By Terry Sweeney
Starting your own celebrity winery was once the private pastime of a few brave stars here and there. Fess Parker and the Smothers’ Brothers for instance were simply Hollywood actor/winos following their love of the grape into the unknown; exploring uncharted territory in the still quite immature California wine industry of the 1970’s. Celebrity winemakers didn’t really hit their stride though till Italian/American Director Francis Ford Coppola (the Godfather of Celebrity Wine) appeared on the wine scene. This was no idle whim; to be fair, his family had a history of making their own “cosa nostra” home brew down in their basement for generations and though everyone who tasted their wine said they liked it (if they knew what was good for them!); it wasn’t until he struck it rich in the movie biz that he was able to turn his family’s hobby into a respected line of international name brand wines that could stand alone.
Well, they’re not alone anymore. There are more celebs in the wine business than there are half-eaten Dunkin’ Donuts under Kirstie Alley’s bed! And they come from an amazingly wide range of celebrity-hood.
Actors like Johnny Depp, Gerard Depardieu, Dan Aykroyd, Antonio Banderas, Brad Pitt, Lorraine Bracco … sports stars like Joe Montana, David Beckham, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, and Mike Ditka. Race car superstars Jeff Gordon, Richard Childress, and Mario Andretti … And singers Sting, Madonna, Dave Mathews, Carlos Santana, and Olivia Newton John — just to name a few.
Even dead stars have miraculously jumped on the wine wagon from the Other Side. There are now four Elvis Presley Wines put out by his Graceland Cellars: “King of Rock ‘n Roll” Cabernet Sauvignon, “Jail House Rock” Merlot, “Blue Suede” Chardonnay and “Blue Hawaii” Riesling. But he faces stiff competition. If you thought for one minute competing dead Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe was gonna take this lying down, you’ve got another thing coming. From her St. Helena,California, vineyard, she’s put out a Marylyn Merlot and even a few Norma Jean Varietals (I am not making this up!).
Paris Hilton, in a celebrity category all her own, recently launched her “Luxury sparkling wine in a can” called Rich Prosecco in an ad featuring her nude, covered in gold paint, crawling around on the ground. Why? I don’t know — maybe looking for a can opener? Will a Cabernet Ho-vignon be her next launch? And will it too come in a can?!
Martha Stewart is rumored to have made a deal with Gallo to produce value marketed wines to be sold at Kmart. There is no “vin-side” information available as to what she’s naming it. It’s not gonna be easy because there already is a novelty wine on the market called “Bitch.” And as I said, Elvis has taken Jail House Rock.
What is disturbing to many of the winemakers and reps I talk to is that it is one thing to be a celebrity with a passion for wine and hire a celebrity wine maker equally gifted and famous in his own field to make your wine; and quite another to just sell your name and stick it on a bottle of fermented paint remover.
My advice is to do your own research before purchasing any of these “stellar” products. Many of the celebrity wines I looked at started at $40 and that’s a lot to spend on this showbiz bilge water — unless of course you don’t open the bottle and keep it as a collectable to be sold sometime in the future like “Star Trek” action figures on eBay. Keep your eyes peeled for the next big celebrity winemaker. You never know when the Olsen Twins might decide to introduce a “Goweirdtwinminer” or Angelina Jolie releases her “Stick-your-leg-out Syrah,” Come that “Big Hollywood Wine Auction” in the sky, you could be sitting pretty. Cheers!
P.S. I recently tried Dave Mathew’s ‘Crush” — a 2009 red wine North Coast blend of Merlot and Zinfandel from his Dreaming Tree label — and thought it was great! ($13.49)
By Terry Sweeney