Heard it on the celeb vine

2012-01-28 14:12

Picture this. It’s Saturday night and you’re getting ready to paint the town red.

To get into the mood, you’ve invited over a few of your pop celebrity friends. You’re wearing Britney Spears’ Curious perfume, rocking Gwen Stefani’s LAMB duds and Paris Hilton shoes, and you’re bobbing to Madonna’s Hard Candy while sipping on her dry white.

Yep, it seems there’s no end to celebrity endorsements these days.

Bonang Matheba is the ambassador of a sanitary towel brand, Kim Kardashian has been known to pose with baby-soft toilet paper and almost every Hollywood A-lister has been “big in Japan” endorsing some dodgy product.

And now the latest product du jour for celebrity endorsement is wine.

Celebrity sells. Period.

A recent report by American consumer trends research company Nielsen shows an increase in celebrity wine sales. According to one of the report’s authors, Richard Hurst: “While some celebrities have had a long-standing personal affinity for these product categories (wine and spirits), others view these products as extensions of their established ‘lifestyle brands’.”

With the current economic climate still not looking good, suppliers have found celebrity endorsements to be the quickest way to move products.

Says Hurst: “A celebrity can lend a brand instant recognition. Ideally, the celebrity’s reputation also helps to reinforce the company’s image in the marketplace.”

The world has already sampled the good nectar from Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, Sir Cliff Richard, the Rolling Stones and Madonna. They are not really involved; they simply agree to have their images and names placed on the wine bottles. That’s it. Oh, and getting paid megamillions.

However, other celebrities such as Paul Newman, Francis Ford Coppola, Gerard Depardieu and Antonio Banderas are more hands-on and even own vineyards.

In South Africa, this trend is on the increase, with local personalities like Ernie Els and wealthy businesspeople working with established wineries.

Cape Wine Academy Wine Master Marilyn Cooper is not a big fan of the fad. “Many of the local celebrity wine brands are, unfortunately, not owned by those people. Simply putting on a name of a celebrity on the bottle is not sustainable. We want people to take an interest, and own the land and the vineyard where their wines are produced.”

Pro-golf champion Els has been growing his wine portfolio from his own Ernie Els vineyards, located on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s Helderberg Mountain. The price of his wines – the cheapest bottle costs a hefty R127 – is proof of just how much fans are willing to pay to get a piece of the legend.

Another local premium wine range that has the blessing of a mega personality is The House of Mandela. It is run by Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe, her daughter, Tukwini, and Mandla Mandela, the chief of the BaThembu clan.

The range includes a 2009 Chardonnay from Thelema Elgin Sutherland, which sells for R190, and two reds – a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Hartenberg and a 2007 Shiraz from Charles Back of Fairview – which sell for R350 each.

Zulu royalty is also in on the action in the form of Bayede! by King Goodwill Zwelithini. The wines are “selected by a team of experts” using wines from the Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl regions.

The bottles come adorned with beadwork.

Another wine range is that of actress Rami Chuene and her business partner, Nana Stapelberg, who were commissioned by the ANC to commemorate its centenary with the theme Unity in Diversity.

“We created 10 exclusive, limited edition wines that are numbered to ensure their authenticity and value. We also commissioned artists to create paintings to represent different aspects of our local history and life.”

While the generic bottles of the centenary cost between R100 and R140, the limited Decade 1-6 editions cost between R3 500 and R4 500. The Decades 7-10 bottles will go on auction with the paintings. Did somebody say recession? What recession?!

While Mbhazima Shilowa might have left the mothership, he has proven that he still knows how to ‘eat’.

His extravagant wine brand, Epicurean, is co-owned with Vantage Capital’s Mutle Mogase, retired JP Morgan Chase South Africa boss Ron T Gault, and Safika Holdings chairperson and former economic adviser to president Thabo Mbeki, Moss Ngoasheng.

Their wines are made in one of Mzansi’s aristocratic wine estates, Rupert & Rothschild, by winemaker Schalk-Willem Joubert.

But really, you don’t need to have old money like the Ruperts and Rothschilds or new money like the Shilowas to own a wine range.

Just ask The Parlotones’ frontman, Kahn Morbee, who says one of his fantasies has always been to own a wine farm and create a boutique wine. Lucky for him and his band members, a company called Hands on Wine approached them with a proposal they clearly couldn’t refuse.

Two years later, the band’s wine portfolio includes Push Me To The Floor 2010 white wine, We Call This Dancing 2010 rosé and Giant Mistake 2008 red blend, which all retail at a modest R50 to R80. In case you’re not a groupie, the names of the wines match the band’s song titles.

Morbee says their involvement went further than simply endorsing the wine. “We sat down with the experts and learnt all we could about blending wines, and agreed to the final product.”

Morbee says while it’s still too early to measure the benefits of the collaboration for The Parlotones brand, he believes it has served to prove that they are more than just a band, but also a brand. 

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