12 Celebrity Wines—and How We Scored Them

Left to right: Zac Brown (Photo Andy Sapp); Kurt Russell (Photo Henry Bruington); Sam Neill (Photo Matt Nettheim, Magnolia Pictures)
Left to right: Zac Brown (Photo Andy Sapp); Kurt Russell (Photo Henry Bruington); Sam Neill (Photo Matt Nettheim, Magnolia Pictures)
Wine Enthusiast 2020 Culture Issue logo

If the romantic notion of launching your own wine label is something you’ve daydreamed about, you’re not alone. Many celebrities and pop-culture icons have had the same idea. Some have chosen to partner with established producers to create their own custom labels, while others went all-in and built their own wineries from the ground up.

So, how successful are these celebrity wine ventures? Here are 12 bottles from well-known stars, and how we rated them.

Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola / Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Francis Ford Coppola

Famous for directing The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, Coppola has also built an empire in the wine industry. His eponymous brand produces more than three million cases annually. In 1975, he took control of the historic Inglenook estate that yields classic Napa Cabernets.

Inglenook 2016 Rubicon Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford); $210, 95 points. From the esteemed producer’s gorgeous estate, including 3% Merlot, this is impressive and structured—a leathery, viscous and concentrated expression of a great site in an intense vintage. Gunpowder, oak and black-cherry compote form around brightly captured acidity and a lasting fistful of baking spice that lingers and softens the finish. Editors’ Choice. –Virginie Boone

Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill in The Hunter (2011) / Photo by Matt Nettheim, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill in The Hunter (2011) / Photo by Matt Nettheim, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Sam Neill

Known for portraying paleontologist-turned-dinosaur-wrangler Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park, Neill is also a vintner. In 1993, he started his wine brand, Two Paddocks, in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island, which crafts Pinot Noir from organically grown grapes.

Two Paddocks 2017 The Last Chance Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Noir (Central Otago); $80, 94 points. Actor Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks label is on a steep upward trajectory: Vine age, impeccable farming and a dream team inside and out of the winery are paying off. This premium Pinot is an intensely spicy, perfumed drop. It’s hard not to fall under its spell. Like Christmas distilled, it’s a heady hodgepodge of red currants and preserved cherries marinated in bitter herbs and spices—licorice root, cloves, cinnamon bark and vanilla pod—derived from the fruit and stalks, not from oak. Chalky tannins curl around the tongue, the juicy, prickly fruit trickles through the cracks. Powerfully structured yet utterly drinkable, this would perch happily beside charcuterie or a mushroom truffle risotto. Drink now–2028. Negociants USA–Winebow. Editors’ Choice. –Christina Pickard

Yao Ming standing with wine barrels
Yao Ming / Photo courtesy Yao Family Wines

Yao Ming

The 7-foot, 6-inch tall Chinese-American basketball player is a powerhouse on and off the court. He is the founder and proprietor of St. Helena-based Yao Family Wines, which produces red, white and sparkling wines under the winery’s Yao Ming and Napa Crest lines.

Yao Family Wines 2018 Napa Crest Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley); $35, 91 points. Creamy on the palate, with a balanced approach to acidity, this wine offers breadth and length, nicely combining a small amount of Sémillon within. Pear, peach and Key lime make for an expressive midpalate of fruit seasoned in a touch of lemongrass. –V.B.

Jeff_ONeill_and_Charles_Woodson
Jeff O’Neill and Charles Woodson / Photo by Photagonist.ca

Charles Woodson

The nine-time Pro Bowler has long been a wine lover, having dabbled in the industry since 2005. His most recent endeavor is the Paso Robles brand Intercept, which offers a line at tailgate-friendly prices.

Charles Woodson’s Intercept 2017 Pinot Noir (Monterey County); $20, 92 points. Soon-to-be NFL Hall of Famer Charles Woodson is not messing around with this Pinot Noir. Crisp aromas of fresh raspberry and hibiscus meet with a hint of gamy meat on the nose, while the palate delivers pleasantly rustic flavors of dried wild cherry, oregano and peppercorn. Editors’ Choice. –Matt Kettmann

Fergie on side holding microphone
Fergie / The Photo Access, Alamy

Fergie

In 2006, pop star Fergie purchased a Santa Barbara County winery with her father and named it Ferguson Crest in an homage to their family’s surname. Winemaker Joey Tensley works with the brand to create a focused portfolio that mostly features Rhône red and white grapes.

Ferguson Crest 2018 Viognier (Santa Barbara County); $28, 92 points. Clean lines of Meyer lemon, mango and ripe melon are generous without being overbearing on the well-balanced nose of this bottling by winemaker Joey Tensley for pop star Fergie. There are ripe flashes of peach on the palate yet a citrus freshness and stony grip are unrelentingly tense, leading to an ashy finish. –M.K.

Kurt Russell outside saloon / Photo by Henry Bruington
Kurt Russell / Photo by Henry Bruington

Kurt Russell

The lifelong actor fell in love with the Pinot Noirs of Sta. Rita Hills, which he felt rivaled his favorites from Burgundy, while filming Death Proof in 2006. Encouraged by fellow actor-turned-winemaker Fess Parker, in 2008, he began to produce wines with Peter and Rebecca Work of Ampelos Cellars and created boutique winery Gogi. It produces Pinot Noirs made in an Old-World style.

Gogi 2016 29 Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $75, 92 points. Quite light and transparent in the glass, this bottling by actor Kurt Russell starts with aromas of Montmorency cherries, dewy herbs and pine-forest floor on the nose. It’s a fresh, snappy and lean style of Pinot Noir, with flavors of tart red plum, raspberry and orange rind that benefit from a hefty dusting of wild herbs. –M.K.

Jay-Z

The hip-hop giant catapulted the Armand de Brignac brand into the spotlight in his 2006 music video, “Show Me What You Got.” Produced by the Cattier family, who founded their Champagne house in 1763, and owned in part by Shawn Carter (a.k.a. Jay-Z), the Champagne has become a favorite among celebrities.

Armand de Brignac NV Gold Brut (Champagne); $300, 91 points. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, this ripe, well-balanced wine has some toast that adds complexity and richness to the apple and lemon fruit, indicating a mature bottling. The wine in a gold-foil bottle is one of five made by the Cattier house for rapper and entrepreneur Jay Z’s Armand de Brignac Empire brand with the “Ace of Spades” logo. –Roger Voss

Drew Bledsoe

Before Tom Brady’s ascent, to a certain generation of sports lovers, Drew Bledsoe was the face of New England Patriots. The four-time Pro Bowler spent spent nine seasons with the Patriots before retiring to Oregon’s Walla Walla Valley, where he founded Doubleback Winery and Bledsoe Family Winery.

Doubleback 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley); $98, 91 points. Dried herbs, cherry jam, graphite and spice lead to ripe, full, fleshy fruit flavors that linger. It comes off as quite ripe but has a pleasing yum factor and a fine sense of acidity. Best after 2026. Cellar Selection. –Sean Sullivan

Kyle MacLachlan at Cannes Film Festival (2017) / Photo by Georges Biard, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Kyle MacLachlan at Cannes Film Festival (2017) / Photo by Georges Biard, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Kyle Maclachlan

The star of David Lynch’s cult classic films Dune and Blue Velvet, as well as television series Twin Peaks, this Washington native launched his Walla Walla winery, Pursued by Bear, named for a Shakespearean stage direction, in 2005.

Pursued by Bear 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $70, 91 points. Enchanting aromas of green coffee bean, black cherry, graphite, black licorice and dried flowers are followed by well-balanced, palate-coating dark-fruit and coffee flavors. The tannins are combed to a fine sheen. —S.S.

Jim Nantz / Photo by Christine Bush
Jim Nantz / Photo by Christine Bush

Jim Nantz

With approximately 40 years of sportscasting experience, Jim Nantz is widely considered one of the premier voices of the National Football League. In 2009, after a chance meeting in a Connecticut restaurant with Peter Deutsch, of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, the duo took their combined passion for wine and launched a joint label, The Calling, in Sonoma.

The Calling 2016 Searby Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $51, 91 points. Robust Meyer lemon flavors exude from this fleshy and lush white wine, laced in acidity and modest oak, that reveals full-bodied richness within a context of balance. Touches of nutmeg, lemongrass and white flower permeate through a long finish. –V.B.

Zac Brown / Photo by Andy Sapp
Zac Brown / Photo by Andy Sapp

Zac Brown

Grammy-winning country singer, producer and bandleader Zac Brown is passionate about his Z. Alexander Brown label. From blending to label design and packaging, the musician is invested in all facets of production.

Alexander Brown 2017 Uncaged Proprietary Red (California); $18, 90 points. Tones of charcoal and smoked meat are backed up by ripe, rich blackberry in this dark-colored, moderately tannic and thick-textured wine. Black cherry and clove nuances develop on the palate and linger on the finish. Editors’ Choice. –Jim Gordon

Bruno Vespa

A household name in Italy, this TV journalist has been the face of news show Porta a Porta since 1996. An avid wine lover, in 2014, he opened a winery in Manduria with his sons Alessandro and Federico that focuses on the indigenous grapes of Puglia.

Vespa 2017 Il Rosso di Vespa (Primitivo di Manduria); $35, 90 points. Aromas of mixed berry preserves and fig are lifted by accents of pepper, violet and tar on the nose. There’s a pleasing vibrancy to the palate, with lively acidity brightening flavors of jammy berries and orange rind. The tannins are fine yet copious, giving a structured frame to this immensely food-friendly wine. Ethica Wines. –Alexander Peartree

Published on April 1, 2020
Topics: Culture Issue