It’s pronounced “tsurl-YEN-ak”

February 17th, 2011

It’s pronounced “tsurl-YEN-ak”. (Screen capture from You Tube)

It’s pronounced “tsurl-YEN-ak”. (Screen capture from You Tube)

Last week, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance released a video promoting the upcoming Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival (taking place March 18 to 20). This video spoofs the wildly popular Old Spice Guy ads.

The one and half minute, high-production-value video is well-done, entertaining, fun and gets viewers excited about the upcoming event. As it should.


It seems to me that if one is to spend a considerable amount of money on a video promoting an event that celebrates the grape that defines Paso Robles – as is the message of the video – then it would behoove the sponsoring organization to make sure the public knows how to pronounce the name of the parent grape.

Admittedly, the name Crljenak, does not readily lend itself to conventions of American English pronunciation.

Perhaps, in all they do, the PRWCA, did not have 10 minutes for a Google search and the time for a quick email exchange with a linguistic expert who would explain how to pronounce “Crljenak”.

Perhaps, the video budget did not allow for a linguistics coach to help the actor pronounce “Crljenak” correctly.t

Perhaps, the creators of the video just did not care to teach the people, who will come to the festival and taste their Zinfandels, how to pronounce the name of Zinfandel’s parent, Crljenak, correctly.

True, Americans have a hard time with some pronunciations. Perhaps, it seemed easier to the creators of the video to just say: “Who cares?!” and deliberately mangle the pronunciation as “gree-JELL-nack” (which hurts my ears).

Before I go any further, I want to stress that I think the video is great. It’s funny and I get it. I think it will benefit the festival.

But such a deliberate mangling rings uncomfortably jingoistic to me. Particularly, because it dismisses any effort at the pronunciation. Perhaps, it’s just pandering to those who are daunted by the spelling of “Crljenak” (but have the money to come to Paso Robles, pay for the event tickets, lodging, food, etc…).

There is nothing wrong with national pride. Yes, we should celebrate our nation, individuality and the spin our wine industry puts on grape varieties from all over the world. But that cannot be synonymous with a dismissal of the history and heritage of those varieties and our winemaking traditions. Nothing is so hard that it cannot be done or learned.

I argue a lot for the elevation of American wine Culture. I recommend that, those who can, check out the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival. The first step towards elevating our collective wine culture is to get out there and try all the wines the Central Coast has to offer.

The next step is learning about the wines one is tasting. Those going to the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival may find that reading the following will make them more informed wine lovers. The ability to pronounce “Crljenak” just may impress some on the opposite side of the pouring table.

My real hope, though, is that it will convey to wineries, wine associations and wine PR entities that the wine loving public does not need their wine information simplified.

Crljenak (tsurl-YEN-ak)

A red (or black, if you prefer) grape of Croatian origins. The name is pronounced: tsurl-YEN-ack, according to Michael Heim, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at UCLA. The full name, “Crljenak Kaštelanski” is pronounced: tsurl-YEN-ak kashtel-AHN-ski (or, kastel-AHN-ski). DNA analysis performed by UC Davis geneticist Carole Meredith in 2002 demonstrated this grape to be the the same variety as Zinfandel and Primitivo which, since the early 1990s, were known to be the same grape. This means that Crljenak, Primitivo and Zinfandel are the same grape. Efforts to establish Primitivo and Zinfandel as synonymous in the TTB’s lexicon of grape varieties were strongly opposed, and the two continue to be listed as separate varieties. According to Carole Meredith, who cites her Croatian collaborators, “Crljenak” refers to the fruit color. The word “Kaštelanski” is an adjective meaning “from Kaštela” – fitting, since the grape was identified in a small vineyard in Kaštela, on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. So, Crljenak kastelanski simply means “the local red wine grape in Kastela” or perhaps  “the native Kastelian red grape”.


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    [...] » Blog Archive » It’s pronounced “tsurl-YEN-ak” – view page – cached Last week, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance released a video promoting the upcoming Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival (taking place March 18 to 20). This video spoofs the wildly popular Old Spice Guy [...]