Here’s an excerpt from my report on the Linda Gassenheimer show on WLRN (91.3 FM) last Thursday:
How shallow are we? I’ll tell you how shallow we are. We’re so shallow that we will buy more wine, and pay more money for it, if it has a celebrity’s name attached.
We buy wine from wineries named for skater Peggy Fleming (pictured with partner/hubby Greg Jenkins), golfer Greg Norman, race car driver Mario Andretti, the Smothers Brothers, even the coonskin-cap-wearing actor Fess Parker, who was TV’s Davy Crocket in the 1950s.
A Nielsen survey of grocery store sales says celebrity wine sales grew 19 percent in 2007, nearly twice the rate of regular wines. We will pay $32 for a nice cabernet franc from rocker Mick Fleetwood. Fifteen dollars for a Sonoma Merlot by Martha Stewart.
For Emeril Lagasse’s Classic blend of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and syrah, we inexplicably kick it down a notch and pay only $13.
It’s not just wine. Danny Devito got a snootful of Limoncello -- a powerful Italian liqueur – embarrassed himself on the TV program called The View – and a month later came out with his own brand – Danny Devito Limoncello, at $29 a bottle.
In most cases, the celebrities don’t get dirty fingernails or purple feet. They just lend their names to wines made by regular California wineries that have some extra capacity.
There are exceptions. Francis Ford Coppola started his Napa Valley winery in 1975 and by now knows quite a bit about wine. I’ve interviewed him. He even created a soft, sparkly wine for the marriage of his daughter, Sofia, that has become quite successful. In fact, it’s outlived her marriage by several years.
Still, how far this has gone is illustrated by the latest celebrity wine – a crisp little Canadian chardonnay by the Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery. He’s predicting sales next year of 80,000 cases.