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Vanity Projects

Columnist: Christina Julian
April, 2017 Issue

Christina Julian
All articles by columnist

The wine industry has its own breed of vanity projects, what I like to call celebrity winery syndrome.

As a writer on the cusp of having my first novel published, I’ve gained insight into the good, bad and underbelly of the publishing world. On the one hand you have the elusive brass ring of a writer’s world—the Big Five publishers (Harper Collins, Penguin Random House and the like). On the furthest rung from the top there exists a shady side—vanity publishers—where writers pay to play. These houses bill themselves as real publishers but in reality, are anything but, charging authors for what any reputable publisher does as part of doing business.

The wine industry has its own breed of vanity projects, what I like to call celebrity winery syndrome. A quick glance on Google reveals countless illustrious wine brands with everyone from Sting, Brangelina, ACDC, Drew Barrymore, Nicki Minaj, Fergie, and Sonoma resident Ben Flajnik from “The Bachelor” getting in on the act. But perhaps one of the most relevant (or irrelevant depending on where you stand) vanity wine projects around would have to be Trump Winery in Virginia.

Walking down the virtual wine-industry corridors of Google drives me to consider this premise: Just because you could do it, does not mean you should? (Hello, Mr. Executive Order Trump!).

Unless of course the wine is just that good.

As is the case in the world of publishing, there are exceptions amid the celebrity wine heap. Those outfits that offer swell sips and superstar cache. Francis Ford Coppola comes to mind, consistently churning out excellent wines (as he has done for decades) and entertaining us all the while. You can admire or abhor this family’s enterprising nature with daughter Sofia’s bubbly and actress/director Gia Coppola, marketing her affordable and drinkable Frizzante.

But back to the politicos. We’ve got Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom who brought us Plumpjack, Odette and Cade, brands where you’ll be hard pressed to find a bad wine in the lot. And, of course, there is former United States Ambassador to Austria, Kathryn Hall (of Hall Winery and Walt Ranch infamy). On the sport side of the fence, there’s race car driver, Mario Andretti,whose Sauvignon Blanc I was so inspired by we served it at my wedding reception in all its affordable, balanced and tropical fruit glory. NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon makes a buttered popcorn-blast of a Chardonnay, which many seem to enjoy.

For the most part, I’m fine with this level of celebrity wine brands. The vino is, in most cases, highly drinkable and the wineries operate at a level one would expect from a real winery. I try not to begrudge anyone for being enterprising. In fact, I applaud folks like George Forman, who parlayed his days in the ring into a health conscious cooking empire with The Foreman Grill of which I’m not embarrassed to admit, I routinely put to good use. But I have to wonder when we get to the Fergies, Brangelinas, Drew Barrymores, Antonio Banderas, Stings, and yes even the ACDCs of the wine world, if there might be a point where celebrities should get back to their Hollywood biz and leave the winemaking to the professionals. Fame and money by its very nature gives the holder carte blanch to commandeer just about anything, but I’ll return to my original point:  just because you could doesn’t mean you should.

Let’s take a wine from Black Eyed Peas front woman Fergie, aptly (or ironically) named the “Fergalicious Red Blend.” One might expect, with a moniker like that, that the wine would be, in a word, delicious. I can’t speak for wine-os everywhere, but I’m not so sure it stands up to its $35 dollar price tag. Then there’s Drew Barrymore’s “Barrymore Pinot Grigio,” what Buzzfeed dubbed “Best Buy for #Teen Drinkers,” thanks to an utter lack of structure, taste, and the diluted, lemon water-like tendencies, according to sommelier Michael Madrigale. It’s these types of ventures that I start to take issue with. I like my red carpet struts as much as the next gal, but like most things, there are rightful times and places for celebrity asset strutting, say at the Napa Valley Film Festival.

For me, what makes a winery worthy of its weight (and hefty price tag) will and should always come down to the caliber of the juice in the bottle. It should be a reflection of an esteemed and storied winemaker and the land that he or she tends, not because of how many Twitter followers, platinum records or Oscars someone displays on a shelf.

But like most things wine related, I yearn to be proven wrong with every new sip I swirl. I know there are good celebrity-made wines out there. I’m just waiting to find them. 




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