Publicist boosted California wines

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Jeanne Viner Bell, 85, a publicist who helped an advocacy group for California winemakers make its products a presence on the diplomatic social circuit in Washington, D.C., died Wednesday at her son's home in Los Angeles. She had Alzheimer's disease.

Bell -- then known as Jeanne Viner -- started her self-titled agency in 1961.

Her clients included many French restaurants and a spectrum of trade organizations, but the Wine Institute, representing California winemakers, was among her most important.

In the mid-1960s, when she began her work, French varietals still dominated state dinners at the White House and functions at U.S. embassies.

Harvey Posert, former public relations executive at the Wine Institute and for wine producer Robert Mondavi, said Bell worked successfully to persuade the White House and State Department to serve and promote California wines.

Ultimately, President Nixon built a California wine cellar at the White House.

Jeanne Spitzel was born in 1923 in Los Angeles, where her father was a real estate investor with many film studio contacts.

Her appearance at a dance recital attracted the interest of the film studio 20th Century Fox, where she briefly was under contract.

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