Life Food


Wine business loaded with celebrities

By Jane Stevenson, Postmedia Network

Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy, who teamed up with Niagara’s Tawse Winery last year, is just the latest celebrity to get involved in the wine buisness. (supplied photo)

Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy, who teamed up with Niagara’s Tawse Winery last year, is just the latest celebrity to get involved in the wine buisness. (supplied photo)

Celebrity wine brands or star-owned wineries and vineyards are nothing new.

American filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola was one of the first to stomp some grapes barefoot when he bought the Inglenook estate in Napa Valley, Calif., which offered up its first vintage in the mid-70s.

Other bold faced names who have since joined him in the wine business, to various degrees, include golfers Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Nick Faldo, actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Kyle McLachlan, and Drew Barrymore, and musicians Dave Matthews, Boz Scaggs and Madonna to name a few.

(Note: Some wines may not be available in your region.)

Canadian celebrities are well into the wine game too with two of the country’s major production centres in B.C’s Okanagan and Ontario’s Niagara regions.

One of the latest homegrown stars to try his hand is Blue Rodeo co-frontman Jim Cuddy, who teamed up with Niagara’s Tawse Winery last year for Cuddy By Tawse to make a Cabernet Merlot blend red and Chardonnay white vintage offering initially.

Cuddy joins such Canadians as The Tragically Hip, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, golfer Mike Weir, and actors Dan Aykroyd and Jason Priestley — who can say they have had their own wine.

“I’m seriously into wine and I like to be a promoter of Niagara wine and it’s also a beautiful area and I think is well worth promoting,” Cuddy told The Toronto Sun.

“And I’ve had an association with Tawse for quite a while because I’ve done a concert down there for (summer) solstice. And so when they proposed it to me, I’d always thought about it, but I had never really formulated any plans so it was kind of perfect. We just did the deal over lunch. It was very simple. I love it. It’s great. It’s a really enjoyable thing to be involved in.”

Vancouver licensed sommelier Diane Jackson says for the celebrity involved it has less to do with branding for them — although their star power attached to a wine can help sales — and more with making money as it’s a solid investment with tax benefits.

“It’s a great investment especially in Canada where the wine industry is still growing and getting bigger every year,” she said. “So primarily I believe it’s for investment purposes. When I think of celebrities that have wines like Francis Ford Coppola in California, which does very well, but he’s not a guy that needs any branding done right? Same as you could look at (Wayne) Gretzky and all the sports guys that have wines now, their brand is solid. I think it’s actually more advantageous to the winery to have their name on it so it’s kind of a win-win situation on both sides.”

Other motivations maybe that it’s a family tradition or, even more likely, they just love to drink wine.

Cuddy says his personal involvement in his Tawse brand saw him and Blue Rodeo guitarist Colin Cripps, who’s also close friends with owners Moray and Joanne Tawse, heading out to the winery.

“We went down and put the lab coats on, filling all the beakers, they had samples from all their different parcels of land they were going to use, and we went put the blend together so I had a hand in the blend. I mean Paul (Pender) is the winemaker, he obviously makes the wine. But the white had already been made and we’re going to use the same white next year and relatively the same blend of red. They already had a sparking wine, which I thought was good, but I asked for my sparkling wine to be drier. So there’s not much more that I can do other than sign bottles.”

Jackson said obviously there are various degrees to which the celebrities are involved in the actual wine production.

Some merely license their name, but others like Cuddy collaborate with the actual winemakers, while still others like Coppola get their hands, or feet in this case, dirty, owning their own wineries or vineyards.

“As (celebrities) start aging and don’t necessarily want to make films anymore and California, the Napa Valley, is one of the most beautiful winemaking places in the world, why not buy a winery?” said Jackson. “If you’ve got the cash to do it. And it’s a good investment. It’s something that’s always going to be in demand.”

The Tawse relationship appears to be working for Cuddy, who just launched his sparking wine this year and will see the second vintage of his red and white wines this fall.

“I’m a huge advocate for Ontario (wine-making),” he said. “I think that Ontario’s the perfect place to make sparkling wine. (For example), we have all this limestone which actually adds nice flavours to it.”



(On the advice of licensed Vancouver sommelier Diane Jackson who says, “I always look at the winery that’s behind the name.”):

1. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Chateau Miraval’s rose — “I would try that because it’s from Provence and it’s a rose and that’s where rose was born basically and they make the best.”

2. Any of Francis Ford Coppola’s Cabernet Sauvignons — “I have had the Coppola and I do like it, mind you I’m crazy for California Cabernet Sauvignons.”

3. Mike Weir’s Pinot Noir (Previously at Creekside Winery, now at his own Mike Weir Winery) — “I really liked it. I thought it was really good. I was like, ‘Bravo Mike. Way to go.’”

4. Jim Cuddy’s Cuddy By Tawse red, white or sparkling — “Tawse is good.”

5. Jason Priestley’s Black Hills Estate Winery’s Nota Bene — “I like the majority of their wines. They make very, very good wines there. They’re vastly overpriced but they’re very good. (Jason) doesn’t actually put his name on anything but it’s known that he is part owner.”