Famous folks dabbling in wine is nothing new. It’s been done since ancient times. Roman high society often owned and maintained small vineyards for personal consumption, as did their Greek counterparts. Today, there is a new focus on celebrity wine makers, perhaps due to the combination of their high-profile lives and the social media that makes news of their activities ubiquitous.
From sports to music, movies to politics, celebrities have certain advantages that put wine making within their reach. As New Zealand actor Sam Neill is quoted as saying, “I’d like the vineyard to support me, but I’m afraid it is the other way round. It is not a very economic business.” He laments that it is a “ridiculously time- and money-consuming business.” What drives Neill? Satisfaction and fun. His winery, Two Paddocks, lies in Central Otago, New Zealand, and produces 3,000 cases a year, mostly Pinot Noir.
So, celebrities gravitate to wine … because they can. With enough time and money, wine making can be a fun and rewarding side enterprise — if not always lucrative. But their reasons for jumping into the wine world are varied – as is their degree of involvement.
For those who are already self-professed “oenophiles” like Oakland Raider Charles Woodson, advancing from a love of wine to making it oneself could simply be a next logical step — for a millionaire! Discovering wine in nearby Napa, Woodson partnered with a Mondavi winemaker to produce a bottle sporting his name and signature (although he is prohibited by NFL regulations from being seen endorsing it).
Dave Matthews, (yes, of the band bearing his name) is a South African musician who bought a heritage vineyard in Virginia, largely for the purpose of restoring its historic significance and beauty. Blenheim Vineyards boasted Thomas Jefferson as a guest back in the day. Matthews restored vines on the original vineyard site there.
Winery ownership does not only fulfill something within a given owner’s heart, it can also be a tax shelter, and a way to give back. Peggy Fleming of Olympic ice-skating and cancer survival fame, donated 10% of all profits from her delicious label “Victories Rosé” to cancer research charities before the winery closed in 2011. Bruce (B.R.) Cohn, Doobie Brothers manager and estate wine- and olive oil producer, hosts an annual Fall Music Festival and golf charity event.
Whether full-on involvement, or simply occasional dabbling in the wine’s overall production, celebrities have contributed to wine making the world over, and in the case of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, sometimes even earning awards for their contributions.
Do you have any favorite celebrity wines? Are there any celebrities you would be excited to see in the wine world? Curious minds want to know ☺