Your probably wondering what I’m talking about. Well, mystery solved... I’m referring to ‘Celebrity Wines’ that have been ‘labeled’ by celebrities and musicians. People who you love or once loved or have never heard of. You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve seen it. The celebrities who put their name on anything and everything, from cologne to potato chips, from wallpaper to handbags. Well, whether you knew it or not, the wine industry is full of the same.
While some just attached their name and hope for a big payday, upon doing my due diligence, I learned that there are a few who actually have a deeper level of involvement, who really care about the taste, who take part in the marketing and who care about the branding of the wine they’ve put their name on. In other words, it matters to them. It’s personal.
What interests me most, is learning about those who have gone a bit further, embraced the wine industry and in some instances, actually opened wineries themselves. Some have partnered with existing wineries and a few have created some really decent bottles. The most recognized is director Francis Ford Coppola. He’s seen great success and he’s produced some quality wines, that came out of his Rubicon winery, which was renamed Inglenook a few years ago.
The list of celebrities who have a hand in different aspects of the wine business is a very long one. Here are just a few of the many: Brad and Angelina, Dan Aykroyd, Antonio Banderas, Drew Barrymore, Mario Batali, Raymond Burr, Gérard Depardieu, Emilio Estevez, Mick Fleetwood, Fergie, Maynard James Keenan, Madonna and Sting.
Trust me, the list goes on and includes sports figures, politicians and more Hollywood folk. I will say that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Château Miraval Côtes de Provence Rosé has potential and in a few years may get a review from me. Pitt seems to care about the vineyard he now owns in Provence. Similarly Maynard James Keenan from the band Tool makes good wines in Arizona; look for the film ‘Blood Into Wine’ which is a documentary about Maynard’s love for the grape.
It’s true; there are some celebrities who just put their name on things and refuse to look back, vanity before sanity as they say. KISS, Martha Stewart, Jessica Simpson, just to name a few have garnered themselves a few (million) bucks, just for licensing their name and their likeness. But for some, regardless of their popularity or status or wealth, they don’t always prove to be an ideal fit for the ‘name or brand’ they’d like to be associated with. Just because some celeb finds a ‘certain label’ desirable, doesn’t mean that brand will reciprocate. With the ‘Jay-Z’ vs. ‘Cristal’ situation for instance, that’s exactly what happened. Here is the short story:
When Frederic Rouzaud, the managing director of Louis Roederer’s Cristal was asked by The Economist magazine about the adoration the rap community has for Cristal CHampagne he remarked “The company views of the affection of their Cristal champagne, by rappers and their fans, with curiosity and serenity.” Then when asked, “Is the ‘Bling Lifestyle’ a detriment to Cristal as a brand?” Rouzaud said “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying Cristal, but I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” Jay-Z took great offense to this and deemed it a racist comment. He boycotted the company and began rapping about Armand de Brignac’s “Ace of Spades” champagne.
Personally I find the taste of “Ace of Spades” to be subpar. The ostentatious bottle design in my opinion is a strategic selling point and a core reason for its’ conspicuous consumption.
...Back to business. I’m not interested in focusing on tacky celebs or presumptuous rappers. My focus for this review is one celebrity who did not just lend his name to a winery. No. He has a genuine passion, a developed palate and a sincere desire to not only learn but also invest in viniculture. I’m talking about ‘Mr. Snake Plissken, Mr. Jack Burton’ himself. That’s right - Mr. Kurt Russell and the wine I’m reviewing is his label ‘Gogi’, which was his childhood nickname.
I’ve been keeping my eye on Gogi for a few years and wanted to see if this was just a passing fad, if Kurt Russell had just leant his name or if he was the real deal. As I hoped would be the case, he not only really enjoys the wine business, but it’s become a big part of his life. As they round the corner on 6 years, he’s still going strong and is remarkably involved in all aspects of the business, from helping to expand their sales to increasing their production runs.
Russell started his winemaking passion in 2008, when he met Peter and Rebecca Work of Ampelos Cellars; the first winery in the US to be USDA certified Organic, Biodynamic, and Sustainability in Practice. Ampelos is located in the Santa Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County; a couple hours north of Los Angeles.
Knowing what he wanted in a wine was Russell’s first step into crafting a quality vintage. Learning the nomenclature was a second step. When you talk to people who have been doing this for decades, you want to be on the same level with them. It’s with that set of standards, an insistence for quality and personal commitment that Russell has been crafting a limited production run of an amazing boutique (cult) wine, for the past 6 years.
The first production of the 2008 Gogi Pinot Noir was 24 cases. Since then, Russell has increased the run on two varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to 1500 cases per year, which in just a few years, is very nice growth. If you want to purchase the wine it is tough to locate as only a handful of restaurants and wine retailers carry it. However if you search online you should be able to get your hands on a bottle or two.
In 2014 Russell partnered with the owners of the 1880 Union Hotel in Los Alamos and created a wine saloon from one of the hotel’s bars. The bar is open three days a week and features all the Gogi wines, along with a selection of Ampelos Cellars and a rosé, created by Russell’s daughter film actress, Kate Hudson and her boyfriend musician Matt Bellamy.
I’m sitting on a few bottles of the 2010 Gogi Pinot Noir and I’m going to give them a few years before I open them up. Since it is summer and I enjoy white wine during these warm months, what better wine to open up and relax with than the Goldie Chardonnay; named after Russell’s longtime partner, actress Goldie Hawn.
It’s nice seeing Kurt Russell embrace the wine business. I would love to see him buy some land and start growing his own grapes and really become a winemaker. With all the knowledge he has learned by working with Ampelos, he just might be on his way to such things in a few years.
* After just finishing the bottle with my lovely wife; Shawn Marie, we both determined that this drinks in every way like a Sauvignon Blanc. From the color to the finish this wine does not have the refinement of a true Chardonnay. After letting it open for about 20 minutes it settled down and mellowed to a nice summertime wine. A few more years in the cellar will bring it to full blossom.
One more thing… opening this bottle will take some time and a few finger cuts with the hard wax-dipped seal.
GoGi, Chardonnay, 2011
Produced by: Gogi
Winemaker: Kurt Russell
Winery: Gogi (made at Ampelos Cellars)
City: Santa Rita Hills
Region: Santa Barbara County
Appearance (Color): Light gold
Aroma (Complexity): Vanilla, Honeysuckle, Melon Fruits
Body (Texture and Weight): Light
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Pear, Green Apple, Caramel
Finish (What lingers): Asian Pear, Caramel
Food Paring: Grilled fish, summer salad, light cheeses
Serving Temperature: 54°
Final Rating: 92
Drink now through 2019
My rating system is based on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale.
Wine Points How Good the Wine Is
95-100 Classic: a great wine
90-94 Outstanding: wine with superior character & style
85-89 Very Good: wine with special qualities
80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
70-79 Average: drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69 Below Average: drinkable wine but not recommended
50-59 Poor: undrinkable wine, not recommended
John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine aficionado, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry. He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science and then switched to Creative Writing and then finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California with a degree in graphic designer and sculpting. For over eight years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals. For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noirs, and his true love is Kosta Browne. As a way to pay for his wine collection he works as a senior marketing manager / business development for an adult sex toy company. On his downtime he is busy writing a business plan for a unique wine bar concept somewhere in Southern California, preferably Long Beach (Naples area). Currently he resides in Southern California with his lovely wife and motivational speaker Shawn-Marie.