Few people channel those sweet, sweet Dionysian vibes like famous musicians, what with the song-making, the booze- and drug-fueled revelries and the ritual ecstasy of massive live performances. A number of stars have debuted a hard alcohol of some sort or another over the years, but only a select few have chosen to take a classier route and devote themselves to the ancient craft of winemaking.
Of all the actors, musicians and retired sports stars that have ventured into viticulture, many settle on a temporary partnership or even just a label promotion, lending their name to a single run of a few wines before calling it a day. A few others like Vince Neil have started wineries just to have them sputter out in a few years. Check out these 10 musicians who channel that Greek god of wine and festivities to truly become Lords of Wine and Song!
Musicians, comedy legends and folk heroes Thomas and Richard Smothers were behind one of the often controversial ‘60s TV show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, whose satirical focus on racism, the president, and the ongoing Vietnam War marked the show as a radical piece of counterculture and eventually led to the pair being fired from CBS. Afterwards, in the early ‘70s, Tom and his grandfather went looking to purchase vineyards in the hills of Sonoma, and Smothers Brothers Wine was born. After a few years, the brothers changed the name to Remick Ridge (Remick was their mother’s maiden name) and have been producing organically certified wine ever since.
British pop singer Cliff Richard has long been a lover of Portugal, particularly the Algarve region where he originally owned a private residence and vineyard before expanding to a full-blown winery operation, which has since won numerous awards. According to Adega do Cantor’s (Winery of the Singer) website, “Sir Cliff is very much involved in producing the wine. When in Portugal he is often seen getting his hands dirty in the vineyard or indeed his feet dirty in the winery.” As a testament to his love of the land, that Sir title of knighthood is in fact Portuguese rather than British; Richard was knighted in 2006 for his over 40 years of personal and business involvement with the country.
American singer-songwriter and all around bluesy rockstar Boz Scaggs first moved to the Napa Valley in 1996 with his wife Dominique. Within a few years, they were planting and making their own wine on their property for friends and guests. The project snowballed from there and when the pair met noted winemaker Ken Bernards, the side project became a stand-alone venture in its own right. The Scaggs and Bernards make all their wine from their own small tract of grapes, so they only ever feature a couple of wines a season, a rosé and a Rhone varietal blend.
Lead singer and eventually only remaining member of British soul band Simply Red, Mick Hucknall began his winemaking adventure at the urging of a friend of his whose father had retired to Sicily and died, leaving his property and vineyard in disrepair. Hucknall’s friend vowed to make the villa a beautiful property, and after introducing Mick to local Etna winemaker Salvo Foti, the path was set. Il Cantante (the Singer) produces traditional Sicilian wine from the slopes of the Etna volcano, the highest active Volcano in Europe. Mick takes a backseat role, functioning as owner of the winery and fully admitting that the real stars are the local Etna winemakers and vineyard tenders he employs who harvest and process the grapes with traditional, noninvasive techniques.
Dave Matthews of the bluegrass/rock outfit Dave Matthews Band originally purchased the land that Blenheim Vineyards resides on back in 1999 to preserve the historical nature of the site; a Virginia farm originally owned by Secretary of the Virginia Colony John Carter back in 1730. After restoring the farm and vineyards and bringing them up to organic growing standards, Dave handed the vineyard management to his brother Peter (who has an education in viticulture) and the winemaking duties to close friend Brad McCarthy, whom Dave had known since before the band took off and who had undertaken a winemaking apprenticeship in the interim years. Since then, McCarthy has moved on to other ventures but Dave still acts as owner of the vineyards and winery.
Drummer and namesake of blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac Mick Fleetwood is a man that likes simple, drinkable wine. While having dinner with friend and business associate Jonathan Todd, Mick opined that he wished that everywhere he went, there was a single wine which he enjoyed and could recommend to friends. Todd joked that the solution to that was to make his own wine and distribute it around the world, and thus Mick Fleetwood Private Cellar was born. While not as directly involved in the wine-making process as some of these other musicians, the wines are created to suit Mick’s tastes and have won awards, particularly “Best Wine” from a Wall Street Journal blind tasting of over 50 celebrity wines.
Best known for playing Keyboard with Journey and composing the piano parts on “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Jonathan Cain is also a noted wine lover; his Czechoslovakian immigrant grandfather made a Muscat in Arkansas from grapes that grew wild on his property. In 2006, Cain partnered with friend and winemaker Dennis De La Montanya (whom he met while wine-tasting) to produce a promotional wine label to benefit various Bay Area children’s charities. Two years later, the two opened a full-blown winery in northern California, de la Cain Vineyards & Winery.
“Fancy booze for semi-fancy folks” The quirky and immensely talented lead vocalist and bassist of the equally quirky and amazing Primus is yet another musician who took his love of wine a few steps beyond the usual. Claypool has lived in West Sonoma County for almost 20 years now, and has been an avid consumer of local wines the entire time. Eventually, that led to him and his friends deciding to produce a small wine of their own in a literal backyard shed operation. The result was a 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir that he and his partner Slawek Michalak named Purple Pachyderm, which ended up being very good. After the initial success, the pair brought in some expert assistance and eventually launched Claypool Cellars, which still remains a small, modest operation that debuts no more than a single wine at a time.
Best known as the frontman of Tool and A Perfect Circle, Keenan is also a damn good winemaker whose grandparents made wine in Northern Italy (a region that’s now part of France). Named after the staff of Hermes and symbol of commerce, Keenan’s Caduceus Cellars is located in Arizona, southwest of the artist’s Sedona residence. On the unusual choice of Arizona for winemaking, “This is a prime spot for vineyards. An untapped resource. But the master plan is to have the Merkin Vineyards Bed and Breakfast set up for when California drops in the ocean. Beach front property and the New Napa Valley. You got it.” The Merkin Vineyards he owns are named after a type of pubic wig. Go figure.
# 1. Lil Jon – Little Jonathan Winery
According to Lil Jon’s twitter, “This is not no ghetto Boone’s Farm; this is some real wine.” Produced from a partnership with winemaker Alison Crowe, Little Jonathan wines definitely fall under the category of a single run of musician-backed wines, but the idea for the partnership came about because the rapper had been making his own wine to serve at his parties as a small hobby, and enough friends liked it to convince him to do a label promotion. Also, something about Lil Jon rendered in proper English as Little Jonathan tickles me in a profound way. To make things better, his limited run of wine actually won an award (YEEEEAAAAAHHHHH!); his Central Coast Chardonnay won a silver medal at the L.A. International Wine & Spirits Competition.