Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hollywood and Vine – Taking a Look at Celebrity Wines

This month, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie partnering with the French winemaking family, Perrin, will release a Rose’ wine on the Miraval Cotes de Provence label.  Just one example of the many celebrities planning to release wines this year.  It is apparent, celebrities are quite taken with the wine industry.  

It seems the rich and famous have always been drawn to the world of wine.  In ancient Greece, well-known philosophers and playwrights owned their own vineyards, as did Roman politicians and military officers.

Today many of the celebrated stars of sports, television and films, Rock-n-Roll, even government officials, have their own wineries and vineyards, or at least a line of wines named after them

According to a 2007 study by Nielsen research, grocery store sales of celebrity wine rose almost 19% in one year  - That represent $42 million – almost 1% - of the U.S.’s total wine sales.  Not a bad investment.  

In Name Only –
The celebrity wine industry is made up different levels of participation. There are those who simply lend their name in order to become a wine brand. 

For six years, football legend, Mike Ditka, lent his name to a line of wines produced by Mendocino Wine Company.  But last year Ditka announced that he was relaunching Mike Ditka Wines with a new company, Teriato Wines International
of Santa Rosa, California. Teriato Wines is a marketer of luxury wines in the U.S. and handles over 60 brands, including Ditka’s.  Mike Ditka’s wines are produced by unspecified wineries in California.

The new lineup was released last fall. There are eight wines, each named after a phase in Ditka’s football career.  The wines include The Player (Merlot and Pinot Grigio), The Coach (Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc), The Hall of Famer (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), The Icon (Cabernet Sauvignon), and The Champion (a red wine blend.)  Hoping to boost sagging sales, Ditka’s wines will sell from $15 to $50 a bottle. The Ditka wines are being sold in select locations, in restaurants, and online.

Comedian and actor, Dan Aykroyd first developed a taste for wine while working on the Blues Brothers movie.  In 2007, he partnered with Diamond Estates Wine and Spirits a Canadian alcohol distributors, to launch Dan Aykroyd Wines.

Diamond Estates offers a Chardonnay, Cabernet, Cabernet/Merlot Blend, Sauvignon Blanc, and an Icewine under the Dan Akyroyd Wine label. These are available in Canada only.

In the U.S., Akyroyd’s Cabernet and Chardonnay were made in collaboration with DeLoach Vineyards of Sonoma County, California.
They retail for under $20 a bottle.

Wine Collaboration –
There are those who actually collaborate with a known winery or winemaker to help create their own wines.

Jeff Gordon, of NASCAR fame, partnered with winemaker Joe Briggs of August Briggs Winery in Calistoga, California, to produce his award-winning wines.  The first vintage was released in 2005.

Gordon’s wine line includes Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and a signature red blend, Joie de Virve.  Prices range from $45 to $65 per bottle, and a magnum (1.5 Liter) of the Joie de Vivre for $115. Jeff Gordon wines may be found in restaurants and wine shops in California, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.  There is also a Jeff Gordon Collection Wine Club. Learn more at

Another sports legend, Wayne Gretzky, had a winery and vineyard in Canada, but closed it in 2011.  Gretzky now partners with Peller Estates to produce the wines. 

Wayne Gretzky Estates offers three lines of wine.  The Founders series comprised of Meritage, Merlot, Chardonnay (this wine won a double-gold medal in the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships,) Riesling, and a Cab/Merlot blend. Founder wines averages between $14 and $16 a bottle. The Estate series is made up of a Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and a Shiraz Cabernet.  The Estate wines run between $16 and $23 per bottle.  And in true Canadian style, there is a Shiraz Icewine for $55 for a 375ml. 

The wines are available throughout Canada, and may be ordered on line for US residents.
There is not a dedicated vineyard or winery for the wines, but they may be tasted at Wine Country Vintners in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. Wine Country Vintners also offers tastings of Trius, Peller Estates, and Hillebrand wines.

Heritage Wines -
Then there are the wineries that have some heritage to them.

Actor Raymond Burr bought a ranch in Dry Creek Valley, California in 1986.  The purpose was to plant grapes for wine production. Burr wanted to call the estate, A Quinta dos dois Amigos, (The Farm of Two Friends).

 When Burr died in 1993, his partner, Robert Benevides renamed the estate Raymond Burr Vineyards as a tribute to him.

Winemaker Phyllis Zouzounis began at the winery in 2006.  Today, Raymond Burr Vineyards produces award-winning wines crafted from Cabernet, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Portuguese grapes grown on the estate.  The wines sell for $28 to $38 a bottle, with the Estate Port at $48 per bottle. Wines may be purchased at the winery, on the web site, by joining the wine club, or at select locations.

Another heritage winery is MacMurray Ranch in the Russian River Valley in California.  Actor Fred MacMurray purchased the ranch in 1941.  Cattle herds were raised there until 1996 when Gallo bought the land and planted grapes.  There are now 450 acres of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes on the ranch lands.  The first vintage for MacMurray’s Ranch was released in 2000.

Today, winemaker Chris Munsell crafts the award-winning wines for MacMurray Ranch. The wines are actually made at several Gallo-owned wineries.  The wines are crafted from grapes on the ranch and from other vineyards in Sonoma County, the Central Coast and the Willamette Valley.  The wines produced are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  Prices range from $20 to $50 a bottle.

Fred MacMurray’s daughter, Kate, is the spokesperson for the wine label. MacMurray Ranch offers a wine club and online store on its web site.

Living the Life -
And that brings us to a well-known celebrity and ‘frontiersman’ who actually walked the talk and lived the life of owing a winery and vineyard.

Actor, Fess Parker purchased over 700 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1987.  He wanted to establish a vineyard and start a winery there, a place where he, his wife, and their two grown children could work together.

The Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard includes over 1,500 acres of vineyards, complete with a tasting room and visitors center.  The winery was featured in the 2004 wine movie Sideways.  Fans of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett suddenly took notice and the winery’s fame began to spread.  Parker built the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn nearby and made it a habit to enjoy a glass of wine with visitors every Thursday.

Although Parker died in 2010, his son Eli and daughter Ashley, are still involved in the day–to-day operation of the winery and vineyard, along with Ashley’s husband, Tim Snider. 

The Parker wine line up includes Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling and non-traditional Ports.  The wines sell for $13 to $55 a bottle.

And the list goes on…
There are wine bottles featuring Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. 
Actors Drew Barrymore, Sam Neil, Emilio Estevez, and Antonio Bandaras, all own commercial wineries. 
Musicians have an affinity to be involved in the wine biz too.  There’s Sting, Madonna, Fergie, Lil Jon, Dave Matthews, Boz Scaggs, even AC/DC.

Celebrities and wine - yet another winning combination in the wine industry.

~ Joy