Ξ May 6th, 2008 | → 3 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Tasting Notes, Wine News, Winemakers |
Winemaking, a revered calling for those fortunate few; working the land, toiling the vines, something handed down from generation to generation, something that fate alone chooses. Er….well, no – not really, or at least not any more. Barry Manilow wines anyone?
In today’s society money and fame can obtain pretty much anything, and the wine world is no exception. There is an ever expanding list of celebrities and businessmen who are getting involved in wine and, while generalisations are always dangerous territory in writing, there does appear to be three categories that you can slot the majority of these ventures into – Marketing, Business or Love.
Marketing – The celebrity is predominantly a name or face on a label and is unlikely to have been anywhere near a grape press or fermentation vat (or even the winery!). It’s not hard to see why this model works, with legions of fans clamouring to buy anything linked to their idol a bottle of wine is an obvious addition to the merchandising arsenal. Cynics would argue promotion is the name of the game here and the contents of the bottle are a secondary consideration.
Celebrity Cellars is a good place to start if you are interested in labels , with Madonna and KISS included in the range all the wines are from Temecula Valley winery Miramonte. Barry Manilow has covered his bases with his M Line Wines, produced for him by Flora Springs in St. Helena, Macchia in Lodi and White Crane in Livermore.
Business – In this model the winery may have a rich or famous name on the deeds but they are involved in a business, and probably not their only one. The role is predominantly a figurehead, the name helping with the marketing but the resulting wine is a result of managers and winemakers with little or no influence from above. From what I’ve heard Dan Ackroyd’s new venture fits into this category as well, although one would hope that Dan, having invested $1 million into Niagara Cellars in 2005, is aiming to become one of those more serious and respected winemakers.
However the final category is what many of us dream of, the romantic ideal of someone who, through fame or fortune, is able to realise their dream of making wine…. this is for Love. Here the name is not just an owner, but is actually involved in many or all aspects of the wine process and, although in the end it may still be a business, profit isn’t the most important factor. A couple of years ago The Discovery Channel broadcast “The Grape Escape” about the Eaglevlei Estate in Stellenbosch, bought by North East (U.K.) businessman, Tony Hindhaugh. The series followed him from first buying the ailing winery through the trials and tribulations of producing his first vintage. I’d also put music legend Sting in this category – he bought his Tuscan summer home (and Yoga retreat) Il Palagio in 1997 and the wines produced here are currently only available locally and for family friends.
What about the “first lives” of these people who have decided to become involved in all things vinous, what careers allow such later-life luxuries?
With the millions that top Sportsmen earn it’s no surprise they are well represented in the lists, such as former SF 49ers Quarterback Joe Montana who paired up with Beringer’s Ed Sbragia to produce Montagia wines.
In Motor Racing NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon linked up with August Briggs Winery out of Calistoga to produce his Napa Valley wines and F1’s Jarno Trulli bought Podere Castorani in Abruzzo, Italy, although it was Italian Mario Andretti who originally bridged both sports & countries with his Napa Valley winery.
Top golfers have also moved into Wine, with the Great White Shark himself, Greg Norman selling wine from California and from Beringer Blass vineyards in Australia. Nick Faldo’s wines come from Katnook Estate in Coonawarra, Arnold Palmer wines are made by California’s Luna Vineyards and even John Daly, that renowned wine drinker, is getting in on the act, although I couldn’t identify where his are made! However it is South African Ernie Els who has the best credentials here, with a winery in Stellenbosch in collaboration with Jean Engelbrecht from Rust en Vrede.
Music and wine also seem to be a perfect match. For the girls Olivia Newton John founded Koala Blue Wines in 1983. For the boys Bob Dylan’s “Planet Waves” is made by Fattoria Le Terazze in Italy’s Marche region, while Mick Fleetwood has wine produced for his Private Reserve line by Casa Cassara in the Santa Rita Hills.
British crooner Sir Cliff Richard bought Quinta do Moinho in the Algarve, Portugal, in 1993, planted a vineyard in 1997 and, together with 2 other properties in the area, established Adega do Cantor making “Vida Nova” wines. The Algarve is not overly renowned for its quality wines and Vida Nova is for general drinking at around the $16 price range, but apparently each vintage has been steadily improving. Cliff was famously “stung” by celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay, on his show The F-Word in 2006, in a blind tasting of his own wine – the Video clip shows several other celebrity wines in the “tasting”. Unsurprisingly the press sensationalised the story at the time, even though it seemed to have been taken in good nature by Cliff on the show.
It can be argued that TV and Film have provided the most recognisable names and also, so far, the most credible participants in the Wine World, although not necessarily both together. Paul Newman has his “Newman’s Own” wines produced by Three Thieves, part of the Rebel Wine Company, while Davy Crockett himself, Fess Parker, has been making wines out of the Santa Ynez valley since 1989. Parker’s grand tasting room was the site of the scene from the movie Sideways where Miles eventually downs the dregs from the Spit Bucket!
Two actors that have been noticed by the professionals since they took to winemaking are New Zealander Sam Neill and Frenchman Gérard Depardieu. Jurassic Park’s Neill owns Two Paddocks in Central Otago and has gathered a good reputation for his Pinot Noir, although it is difficult to find as production is limited. Depardieu (U.S. readers may know him from Green Card, while in Europe his Cyrano de Bergerac and Obelix are more renowned) is so dedicated to winemaking that he has acteur-vigneron on his passport. He makes wine out of his Loire Valley property near Anjou, Château de Tigné, and has shares in Domaines Alain Paret in Condrieu and Château Gadet in the Médoc.
However the name most people think of in this category has to be Francis Ford Coppola. In 1975 wine-lover Francis and wife Eleanor bought a Victorian house in Rutherford, California, as a country retreat, “a cottage, a place to write and a couple of acres to make a little wine.” The house was the Niebaum mansion, and came with vineyards that were part of the famed Inglenook Estate, a winery set up by Finnish sea-farer Captain Gustave Niebaum who had Californian wine winning awards in Paris 87 years before the better known 1976 “Judgement”. In 1995 Coppola bought the remaining acreage and the Inglenook Château for his Niebaum-Coppola brand, eventually changing the name in 2006 to Rubicon Estate, named after its most famous wine. Separate to this is the Rosso & Bianco brand out of Geyserville, Sonoma, which produces more affordable wines including Director’s Cut and Diamond Collection.
So does any of this make a blind bit of difference to the quality of the wines produced? In an attempt to put some of this into perspective for the average wine drinker (is there such a thing?) I carried out a simple tasting with 3 of the easier to buy bottles from some of the wineries mentioned above, all less than $20.
Eaglevlei 2005 Merlot $14. This had a really smoky nose with a lot of red fruit and oak. Smooth in the mouth with mild tannins, a little cherry, tobacco and a rich chocolate undertone, this was light-medium bodied and has a very quick finish which lets it down, but otherwise was a very pleasant Merlot and, for the cheapest of the three, was my favourite. 86-87pts.
Vida Nova 2005 (Aragonêz, Syrah, Trincadeira) $16. A raspberry jam nose, with a dose of alcoholic spiciness. It had good general mouthfeel and body, but there’s an imbalance with too much heat on the finish and a green bitterness that doesn’t sit well with the fruit on the nose and first taste. Overpriced for what it delivers, 82-83pts.
Francis Coppola Diamond Collection 2005 Gold Label Chardonnay $18. Citrus and zesty nose with a buttery texture, a little wooded finish, nice enough taste. Quite dry with a quick finish and a touch of heat on the end. Not a bad Chardonnay, but for the most expensive wine it didn’t match up to its price tag. 86-87pts.
This is by no means a comprehensive coverage of who’s who – I could go on, but there are too many B-List celebs getting involved in this sort of this to cover them all. In attempt to satiate my OCD here a quick list of some others you may find…
Richard Branson, Lorraine Bracco, Celine Dion, Sir David Frost, Jerry Garcia, Lleyton Hewitt, Mick Hucknall, Vince Neil, Jamie Oliver, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Savanna Samson, Michael Seresin, Barbara Streisand, Alex Trebek.
For most of these wines you’re unlikely to be getting a bargain, but for Manilow, Madonna or Mötley Crüe fans that’s probably not their prime concern anyway, however for the rest of us you should at least be getting something moderately drinkable and not too far out of the typical Quality-Price-Ratio range, and for this it is more likely to be the hands-on owners and those with a some passion for wine who are likely to deliver – the Neills, the Depardieus and Coppolas of the world. Who knows, should that lottery win come in a Greybeard Cuvée may be in the offing!