Looking for a hobby? Got a few millions to spend? Why not buy a vineyard and bottle your own wine. You might make a profit, even better, you might turn out something good. Now I’m not talking about just licensing your name to somebody so they can put your image on a jug of swill and triple the price. I’m talking celebrities who actually like wine and have a bit of taste and, maybe, some business acumen.
Surprisingly few celebrity chefs dabble in wine production. Mario Batali works with his business partner, Joe Bastianich (son of celebrity chef Lidia), who is a recognized authority on Italian wines, but that’s about it. Perhaps the chefs are concerned that a poor vintage might cause people to doubt their culinary skills or the restaurants they own. Or maybe it’s because these chefs already have sweetheart deals with wineries. Possibly I should mention Martha Stewart here who has partnered with Gallo to lend her name to wines sold through K-Mart. Or possibly not. Oh, and maybe there’s Guy Fieri, if he survives the awful reviews of his restaurant.There are plenty of actors who have taken up vinting — Lorraine Bracco, Kyle McLachlan, Jason Priestly, Emilio Estevez , Sam Neill, Gérard Depardieu, all own some or all of a vineyard and and a label. Raymond Burr bought a vineyard but died before its first vintages were ready — the label is still run by his partner, Robert Benevides. Fess Parker started the winery and resort that bears his name, which was featured in Sideways.
Some actors are concerned that their personae may affect the reception of their wine:
Originally the winery was called Smothers Brothers, but I changed the name to Remick Ridge because when people heard Smothers Brothers wine, they thought something like Milton Berle Fine Wine or Larry, Curly and Mo Vineyards,” Tom explains.
Dan Aykroyd isn’t afraid to market his own products and put his name on the label. “They asked me if I’d like to have my own wines…how good is that?” Aykroyd got heavilly involved in the selling of Crystal Head vodka (distilled in Newfoundland) and was dismayed when the Liquor Control Board of Ontario refused to carry it because the bottle was too pretty or something. Aykroyd finally won that fight and his vodka is on sale beside the Pátron tequila that he imports into Canada and his own line of Niagara wines. Aykroyd also has a surprising factoid about wine and celebrities:
Every hockey player I know has an excellent nose and an excellent tongue. Kirk Muller, for instance, has excellent taste. Dave Ellett – he called his dog Caymus [after the famous Napa Valley cabernet] Dougie Gilmour loves to have the big, full red wines. Wendel Clark and John Erskine, too. I’ve had some good wine parties with those guys.
Wow! Wait’ll Don Cherry hears about hockey wine snobs! And I really, really want to try some Wendel Clark In-Your-Face red — but it has to be made from Saskatchewan grapes. Or saskatoons or something. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll sample some of The Great Ones’ No.99 wines, especially since it’s now legal to transport wine across the border into B.C.
There are a whole lot of athletes that have gone into the wine business — Tom Seaver, Mike Weir, Mario Andretti, Charles Woodson (who is not allowed to promote his product so long as he is active in the NFL) — just to name check four major sports besides hockey. Peggy Fleming had a winery but it seems to have closed. And let’s not forget David Beckham who gave his wife a vinyard for her birthday. (I so hope they produce a wine called Posh Spice.) Hmm, no basketball wine. Well, Larry Bird has put his name on a few bottles (“surprisingly good for a white”) but he’s not really involved so far as I can see.
But aside from a few rockers like Vince Neil, the best celebrity wines are produced by actors. Richard Gere has teamed with a major Italian producer to put out what I hear are outstanding wines. And, of course, there’s Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt who are the latest celebrities to buy Miraval, a French château that has seen more than its share of celebrities. Sting (yes, he makes wine, too) recorded there as did Pink Floyd, who recorded much of The Wall at a studio constructed in the basement by jazz pianist Jacques Loussier. In fact, a reportedly excellent rosé from Miraval was named Pink Floyd by Pitt. Pitt and Jolie are to be married at Miraval and then will market their co-produced wines as Jolie-Pitt. They should be very very good.