11 Celebrities and Their Wineries

A number of celebrities — from musicians to filmmakers to athletes — have taken their image13love for wine a (big) step further by getting involved in the wine business.

In some cases, it has involved lending their name (and money) and creating a brand. Others have gone all in and opened their own wineries, complete with tasting rooms and other amenities.

The list of “celebrity winemakers” grows each year. One of the first to embrace the wine lifestyle was the late Fess Parker, the television and film star (“Daniel Boone,” “Davy Crockett”), who established a vineyard and winery in Santa Barbara County. I’ll never forget being there on the day the winery opened, and Parker was outside greeting the first customers. He also used a gold Sharpie to sign bottles.

Parker played pioneers and was a pioneer among celebrity vintners. Here are 10 (among many others) who have followed in his footsteps…

* Dave Matthews not only has a band named for himself, but also a limited-production winery in Charlottesville, Va. That led to a much larger wine project in California called The Dreaming Tree, in collaboration with a former winemaker for Clos du Bois.

* Jonathan Cain, keyboardist and rhythm guitarist for the legendary rock band Journey, is involved with Finale Wines, which benefit charity.

* Claypool Cellars makes wine under the Pachyderm label. It’s a project of Les Claypool, the lead vocalist and bassist for the rock band Primus.

* Robert Kamen, the man behind the movie, “A Walk in the Clouds,” also has a winery: Kamen Estate Wines. By the way, if you’ve never seen “A Walk in the Clouds,” you should track it down — if nothing else, for the gorgeous vineyard scenes. Kamen also was behind the “Karate Kid” movies.

* Another filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola, has a winery that features a museum featuring memorabilia from his iconic movies, including “The Godfather.” He also has a second winery through which he has brought a North Carolina wine brand, Virginia Dare, back to life.

* Jeff Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, works with two acclaimed vintners to produce 250 cases of wine each year. Its limited availability is part of its attraction for his fans.

* A famed racecar driver from another era, Mario Andretti, founded his Napa Valley winery 21 years ago. (Geez, that time has gone by as fast as his Ferrari…)

* Charles Woodson won a Super Bowl ring with the Green Bay Packers, but fell in love with wine while playing for the Oakland Raiders — a team that trained in the Napa Valley. Today, his Charles Woodson Wines benefit the Charles Woodson Foundation.

* For former NFL football coach Dick Vermeil — who led the St. Louis Rams to their lone Super Bowl title — owning his own winery represents a homecoming of sorts. He was born in the Napa Valley town of Calistoga.

* No ladders are needed at Yao Family Wines in St. Helena, Calif. It’s owned by former NBA star Yao Ming (7-fot-6), who can tap stacked barrels of wine simply by reaching up.

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The Health Benefits of ‘A Glass a Day’

Few beverages have been studied as extensively in the new millennium as wine — image12especially red wine.

For those of us who love to drink the gift of the grape, the news has been good. (That grape gift, by the way, is a compound called resveratrol, which fights off bacteria and fungi, and protects against ultraviolet irradiation.)

Among the health benefits attributed to the moderate consumption of wine — generally defined as up to one 4-ounce glass per day for women, and up to two 4-ounce glasses per day for women — are:

* Living a longer life.

* Protecting against certain cancers.

* Improving mental health.

* Enhancing heart health.

There’s another caveat to the consumption limits: They apply only to people of legal drinking age. Consumption of any kind of alcohol can do great harm to those whose bodies and brains are still developing.

We also must stress the importance of moderate consumption. The concept of moderation tells us that it’s okay to exceed the recommended limit on occasion — mainly when consumed as part of a meal — but it’s never okay to get drunk.

A benefit of drinking wine, in comparison to hard liquor, is that it has a much lower alcohol level. But that does not mean you can drink more of it; it means that drinking it, in moderation, should not do you any harm… and may actually do you some good.

Keep in mind that every person is different, and there are some people who should not drink at all. But as Medical News Today has reported, a glass of wine per day could be the adult equivalent of “an apple a day.”

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Why Chardonnay Is a Favorite White Wine

One of the most challenging aspects of describing Chardonnay also is one of the reasonschard it’s one of the world’s most popular white wines.

Like few other white wines, Chardonnay can take on the personality not only of its place of origin, but also its winemaker.

A cool-climate Chardonnay is going to taste different than one from a warmer growing area. Typically, there will be plenty of fruit flavor regardless of its region of origin, but the specific impressions can run the gamut from citrus fruits to stone fruits.

Then there’s the winery’s or the winemaker’s stylistic preference. It begins with the type of fermentation undertaken. A process called malolactic fermentation — which may be undertaken after or concurrently with the primary fermentation — helps to “soften” the wine and typically lends a buttery flavor to it.

So what is Chardonnay? A wine that’s brimming with fruit flavor, or a wine with fruit flavor along with a layer of butter?

But wait. Those aren’t the only styles. The aging regimen — whether to use oak barrels, and if so, of what type, of what age, and for how long — also can greatly impact the aroma and flavor of Chardonnay. When you hear someone talk about a “full-blown” style of Chardonnay, it’s one that combines fruit, butter and oak impressions.

Frankly, a full-blown Chardonnay is next to impossible to pair with food. On the other hand, it can be a whole lot of fun to drink, as the layers of flavors and textures pamper the palate.

The fruit-forward style of Chardonnay also can be fun to drink, but primarily as a refreshing quaff.

The style that splits the difference between fruit-forward and full-blown is the one that I seek out to sip and savor with a meal.

With three distinct styles from which to choose, it’s easy to see why Chardonnay has become so popular. I always try to have all three styles on hand, because you never know when you’re going to need them.

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Old World Wines vs. New World Wines

By accepted definition, “Old World” wines are those that come from the long-establishedoldworld winemaking countries of Europe — primarily Italy, France and Germany, although some would include countries of the Near East and North Africa in the definition.

“New World” wines are those produced in countries with shorter winemaking histories, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South America.

But it’s not just about geography. It’s also about style.

In the vineyards and cellars of Europe, tradition is huge. The varieties of grapes planted, the blends of varieties allowed, and even the aging regimen may be regulated by long-standing guidelines and laws. Not much is left to chance, and the ultimate quality of each wine depends largely on the whims of Mother Nature — whether she allows the weather at harvest time to enable the grapes to ripen fully.

The Old World style is very much driven by “terroir,” to use the French term that describes all of the environmental factors that impact any given microclimate. A majority of the vintners seek to present a “liquid picture” of a given place in a given year, and that’s why the “natural wine” movement has its roots in the Old World. The idea is that the farmer and the winemaker should intervene as little as possible in the process.

In contrast, New World winemakers are not bound by hundreds of years and numerous generations of tradition, nor by strict blending or aging guidelines. As a result, their wines tend to be more fruit-driven in flavor (favored by many contemporary wine drinkers), and also tend to be quite versatile as companions to food. Filtering typically is used to help minimize the “earth-like” flavors found in many Old World wines.

Which style do I prefer? It really depends, because I rarely drink wine unless it’s part of a meal, and matching the wine to the meal is one of my favorite hobbies. At my house, a gamey meat such as venison would call for an Old World wine, while a dish with a less-assertive flavor would most often be accompanied by a New World wine.

Which style do you prefer? There’s only one way to find out: through experimentation.

Happy exploring!

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It’s Almost Time to Celebrate National Merlot Day

Anyone who really gets into wine has an “ah-ha!” moment — otherwise known as an merlotepiphany wine.

It’s the first time you take a sip from a wine glass and think, “Wow, this is really good. I’m going to have to drink wine more often.”

My epiphany wine was a Merlot made by Duckhorn Vineyards. I won’t bore you with the details, but I can tell you that once I’d sipped that wine during the 1980s, there was no turning back.

I had a big jug of “Chablis” — which, as it turned out, wasn’t French Chablis at all, but rather a non-descript blend of less-than-esteemed white grapes from non-disclosed vineyard sources — sitting in a kitchen cupboard. When I returned home after “discovering” the Duckhorn Merlot, I poured the remaining contents of that jug down the drain.

After doing some research, I learned that fundamental to Duckhorn’s tradition was the early decision to focus on the production of Merlot. Dan Duckhorn felt that this elegant varietal was under-appreciated in North America.

“I liked the softness, the seductiveness, the color, the fact that it went with a lot of different foods,” he said in an interview on the winery’s website. “It seemed to me to be a wonderful wine to just enjoy. I became enchanted with Merlot.”

So did a lot of other people, including me.

There wasn’t a National Merlot Day back then, but today there is… and in 2017, November 7 is the day.

A little-known bit of trivia is that far more Merlot is grown in the Bordeaux appellation of France than Cabernet Sauvignon. Acclaimed vintner Christian Moueix, who oversees production at one of Bordeaux’s most famous estates, Chateau Petrus, has said: “Merlot is a friendly and delicate varietal which, on the proper terroirs and harvested at its peak, produces wines characterized by voluptuous, generosity and distinction.”

Today, the “terroirs” that provide welcoming homes to the variety have multiplied, and now include not only Bordeaux, but also various parts of California, Washington, Chile, Argentina and elsewhere.

Make no mistake about it: Merlot  is a variety that has created “ah-ha!” moments for countless wine drinkers. It’s a variety worth celebrating on National Merlot Day… and every day.

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Thanksgiving and Wine: Be Prepared

We all know how challenging it can be to find the “perfect” wine for the Thanksgiving tgivingDay feast.

With so many eclectic flavors on the table, it can be like trying to select just one wine to accompany a meal at a Las Vegas buffet.

There are numerous worthy strategies, ranging from simply pouring your favorite wine (regardless of color or sweetness level) to opening up a number of different bottles and letting the diners figure it out for themselves.

But if you’re hoping to achieve true wine-pairing bliss — whether the main course is turkey, ham, roast beef, a pork crown roast or a vegetarian specialty — picking the right wine is key.

Fortunately, the Vinesse tasting panel has taken the guesswork out of the equation by assembling a six-bottle sampler called The Holiday Collection. No matter what you’re serving, this collection has you covered.

Turkey is the most “wine-friendly” of the Thanksgiving main-course options, as it pairs nicely with both a white wine and a red wine — namely, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Another solid red option would be a fruit-forward Shiraz.

Ham is more challenging, and not solely because it’s salty; at holiday time, it may also come with a honey glaze. Whether the ham is just salty or salty and sweet, a glass of sparkling wine makes an ideal pairing partner.

If you’re slicing roast beef for guests, Cabernet Sauvignon would be an obvious choice, but you may want to opt for a Merlot-based Bordeaux cuvee since it would pair better with a wider array of side dishes.

A pork crown roast adds a “wow” factor to the table, and also demands a little more attention when selecting a wine partner. As with turkey, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can work very nicely.

Vegetarian fare often can be on the spicy side or have other assertive flavors, so sparkling wine is what I’d recommend pouring.

And here’s the best part of all about The Holiday Collection: What you don’t use on Thanksgiving Day can be saved for your next big holiday meal — or any meal, for that matter. These are food-friendly wines that will help transform a meal into an occasion.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Vinesse can help you place a big check mark on your meal-planning “To Do” list with an eclectic collection of perfect-for-the-occasion wines.

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Winery Cats: Cuddling Opportunities Abound

You may think we’re writing a blog about winery cats because we’re just four days awacaty from Halloween.

Well, if this were a blog specifically about black cats, that would make a lot of sense. But this blog is about all types of winery cats — British shorthair, Siamese, Persian, Ragdoll, Maine Coon, Bengal, Abyssinian, American Bobtail, American Shorthair and so on.

At quite a few wineries, the resident dogs serve as unofficial greeters. They trot up to arriving cars, rub up against the guests and lead them to the front door of the tasting room. I kid you not. I’ve had this experience at least a dozen times.

But winery cats are different. I’ve had a few allow themselves to be petted as I approached the winery doors, but most just sit around wherever they want or go off exploring, hunting who knows what. There’s no question that, more so than dogs, cats have minds of their own.

You can check out some adorable “winery cat” photos here.

There’s even a full book devoted to the topic called “Wine Cats,” which is available on Amazon.

The book was put together by the same authors who brought us “Wine Dogs California” and Wine Dogs California 2.

We know you’re a wine lover. If you’re also an animal lover, you should check out these books. They are perfect for the coffee table, especially if your coffee table doubles as a wine table.

And the next time you visit a winery, be on the lookout for a cute little animal to cuddle between sips.

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Entertaining and Wine: How Much Do I Really Need?

wine&entertainingHard to believe, but the holiday season is right around the corner. As soon as the Halloween products are removed from the shelves of your local supermarkets and drug stores, they’ll be replaced by Thanksgiving and, yes, Christmas items.

If you plan to host a holiday gathering or two — whether it’s on Turkey Day, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve or some other day — you’re going to need some wine. How much? That depends.

If you’re planning a sit-down dinner — which, in many households these days, may be the only sit-down dinner of the entire year — a good rule of thumb would be to allot two glasses of wine per adult guest. That works out to about one bottle for each two guests.

For a walk-around party, at which you take more of a “tapas” approach with the food, you may want to create a “wine buffet” that mirrors the food buffet.

As long as you know that each group of people at the party has a designated driver, you can simply open a number of bottles and let the guests have at ’em.

To make it more fun, you could place a card next to each bottle with a brief description — “semi-sweet white,” “dry red,” etc. — and a recommended pairing partner from the food buffet.

With this type of approach, you’ll need more wine. Plan on two bottles for every three guests, and also plan to have some wine left over. (That means selecting wines that you wouldn’t mind “finishing off” over the next few days,)

During the holidays, law enforcement is on the lookout for impaired drivers, and rightly so. That’s why I suggest not serving any hard liquor, and sticking strictly to wine because of its lower alcohol level.

For guests who say they don’t like wine, have a few sweet selections available, or prepare a bowl of sangria with your favorite red or white wine.

The goal is to entertainment without impairing, and to enjoy an array of wines. Now that you’ll know how much you’ll need, planning those holiday gatherings should be a lot more fun.

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Halloween Candy and Wine Pairing


The spookiest day of the year is a week away. Anyone who has kids goes through a progression of life experiences related to this “holiday.”

It begins with dressing up the real little ones in outfits they’d never select themselves if they had a say in the matter, and sharing pictures on Facebook. (This is the modern version of including a picture with your annual holiday greeting card.)

As the kids get older, they pick out their own costumes, often highly influenced by the hottest pop culture phenomenon of the moment, and go out trick-or-treating with Mom or Dad following close behind. The kids’ primary goal is to collect as much candy as possible.

Once the kids are really too old to go out on Halloween, they insist on going out on their own — with a group of like-minded friends. Here, the goal isn’t so much to collect candy (although that’s still a factor), but simply to be out of the house with friends after dark.

Once the kids no longer need a chaperone for their trick-or-treating, we parents are relegated to handing out candy at home. The constant doorbell ringing and brain-jarring hollers of “Trick or treat!” can be mitigated, to some degree, by a good glass of wine.

My suggestion is to open a bottle of your favorite Vinesse wine, and then raid your own candy jar for something to munch while you sip.

Wine with candy? As long as you like the wine (which is a given) and the candy, why not?

Here are five “pairings” that members of the Vinesse tasting panel have experienced over the years…

With Skittles, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and Kit Kat, the wines selected have complementary flavors. With 3 Musketeers, the pairing is intended to not overwhelm the silky smoothness of the candy. And with the Hot Tamales, the wine selection helps tame the spiciness — just as you’d drink Riesling with spicy Asian fare.

The Halloween countdown is on. Are you stocked up on candy… and wine?

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Climate and Its Impact on Wine


In ancient times, almost every wine was what we’d today describe as a “field blend.”

Not much was known about specific grape varieties, and various varieties would be planted haphazardly. At harvest time, all of the grapes — both red and white varieties — would be fermented together to create a single cuvee for the vintage.

The first real “advancement” came when someone got the idea to ferment white varieties and red varieties separately. Then, instead of just one cuvee for the vintage, they had two.

As science advanced and the sharing of knowledge increased, it was discovered that specific types of wine grapes fared better in specific types of climates. The French were the first to latch on to this way of thinking, embodied to this day in their perception of “terroir” — all of the factors that contribute to a wine’s ultimate flavor, including the climate.

Every winemaker has his or her own idea of the type of wine they want to make from a specific variety, whether it’s extremely fruit forward, a bit more subtle and restrained, perhaps hinting at a bit of sweetness, and so on. Each “style” requires a specific level of ripeness in the grapes, and the vineyards are monitored constantly during the harvest season so the grapes (Mother Nature allowing) can be picked at precisely the right time.

Leaving as little as possible to chance, vineyards are now planted with the idea of maximizing the potential of each specific variety.

That’s why, in California as an example, you’ll see cool-climate-loving Pinot Noir planted in areas such as the Russian River Valley, the Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Santa Barbara County.

Likewise, it’s why you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon which can handle heat better, planted farther inland, such as in the Napa Valley.

Because so many modern vineyards have been planted with climate top of mind, there’s now great concern among some growers and vintners that global warming could necessitate replanting or, at a minimum, grafting to more heat-resistant varieties at some point in some areas.

For now, however, most vineyards are perfectly positioned to produce the type of perfectly ripened grapes that vintners need to craft wonderful wines.

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