Spring 2007/Summer 2007
By Deborah Grossman
What do guitar icon Carlos Santana, racing star Jeff Gordon, and three-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana have in common? These famous people—along with more and more celebrities—are entering into the wonderful world of wine.
Whether it's owning a winery or partnering with well-known vintners, celebrities are getting into the wine business, perhaps because they realize that making wine is a catalyst for a pleasurable lifestyle. And to a greater or lesser degree, they are involved in all facets of winemaking, from blending to swirling to tasting to giving the thumbs up on production.
Real Sports Heroes Drink Wine
Jeff Gordon, one of NASCAR's top-ranked stars, grew up watching car races in the Bay Area. "When I was a kid going to races in Petaluma and Calistoga, we drove by beautiful vineyards wrapping around the hills and valleys," he says. "As I traveled abroad, I remembered those scenes and learned to appreciate fine wine.”
In 2004, Gordon decided to step into the wine competition himself. He selected high-end producer August Briggs Wines, of Calistoga, to make his Jeff Gordon Collection wines. "I need the best technology and experts for my car—the same with my wine," he says. “Joe Briggs knows the science and does things in a first-class way.”
After Gordon won the 2006 Nextel Cup at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, he toasted his success with his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. "But I enjoy our Merlot at home with pizza, too," he adds.
As a wine producer, however, Gordon runs far behind the master, Mario Andretti, who celebrated the 10th year of his Napa-based Andretti Winery last June. After winning the Indianapolis 500 and taking 111 checkered flags in five decades, one might think that being a vintner is small grapes compared to his other interests. But "producing 40,000 cases of wine is a challenge," Andretti says. “Our Napa Reserve Selections make people smile, though, and this is my reward for being in the wine business.”
In the football arena, Joe and Jennifer Montana entered the wine business as a practical matter. When the football Hall of Famer and his family moved to Sonoma County, people started asking for charity wine donations. The Montanas produced one such wine with Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena, and after the event asked Beringer winemaker Ed Sbragia if he'd be interested in producing more wines. Thus was born the Bordeaux blend sold under their combined names, Montagia. “Working with someone like Ed, one of the country's top winemakers, is something we are so proud of," says Jennifer Montana, who also hosts On the Vine, a show about Wine Country on the Oxygen cable television network. While both Joe and Sbragia enjoy the same brawny, tannic red wines, Jennifer prefers the elegance of Bordeaux wines. "The basic difference between our blending styles is simple," she says. "I add the wines that represent the curves and softness of a woman. ... My role is to soften up their big, powerful California reds."
FLEMING JENKINS WINERY IS NO LONGER OPEN, PRODUCING WINE OR ACCEPTING DONATIONS AS OF DEC 2011.
The winemaking bug has also infected the ice-skating world. Olympic champion Peggy Fleming and her husband, Greg Jenkins, planted a vineyard near the Santa Cruz Mountains seven years ago but didn't expect so many spins and turns during the first few years. "Grape-growing is similar to nurturing athletes," says Fleming. "Grapes can grow by themselves, but with coaching from experts they grow that much better."
Although the winery is in Los Gatos, the pair pulls grapes from Yountville vineyards and recently released a Bordeaux blend, Choreography, with a Napa Valley AVA. Other wines include Victories Rosé, which benefits breast cancer research, and Madden Ranch Syrah, whose grapes come from friend John Madden's East Bay vineyard.
In 2005, golfer Greg Norman launched Greg Norman California Estates with wines including Lake County Zinfandel and Paso Robles Petite Sirah. He still rolls up his sleeves when it's time for production. "I don’t stomp grapes or roll barrels, but I’m heavily involved in the blending process," he says. "Blending is a challenge because it's an exercise in creativity, but with differing opinions approaching it from diverse perspectives."
Not to be outdone by Norman, fellow golfer Arnold Palmer produces wine at Luna Vineyards, a Napa Valley winery co-owned by Palmer’s friend Mike Moone. Arnold Palmer Wines include California Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. "It's fun to think you are a part of something you enjoy so much," Palmer says.
It may seem obvious that the singer of '80s superhits "Dr. Feelgood" and "Girls, Girls, Girls" knows how to have a good time. But Mötley Crüe front man Vince Neil has a serious appreciation of fine wine, as his 10,000-case production of Vince Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Sonoma Chardonnay attests. "Vince has a tattoo of Vince Vineyards on his arm," says Vince Vineyards managing partner Russ Dale. "During [Mötley Crüe's] 2006 tour with Aerosmith, the Vince Vineyard bus accompanied the tour and visited distributors in each city."
Rock compatriot Carlos Santana's sparkling wine is bottled under Mumm Napa’s DVX label, which is reserved for the winery's tête de cuvée. Santana selected the final blend for Santana DVX in 2005. "Carlos and winemaker Ludovic Dervin spent the day touring, tasting, and talking the same language of creative expression," says Dan de Serpa, licensing manager for Santana Management. "Carlos views this collaboration as symbolizing how his music and Mumm sparkling wine are bookmarks in people’s lives."
Entertaining in the Vineyard
To escape the glare of Hollywood, My Three Sons star Fred MacMurray purchased a cattle ranch near Sonoma's Russian River. Although the MacMurrays later sold the ranch to E & J Gallo, Fred's screenwriter daughter Kate lives on the property in a cabin her father built. "My father loved wine and wasn't a snob about it. If he liked the taste of a Cabernet, he thought it was great no matter the label," says Kate, who promotes the Gallo-produced MacMurray Ranch wines and is part of the winemaking team. "We call this part of Sonoma the "Noir Hood" and MacMurray Ranch Estate River Cuvée Pinot Noir reflects the land we live on."
In the 1970s, comedian Dick Smothers launched Smothers Brothers Wines from the brothers' Santa Cruz vineyards. Brother Tom later purchased 50 hillside acres in Kenwood to plant cabernet sauvignon, and when Dick sold his interest, Tom renamed the brand to Remick Ridge Vineyards and hired winemaker Richard Arrowood to overhaul it. Tom and his wife, Marcy, live on the Remick Ridge estate and own the Wine Room in Kenwood, where Remick Ridge and four other wineries offer tastings.
Robert Redford is another Hollywood star who relishes the beauty and relaxed lifestyle of Wine Country. Although the part-time Calistoga resident doesn't own a vineyard or winery, Sundance partners with artisanal, family-owned wineries to produce exclusive wines for his Sundance Resort's Wine as Art program. Some of this year's wines include Honig's Sauvignon Blanc, Selby Chardonnay, Judd's Hill Merlot, and Mer Soleil Late Harvest Viognier.
Whether the field is athletics or entertainment or politics, the lure of wine continues to grow. The list of celebrities expands as more of them enjoy serving their own brand to family and friends—and finding it at their favorite restaurants—in addition to finding new ways to satisfy their fans.
Other Celebrity Wines
Raymond Burr, actor, Raymond Burr Winery, Sonoma
Bruce Cohn, manager of the Doobie Brothers, B. R. Cohn, Glen Ellen
Francis Ford Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville; Rubicon Estate, Rutherford
John Lasseter, writer/director, Lasseter Family Winery, Glen Ellen
Diane Miller, Walt Disney’s daughter, Silverado Winery, Napa
Carmen Policy, former NFL executive
Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Representative
Tom Seaver, Hall of Fame pitcher
Larry Bird, Legends, Cosentino Winery, Yountville
Mike Ditka, Kick Ass Red, Mendocino Wine Co., Mendocino
Elvis Presley Wines, Graceland Cellars, Signature Wines, Hayward
J. Garcia, Clos du Bois, Napa
Marilyn (Monroe) Wines, including Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jean brands, Nova Wines, St. Helena
Outside Northern California
Dan Ackroyd, comedian, Canada
Mario Batali, Food Network chef, Italy
Lorraine Bracco, actor, Italy (Bracco label)
Gérard Depardieu, actor, France
Bob Dylan, singer, Italy
Ernie Els, golfer, South Africa
Nick Faldo, golfer, Australia
Mick Hucknall, singer, Sicily
Sam Neill, actor, New Zealand
Olivia Newton-John, singer, Australia (Koala Blue label)
Fess Parker, actor, aka Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, Southern California
Sir Cliff Richard, singer, Portugal
Sting, singer, Italy
Mike Weir, golfer, Canada