Mar 7, 201310:13 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
Famous Musicians Get in on the Wine Biz
Dave Matthews owns Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, Va.
Celebrity endorsements are a tricky proposition. You like the celeb because you've seen them in the movies or on TV or you love their music, and so maybe what they are telling you about a product gets your attention, forces you to consider a purchase.
That’s the idea anyway. Maybe the way it’s all presented does not carry a lot of weight with you. Maybe the celeb you recognize and feel good about is not on his/her best behavior in real life, or possibly the product and the celeb are not in sync (who really wants to believe football legend Joe Theismann has to take pills to control his bathroom habits while announcing a football game? Yecch!). And there are times it’s pretty obvious the celebrity is neither a user of the product nor a believer. He’s only in it for the paycheck.
And who among us did not shake our heads knowingly but in complete jest to O.J.’s legal troubles with references to him running through airports for Hertz? What about Tiger Woods and all of his endorsements, going off the track for four years? And who has no opinion even now with American “hero” Lance Armstrong experiencing such incredible push-back from every group he has endorsed?
Celebrity endorsements are messy propositions.
But what about celebrity involvement? Those are products in which a celebrity has a hand in their creation and manufacture. Paul Newman’s entire line of food items, Newman’s Own, has become quite a large and quality brand name in such diverse areas as salad dressings and popcorn.
Celebrity involvement is a different kettle of fish from celebrity endorsement.
A friend and I recently contacted a number of rock and roll musicians who not only sell a lot of music, but they are involved with making wines. “Involved” being the key word. These popular musicians actually work with the winemaker in deciding on blends and which grapes are to be used to the point where they participate in regular test tastings of the proposed release even when they are on the road on tour.
Jonathan Cain of Journey is one of those wine guys in a rock world. From an early age, his father and grandfather made wine in the home and he was around the process. The desire to make good wine never left him. Even with the siren-call of rock 'n' roll, and being an integral member of an amazing group, churning out hit after hit after hit (who could ever listen to a lineup of 80s and 90s hits and not hear at least one Journey tune?), Cain still wanted to make wine.
Along the way he was introduced to Dennis De La Montanya, an excellent Sonoma County winemaker in the Russian River and Dry Creek area, and together they determined to create something special. They did just that.
Finale Wines are the love children of Cain and De La Montanya. The Chanconne (means a slow dance) Pinot Noir is a tough-to-get label but the wines are wonderful. The name is descriptive of what the wine experiences in its life, with gentle intervention from the winemaker and Cain. Sort of like the song "Open Arms."
Then there’s the Big Surprise, the Grand Finale. Oh boy! Talk about something that will knock your socks off. And it’s not just the $95 suggested price, if you can find it. This Bordeaux Blend is a Double-Gold Winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest competition, 6,000 wines, of American wines in the world. (Disclosure: I have been an invited judge at this event for more than 10 years.)
Like many celebrity winemakers, Cain is not in the wine business for money. All of the wine’s profits are dedicated to San Francisco Bay Area children’s charities. Got that feel-good feeling all over?
Another more unlikely rocker making some damn fine wine is David Coverdale of Whitesnake. David is certifiably over-the-top (in a good way) in his personality. His wines, on the other hand, are excellent, almost restrained, expressions and reflections of the agriculture advantages of Sonoma County.
Importantly, the tasting experience of Coverdale’s Zinfandel perfectly follows the listening experience of his great hit “Here I Go Again.”
It’s a building monster, but it starts out gently. You can sense, however, what’s coming. This English guy taking a great interest in America’s grape is something to behold. David readily admits to being a big fan of White Burgundy, and this Zinfandel is about as far away as you can get from that. Love the conflict!
Dave Matthews is another rock artist who can’t resist the attraction of the grapes. While Matthews was born in South Africa, his adopted home, America, has furnished him two opportunities to create wines on both the East and West Coast. Oh, and by the way, from 2000 to 2010 Dave Matthews sold more concert tickets and had higher earnings than any other musical group. Success wherever he goes with just about everything he touches, that’s Dave Matthews.
In Virginia, the Charlottesville area to be more specific, Matthews, in 2000, began to design and construct a new winery that would deal with mostly white Rhone grapes, viognier, marsanne, rousanne, and some chardonnay. On the red side, cabernet franc, malbec, syrah and merlot carry the load.
Blenheim Vineyards, Matthews' winery, was constructed on a very historic site, dating back well before our country’s founding and there is even a story of Thomas Jefferson and his bride stopping by here to find relief from a snow storm on their way home to Monticello.
Across the continent in the North Coast and Central Coast regions of California, Matthews is also involved with another project, Dreaming Tree Wines. Up in Alexander Valley, Steve Reeder, amazing winemaker for Simi and great friend of New Orleans, teamed up with Matthews to create a lineup of fun wines, ready to enjoy on their release.
Crush is a proprietary red blend with a preponderance of merlot, but also with syrah, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, petite syrah, and zinfandel (hey, this is northern Sonoma). There is also a Dreaming Tree Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Among other musicians making wines are Olivia Newton-John, Mick Fleetwood and Sting.
The point is, an artist is an artist. It matters not in what medium they are working, they are also probably well-versed and intrigued about other artful pursuits away from their abundant talents.
We are fortunate that many of the musicians whose music we love also allow us to share with them their ability and passion in making fine wine. The big problem is deciding whether we play the songs loudly on the sound system while enjoying the wine, sharing with everyone in earshot both joys.
Or do we insert the ear buds, keep it to ourselves and savor the wine with the music in our own private world?