of her things at the end was to keep the business going so that is what we are doing.”

So, sit back, order a ToGo cocktail or two, or maybe get some wine delivered, and enjoy the shows courtesy of Zan Media. It might just be the next best thing to being there.

More information can be found here:, and the films: “The Routes to Roots : Napa and Sonoma,” “ A Passion for the Vine” and “A Cocktail Orange: Shaken and Stirred” are all available for streaming on Amazon Prime.