Famous Name Wines

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By Kim Maxwell

From rock groups to actors, models, chefs and politicians, to hip hop singers and sporting greats, plenty of big names appear on wine labels nowadays. Perhaps it’s the romantic appeal of owning an idyllic country farm. Or simply sheer vanity. Either way, expect to see more and more wine labels sporting famous names. A few celebrities are serious wine lovers, but for many, a personalised wine label is a very effective way to promote their brand. For the truly big earners, it’s also a handy tax write-off to offset the millions accrued in tournament wins, appearance fees and product endorsements.

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Many sportsmen have licensing agreements with wineries to produce their labels. But after nearly 10 years of production, four-time major champion Ernie Els became the sole proprietor of Ernie Els Wines in June 2010 and has since expanded the range to eight wines. His wine is an integral branding tool, with South African customers forming Ernie’s biggest fan base, and Americans buying the most Ernie Els wines internationally. Golfers and wine lovers enjoy the trophy room at his Stellenbosch farm—a walking display case of Ernie’s achievements, including older trophies and a replica of the Claret Jug from his 2012 Open win. A monthly chipping competition is also held at the farm’s tee box and green. The Ernie Els Signature Bordeaux blend (R550) is the flagship, but the majority of fans leave with his affordable six-varietal Big Easy Red (R145).

Most rugby fans assume the Schalk Burger & Sons No. 6 limited-edition wine made at the family’s Welbedacht farm is modelled on Springbok flank Schalk Burger Junior. The numeric theme extends to a Shiraz-led wine from six cultivars, producing only six barrels of the maiden 2005 vintage. The wine actually honours the “truly remarkable performances” of the Burger trio of Bok Schalk Junior, former Bok Schalk Senior, and brother Tiaan—all played provincial rugby wearing the number six jersey. Twelve barrels were made of the 2006 vintage, selling at around R600 per bottle. 

Double US Open champion Retief Goosen became a partner in Goose Wine in 2006, cultivating the grapes from a cool Upper Langkloof valley property between Oudtshoorn and Uniondale. The farm was originally called Ganzekraal, named for the wild geese resting in the cattle enclosures. It’s a good fit for the pro, popularly known as ‘the Goose’ in golfing circles. Fortunately Retief loves drinking and talking about his wines, happily promoting them at selected local and international wine events. The Goose Expression 2009 (R190) is the serious Cab/Shiraz flagship blend, exclusively sourced from cool Upper Langkloof grapes. The Gander Shiraz 2010 aims at easier drinking. A Goose and a Gander Sauvignon Blanc are other options.

Gary Player is the only non-American golfer to have won all four majors during his career. Gary put his name to a series of limited-edition wines, and local artist Athol Moult was commissioned to create the labels. The Gary Player Major Championship Series wines commemorate Gary’s major championships with the Muirfield 1959 (2004 vintage) and Augusta 1961 (2005 vintage), each selling at about R150. There are no plans to produce additional vintages. 

Professional golfer David Frost had hands-on involvement in a Perdeberg winery, but he sold his property a couple of years ago. However, he still lends his name to the David Frost Signature Series wine. Made by Perdeberg Winery, R1 from each bottle sold supports the Raymond Ackerman Golf Academy. 

Australian Grant Dodd, lead analyst for ESPN Star Sports golf TV broadcasts in Asia, is a Sydney-based wine enthusiast who enjoyed a modest professional golfing career. Grant is an active business partner in Haskell Vineyards and Dombeya Wines in the Helderberg. 

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Four high-flying partners in a wine venture called The Epicurean—the name was brainstormed while on holiday in the Maldives—modelled their single wine on the Greek philosopher of luxury, Epicurus. The partners include former Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa, also a founding member of the Congress of the People party. Mutle Mugase is the executive chairman of debt and investment house Vantage Capital, and the non-executive chairman of African Bank Investments Limited. American Ron Gault is a retired JP Morgan Chase SA supremo, while the fourth member is Moss Ngoasheng, Safika Holdings chairman and former economic advisor to Thabo Mbeki. The Epicurean came about because the partners are all serious wine lovers and collectors. “Whenever I’m with Moss or Mutle I’m guaranteed an epicurean moment with a good local or international bottle of wine,” says Mbahzima. The maiden 2003 Epicurean Bordeaux blend produced eight barrels. The current 2008 is produced in limited quantities and retails for about R300. 

Teammates Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis played professional cricket together for over 10 years, Mark as wicket keeper and Jacques as an all-rounder. Launching a screwcapped white and red under The Innings label in July 2012 was a tribute to the on-and-off-the-field achievements of these longtime friends. Jacques helped in the blending of The Innings Sauvignon Blanc (R50), with Mark adding stylistic input for a Cabernet Sauvignon (R65). The wines are produced at Rietvallei Estate in Robertson.

A friendship between a Cape chef and a winemaker spurred a boutique wine range called The Yardstick. A “moonlighting collaboration” created the first few vintages by Cellars-Hohenort executive chef Peter Tempelhoff and Mulderbosch winemaker Adam Mason, but it became serious when Mulderbosch recently bought shares in the business. The Yardstick Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (R150) is produced from Elgin grapes. Inspired by Marvel comics, the Marvelous range is more fun (R70), with its zany Kaboom! Bordeaux and Shazam! Cape blend (Shiraz, Pinotage, Cinsaut) in reds, plus Ka-POW! Chenin Chardonnay Viognier in a white. As Adam puts it, the Marvelous wines have “serious attitude” to appeal to a more adventurous drinker.

Olympic gold medallist Ryk Neethling has operated a swimming school at Val de Vie Estate in the Paarl valley since 2009. Bottling his namesake Val de Vie wine was a natural progression. The Ryk Neethling 2010 (R135) Rhône-style blend of Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsaut is refined yet big on flavour. Ryk works as Val de Vie’s marketing director, and is actively involved in the blending of his wine. By all accounts, he enjoys drinking it, too. Winemaker Harold Versfeld jokes that the swimmer is catching up after years of strict training where he couldn’t indulge in the finer things in life.

International Celebs are Doing It Too

Hollywood actress Drew Barrymore launched a Pinot Grigio from Italy in the USA under her own label, Barrymore Wines, in 2012. She was inspired by her Italian travels. 

Australian actress Naomi Watts was signed by big Australian brand Jacob’s Creek to launch their Cool Harvest wine range in late 2011. 

Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics recently produced a limited-edition Shiraz in conjunction with Australian winery Mollydooker. Dave is pictured on the label, which ties in with his solo album ‘The Ringmaster General’. 

Vocalist Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas has gone into business with her viticulturist dad, Pat Ferguson. Their Santa Barbara boutique winery is called Ferguson Crest. 

Robin Williams made headlines in 2012 by putting his Napa Valley vineyards and palatial property—including a climate-controlled wine cellar—on the market for $35 million. 

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie own Château Miravel and its vineyards in southern France. Château Miraval Pink Floyd is their best-known label, in honour of Pink Floyd recording their epic rock album, The Wall, at the château’s recording studio. 

Australian golfer Greg Norman established the Greg Norman Estates Wine range, sourcing varietal wines from Australia and California’s best regions. 

Women’s golfing great Annika Sorenstam also has three Californian wines under her Annika Vineyards label, made in conjunction with Wente Vineyards, and promoted through her wine club. 

Gordon Ramsay raised eyebrows after he endorsed Bordeaux property Château Baudac’s range at no charge. The explanation? The Gordon Ramsay Bordeaux Blanc and Rosé had been house wines at his London three-Michelin-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay for a number of years.