Ever since she burst onto the music scene in the early 1990s, R&B artist Mary J. Blige has been known for deeply personal music and iconic collaborations with rappers and other artists. When she discovered a love for wine, she became part of another joint venture to launch a new extremely personal project, Sun Goddess Wines.
Blige knew that she loved Pinot Grigio, so a mutual friend introduced her to Marco Fantinel, a winemaker and winery owner in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The two paired up to create a Sauvignon Blanc and a ramato-style, or skin-contact, Pinot Grigio.
We caught up with both of them to learn about finding harmony in the winery.
Can you tell me about a particular moment or bottle that made you fall in love with wine in general?
I think for me, the moment was when I discovered Pinot Grigio, the Santa Margherita. It’s a wine that’s popular, and I just couldn’t stop drinking it. That was my go-to wine.
“The wine was out of this world… I knew it was going to be a labor of love.”—Mary J. Blige
And so, eventually, that led you to Fantinel Vineyards. What was it like the first time you visited?
It was just the most beautiful place. There was so much love that was there… We went right into drinking and tasting. That was the first job, we got that out of the way, and then we rested [and] celebrated. They had all the pasta, the bread was out of this world, the wine was out of this world, the people were out of this world. And from that point on, I knew it was going to be a labor of love.
Your musical inspiration is clear on the Sun Goddess label. Are there any similarities between making or collaborating on a wine and on a song?
Just that you have to have love and respect for what you’re doing. You have to admire someone that you want to collaborate with.
There have been a lot of celebrity wine projects in the last few years. Did any of those inspire you in any way?
No, everything is fresh and new from out of my head and out of my heart. You know, my sister Tanya, she gave me the name Sun Goddess, because I liked the sun ever since I was a child, probably a little more than I should… When it was time to name the wine, that was all I could think of.
Now that Sun Goddess has been out for a bit, can you tell me what the reaction has been like?
The reaction is amazing. People are really blown away at the quality of the wine, you know, the way it tasted. It’s not an expensive wine…but they’re looking at it like it’s like top shelf.
What do you like to listen to when you’re drinking these wines at home?
In the summertime, during the quarantine, I would sit outside in my backyard. And I would start with “Summer Madness,” by Kool & the Gang…or I’ll start with jazz, you know, and with the Pinot Grigio ramato all day. That was my go to. And, you know, just make the mood calm and cool for a little while.
The more tipsy I get, I move to, like, R&B, then hip hop. By the end of the day, it’s all hip-hop.
Is there anything you can share about what’s next for Sun Goddess?
We’re currently working on a red wine, and that’s coming. We have a Prosecco in the mix, you know, in the works. That’s coming.
And we hope to keep the brand going and keep people loving the wine.
Marco Fantinel shares Sun Goddess from his side
Mary J. Blige said, really wonderful things about working with you on Sun Goddess. Was this sort of celebrity interview something you set out to do?
We did before… We’ve been producing wine from the Cipriani family, you know, the famous restaurant, Cipriani and so we’ve been all always involved with famous people. The first time when we met Mary J. Blige, she was very focused and had determination on achieving something.
When she came to visit us at that time, we didn’t have any agreement… She was in Europe for a tour, she was playing a concert in Stockholm, in Sweden. And she came here for three days. And there we found the basis, the values, the common vibes.
She’s the speaker of the brand, she’s the person in charge, because she she feels that these projects are very personal. And so, this has grown naturally between friends.
Were you a fan of her music before you worked together?
I like a lot of her music, you know? I love the personality of Mary, the fact that she’s very down to earth. She’s on top of everything. You cannot believe it. She was deciding every single aspect of the project. She was involved in every single detail, from the style to the color to the label and materials… She was checking every single thing because she knows that success has no shortcut.
How did the two of you arrive at the decision to make a skin-contact Pinot Grigio?
Her desire was to make a super Pinot Grigio. And of course, when she came to Friuli, we told her about how big a growing rosé is. And as you know, a lot of celebrity were launching rosé from Provence… You know, Pinot Grigio is not a white grape; it’s a mutation of Pinot Noir. And she saw the color of the juice and said, “OK, why don’t we do the rosé?”
We said OK… Hundreds of years ago, Pinot Grigio [here] was made as a ramato first because didn’t have the technology to separate right away the juice from the skins… So we decided to take a kind of challenge to launch a ramato, which is not that known in the U.S., and maybe to create our own category.
And then we have Sauvignon Blanc, because Sauvignon Blanc, in our opinion, is a very good wine in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.