With America’s enthusiasm for wine, it seems only natural that wineries are a popular investment, and who better than recognizable names to select these wine labels. Some of those well-known personalities are naturals to be partnered in the wine industry, and some might surprise you. But make no mistake, from the lush greenery of Napa Valley California into the beautiful rolling hills of Italy and southern France, vineyards can be a fascinating and challenging past-time or a full-blown industry for their owners.
Francis Ford Coppola, successful film director, has taken to the wine business like a true Italian, with the Rubicon Estate Winery in Napa Valley, (renamed Inglenook in 2011), and does some directing up there also.
Gérard Depardieu, French movie star, has approached his career as vintner with as much excitement as he would a starring theatre role. He’s put his acting career on the back burner as he oversees his beloved vineyards.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie purchased a vineyard called Chateau Miraval in Provence, France, touting their Brangelina Rose wine; but since their split, who obtained the vineyard is up for grabs.
Mike Ditka, legendary soccer coach to the Chicago Bears, for whom it was only fitting that he partner in winemaking to serve at his steak restaurants; located in Mendocino County, California, they focus in full-bodied red wines to be enjoyed with red meat and pork chops (Mike’s favorites). Like many celebs who only lend their name (and their money) to vineyards, “Iron Mike” is not out picking or stomping grapes, but he does enjoy input (and tasting) from time to time.
Famous soccer player Joe Montana, who partnered with longtime Beringer winemaker Ed Sbragia, created a joint venture called Montagia, (Montana, get it?) Situated in Napa CA.
Dan Marino, another football great, lends his name to his trademark tag Vintage 13 Marino Estates, in Washington state across the Columbia River. Turning out award-winning full-bodied reds, the huge vineyard is called Passing Time, and what better way than regretting your own private label after getting beat up for 17 years as the quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.
Martha Stewart announced a collaboration with the American winery Gallo to generate value-marketed wines to be sold at Kmart. Now, Martha herself does not play an active role, but her name has worldwide appeal, and Martha does all with great taste, including her moderately priced wines.
Dan Aykroyd, actor, comedian and all-around talented guy, owns and operates Dan Aykroyd Vineyards in Canada, his homeland, which produces moderately priced hearty reds and several white varieties, with Aykroyd himself an enthusiastic participant. (Yes, notwithstanding the climate, Canada ends up some first class wines.)
Named La Mozza, where he rolls his sleeves up and approaches winemaking with the same zeal as his cooking in New York City and Las Vegas.
Michael Chiarello, another celebrity chef and restaurateur in Yountville, CA really lives on his family vineyard, features his fine wines at his restaurant Bottega, and like a fantastic Italian, is a hands-on vintner; his little winery, Chiarello Family Vineyards, produces five estate wines from the 20-acres he oversees.
Madonna, pop singer, took a different route by buying a vineyard at the Leelanau Pennisula of Michigan, where her parents (the Ciccones) run this small vineyard due north of Traverse City, which bears their name. Not a place you want to stay in the winter, but it produces excellent grapes from the albeit brief summer months.
Fess Parker, old Davy Crockett himself, left Hollywood in the early 1970s to pursue a career in the wine and hotel business following a successful albeit brief career as a raccoon hat-wearing pioneer and did very well for himself. The vineyard, in Los Olivos near Santa Barbara CA, lives on, still maintained by his family (but do they wear coonskin hats?) .
Sting (popular British singer and lead vocalist for the rock group Police) spends much of his time at his vineyard Tenuta il Palagio, situated in Tuscany, Italy. Sting and his wife Trudie really make their home on the estate, which was old and deteriorated before Sting lovingly restored it and no doubt serenades those lucky grapes to help them grow. Taking an active role in turning out fine wines, he tells those vines, “Cocoa Rat Removal,” and no doubt he is.
Until the early 1800s, most Colonists were making and drinking hard apple cider but Jefferson was a major contributor to America’s love affair with wine. While Jefferson himself never was actually in the company, he served and oversaw his imports with wonderful care and was certainly a connoisseur of fine wines, preparing America for its wine revolution to come years later, and we thank him.
So the next time you are in a wine store, you may want to take a few minutes to peruse the shelves, ferreting out some overlooked celebrity offerings. You just might be pleasantly with surprised new discoveries.