celebrity wines

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Just for grins, I popped this question up on my Facebook page over the weekend. “Celebrity wine projects – for ‘em, or agin’ ‘em?” Comments were generally not favorable. “Mostly silly” wrote a fellow wine scribe. “If they actually made their wine it would be worth interest,” another friend opined. And this, perhaps the most telling of all: “Who cares whether it is a celebrity project or not, and why on earth would anyone who is serious about wine care? It is about the grapes and the art of the élévage into wine from the grapes, not the celebrity who maybe attached to the project. Celebrity status does nothing for the quality of the grapes…”

I share these sentiments, and perhaps, unfairly, tend to look askance at any wine with a celebrity attached. Most are simply marketing ploys, sometimes very successful, even if exploitive (see Marilyn Merlot). Living celebrities may be offering up their names and images simply for the money, and have nothing to do with the wine. Rock stars, movie stars, and golfers (why golfers?) seem particularly drawn to the wine industry – maybe life on the road provided more opportunities to drink decent juice. But that doesn’t mean their wines are any good. Arnold Palmer does a far better job with his ice tea than his wine.

So when Chris Figgins introduced me to his friend Drew a couple of years ago, I was somewhat skeptical. Drew, I soon discovered, was Drew Bledsoe, a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback who had recently started – what else? – a wine project, in his home town of Walla Walla. He and Figgins had known each other in high school, and reconnected over a bottle of wine while Bledsoe was hatching his plans.

Bledsoe is an affable, easy-going man, seemingly unimpressed with his own celebrity, and he seemed, from the start, to be deeply involved in the winery project. In an interview in 2008 he explained to me how the idea got started.

“Once I began to entertain the idea of retirement,” he explained, “it became apparent that I was going to need to create a new avenue in which to channel my energy and interests. I was fascinated by the growth of the wine industry in my hometown of Walla Walla. I was intrigued by the whole production process. I always will be confused by people who collect wine for the sake of owning it and showing off bottles. Wine is not something that should be set on the table and fawned over. It is something to be shared and enjoyed.”

The first vintage of his wine, named Doubleback, was released this spring. It is a 2007 blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 11% Petit Verdot from the Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, Figgins Estate, and Lloyds vineyards. A 40-acre vineyard, part of the expansive SeVein project on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla AVA, should produce its first crop this fall.

Wherever that estate fruit leads, any doubts about the seriousness of the Doubleback project have been dispelled by this first effort. Sold in 6-pak cases at $82 a bottle, it is a beautifully crafted, cellarworthy cabernet, dusty, dense, and dark. Beginning whiffs of cinnamon, smoke, cured meat and bacon lead into dry, stone-soaked flavors of cassis and sweet black fruits with floral highlights. The finish brings delicious accents of toasted nuts, almond paste, and chalk.

In Washington, Vehrs is the distributor. To join the mailing list, visit the Doubleback website.


MagnumGourmet said...

I think what differentiates this product from other celebrity wines is that Drew seems to be selling the wine rather than the brand. Your graphic of Palmer's wines above illustrates this perfectly. Arnie is selling what's on the outside of the bottle...Drew is selling what's on the inside (don't see any blatant reference to his celebrity on the label).

PaulG said...

MagnumG - actually, the graphic is Arnie's ice tea, which I truly enjoy. I don't think he's got the vaguest clue about the plonk that's in his wine bottles. Drew, as I have seen first-hand, is really committed to this project, and knows what he doesn't know - hence, the business partnership with Chris Figgins.

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, I've often been tempted to make a mock-up of what the bottle design would have looked like if Bledsoe wasn't as serious as he is about the wine: a picture of him dropping back for a pass (in a Patriots uniform of course) with a football helmet top (twist off, of course).

Bledsoe has taken the right approach with Doubleback enlisting one of the best in the business to craft the wines and getting his hands dirty himself. The first wine is impressive. Importantly, I think Doubleback also has the potential to introduce a crowd in Massachusetts, Buffalo, and Texas (gasp!) to Washington wine. The interest in these areas has been strong. I look forward to the future releases from the winery, especially once the estate site starts being blended in.

PaulG said...

Sean - package design could be a whole new career for you! I like the twist-off helmet concept. I agree that this is the sort of prestige, high-profile wine that could help do for WA what Screaming Eagle, Harlan, etc. have done for Napa. But we need a little boost from the economy first.

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Wait wait wait. Can't believe I didn't think of this sooner. My Patriots bias clouded my judgment. There's Patriots, Buffalo, AND Dallas editions of the wine bottle. Collect them all! Too bad I never got a chance to make my pitch. Maybe on a second label wine which I will also provide the monniker for - Greenback!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I like how Bledsoe says wine isn't something to be fawned over, it's meant to be opened and enjoyed. For $82 a bottle. In this economy.

Spoken like a celebrity.

Anonymous said...

I hate the trend...and yet I can't wait to try Dave Matthews' wine. Such a hypocrite!

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