With America’s enthusiasm for wine, it seems only natural that wineries would be a popular investment, and who better than recognizable names to go on those wine labels. Some of those well-known personalities are naturals to be partnered in the wine industry, and some may surprise you. But make no mistake, from the lush greenery of Napa Valley California into the gorgeous rolling hills of Italy and southern France, vineyards can be a fascinating and challenging past-time or a full-blown industry for their owners. Here are just a handful who are participating:
Francis Ford Coppola, successful movie 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 film 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 since he manages his beloved vineyards.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bought a vineyard named Chateau Miraval in Provence, France, touting their Brangelina Rose wine; but since their split, who got the vineyard is up for grabs.
Mike Ditka, legendary football 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 simply lend their name (and their money) to vineyards, “Iron Mike” is not out choosing or stomping grapes, but he does enjoy input (and tasting) from time to time.
Located in Napa CA.
Dan Marino, another soccer great, lends his name to his trademark label 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 produce 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 man, owns and operates Dan Aykroyd Vineyards in Canada, his homeland, which produces reasonably priced hearty reds and several white varieties, with Aykroyd himself an enthusiastic participant. (Yes, in spite of the climate, Titusville Rat Removal turns out some first class wines.)
Mario Batali, celebrity Italian chef, owns a vineyard in Tuscany, Italy (where else?) Named La Mozza, where he rolls up his sleeves 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 actually lives on his family vineyard, features his fine wines in his restaurant Bottega, and like a good Italian, is a hands on vintner; his little winery, Chiarello Family Vineyards, produces five estate wines from the 20-acres which he oversees.
Madonna, pop singer, took another route by purchasing a vineyard in the Leelanau Pennisula of Michigan, where her parents (the Ciccones) run this little 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 brief summer months.
Fess Parker, old Davy Crockett himself, left Hollywood in the early 1970s to pursue a career in the wine and resort business after a successful albeit short career as a raccoon hat-wearing pioneer and did very well for himself. .
Sting (popular British singer and lead vocalist for the rock band Police) spends much of his time at his vineyard Tenuta il Palagio, located in Tuscany, Italy. Sting and his wife Trudie actually make their house on the estate, which was old and deteriorated before Sting lovingly restored it and no doubt serenades those blessed grapes to help them grow. Taking an active role in turning out fine wines, he tells those vines, “I’ll be Watching You,” and no doubt he is.
Of course, no list would be complete without Thomas Jefferson, third president of the U.S. Not only was he America’s first foodie however a major collector and importer of fine French wines. Until the early 1800s, most Colonists were drinking and making hard apple cider but Jefferson was a significant contributor to America’s love affair with wine. While Jefferson himself never was actually in the business, he served and oversaw his imports with great care and was a connoisseur of fine wines, preparing America for its wine revolution to come years later, and we thank him.
So next time you’re in a wine shop, you may want to have a few minutes to peruse the shelves, ferreting out some celebrity offerings that are missed. You just might be pleasantly with surprised new discoveries.