Celebrity Wines

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, March 2012
Photo courtesy of MacMurray Ranch •

If the names on many of the bottles in your local wine shop look familiar, it’s because winemaking is big business for celebrities. The list of famous people who own wineries is quite extensive, but are their wines just marketing gimmicks or the real deal?

Owning a winery is not cheap. The price for a basic Napa Valley vineyard runs anywhere from $1 million for a no-frills model to $10 million or more for the picturesque rolling-hills version, according to John Bergman, a wine country real estate professional who specializes in vineyard sales. No wonder it takes a movie star’s income to own one.

Whether it is a romantic dream of owning a vineyard or just having something to fall back on in case the movie career doesn’t work out, celebrities have been adding their monikers to wine labels since the 1970s. And the list keeps growing with rock stars and professional athletes throwing their grapes into the mix. For now, though, we’ve limited our tasting of famously named wines to cinema legends. Here are a few that are available locally.

MOVIE DIRECTOR: “Patton,” “The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now”
WINERY: Francis Ford Coppola Winery [www.franciscoppolawinery.com]
SALUTÉ CHOICE: Coppola Rosso

Winemaking is serious business for Francis Ford Coppola who Forbes Magazine calls “the godfather of wine.” He bought his Napa Valley land in 1975 planning to make a little wine in his basement, much like his grandfather Agostino did in his New York apartment. Today, Coppola produces nearly a million cases of wine with 40 different varietals, including his complex Reserve and Director’s Cut labels. His second property in Sonoma is devoted to his popular and less expensive Diamond Collection and Rosso and Bianco brands — wines that Coppola says are made for everyday life.

Both Coppola Bianco and Rosso table wines work well alone or with Italian food. The Bianco — a Pinot Grigio — has a beautiful, floral nose but is a tad sweet for my taste. It paired well with parmesan chicken. The Rosso is a smooth red blend that is very drinkable, especially with burgers, pizza or spaghetti. Ranging from $6 to $12 a bottle depending on where purchased, the wines are indeed affordable for everyday meals. And if you have any questions about pairings, the winery’s web site has suggestions as well as recipes.

ACTOR: “Cool Hand Luke,” “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid,” The Color of Money”
WINE LABEL: Newman’s Own [www.newmansownwines.com]
SALUTÉ CHOICE: 2009 California Cabernet Sauvignon

When Paul Newman began making salad dressings for friends more than 25 years ago, he put the concoctions in old wine bottles. Before his death in 2008, he said his Newman’s Own products had come full circle. He was back to wine bottles but this time filling them with wine. His goal was to complete a meal with wines that would complement his incredibly popular salad dressings and pasta sauces.

The Newman’s Own label uses grapes from premier vineyards throughout California to make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. At a recent tasting, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a little astringent to me, but smoothed out considerably after it had time to breathe. Prices range from $11 to $16. As with all of Newman’s Own products, the profits and net royalties from the sale of every bottle benefit Newman’s Own Foundation, which supports Hole in the Wall Camps for ill children and other charities.

ACTOR: “The Caine Mutiny,” “The Shaggy Dog,” “My Three Sons”
WINERY: MacMurray Ranch [www.macmurrayranch.com]
SALUTÉ CHOICE: 2009 Central Coast Pinot Noir

Fred MacMurray purchased his Russian River Valley ranch in 1941 when he was only 32 years old. When he wasn’t working in films or on his long-running television series, “My Three Sons,” he was farming and raising prize-winning cattle. Vineyards probably never entered his mind. Although MacMurray wasn’t actively involved in creating the wines that bear his name, he nevertheless created the legacy when he stipulated that his property’s agricultural heritage be preserved. Several years after his 1991 death, the land was sold. His daughter, Kate, still lives on the ranch in the cabin built by her father and works with MacMurray Ranch wines, which have only been around since 2000.

MacMurray Ranch has a small portfolio of wines — only six Pinot Noirs, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris. What they do, they do well. Although I am partial to Oregon Pinot Noirs, the MacMurray Ranch 2009 Central Coast Pinot Noir with its cherry and vanilla nuances is one of my favorites. Its price runs from $16 to $20 in local stores.

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