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Celebrity Vineyards

 
 
Celebrities who own wineries is nothing new. Some get involved as an investment, others take on a partner and simply lend their names, and yet a small percentage embrace their new careers and take an active role in the growing and production of the grapes. Celebrity chefs understandably enjoy ownership or collaboration with vintners to accompany their cooking prowess and to serve in their own restaurants. From time to time, some of us may have fantasized about being part of this venture, relaxing on a veranda sipping a glass of the grape, as we gaze out over a peaceful scenic view of beautiful rolling hills, bursting with robust rows of juicy grapes. Let's see who has actually taken the plunge.
 

With America's enthusiasm for wine, it seems only natural that vineyards would be a popular investment, and who better than recognizable names to go on those wine labels. Some of these well-known personalities are naturals to be partnered in the wine industry, and some might surprise you. But make no mistake, from the lush greenery of Napa Valley California to the beautiful 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 film 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 as well.

Gérard Depardieu, French movie star, has approached his career as vintner with as much enthusiasm as he would a starring cinema role. After purchasing Chateau de Tigne, Anjou, in Loire Valley, France (where else?) he has put his acting career on the back burner as he oversees his beloved vineyards.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie purchased a vineyard called 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 specialize 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 picking or stomping grapes, but he does enjoy input (and tasting) from time to time.

Legendary football player Joe Montana, who partnered with longtime Beringer winemaker Ed Sbragia, created a joint venture called Montagia, (Montana, get it?) located in Napa CA.

Dan Marino, another football great, lends his name to his signature label Vintage 13 Marino Estates, in Washington state along the Columbia River. Turning out award-winning full-bodied reds, the vast vineyard is called Passing Time, and what better way than sipping 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 doesn't play an active role, but her name has worldwide appeal, and Martha does everything with good taste, including her moderately priced wines.

Dan Aykroyd, actor, comedian and all-around talented guy, owns and operates Dan Aykroyd Vineyards in Canada, his homeland, which produces moderately priced hearty reds and several white varieties, with Aykroyd himself an enthusiastic participant. (Yes, in spite of the climate, Canada 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 at his restaurant Bottega, and like a good Italian, is a hands-on vintner; his small winery, Chiarello Family Vineyards, produces five estate wines from the 20-acres which he personally oversees.

Madonna, pop singer, took a different route by purchasing a vineyard in the Leelanau Pennisula of Michigan, where her parents (the Ciccones) operate this small vineyard due north of Traverse City, which bears their name. Not a place you want to live in the winter, but it produces excellent grapes in the albeit short summer months.

Fess Parker, old Davy Crockett himself, left Hollywood in the early 1970s to pursue a career in the wine and hotel business after a successful albeit short career as a raccoon hat-wearing pioneer and did very well for himself. The vineyard, in Los Olivos near Santa Barbara CA, lives on, still maintained by his family (but do they wear coonskin hats?).

Sting (popular British singer and lead vocalist for the rock group Police) spends much of his time at his vineyard Tenuta il Palagio, located in Tuscany, Italy. Sting and his wife Trudie actually make their home on the estate, which was old and deteriorated before Sting lovingly restored it and no doubt serenades those lucky 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 but a major collector and importer of fine French wines. Until the early 1800s, most Colonists were making and drinking hard apple cider but Jefferson was a major 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 certainly a connoisseur of fine wines, preparing America for its wine revolution to come decades later, and we thank him.