May 24, 2013

Would you buy wine from Carlos Santana?

Because the “Evil Ways” bandleader would like to sell you some.

Just like, apparently, every other star on Earth. 

Forget celebrity clothing lines. Forget perfumes. Forget shoes (although Santana has an oddly cute shoe brand, too). Those are so 2012. This year, if you're a star, you have to be selling wine or you're less relevant than Carrot Top.

Think I kid? Consider: Yao Ming has a winery. Sells wines for something like $289 per bottle.

Real Housewife Ramona Singer is selling wine because she says she couldn’t find a decent pinot grigio. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are selling wine because their massive French estate, Miraval, has grapes on it.

Dan Aykroyd is selling wine, and rapper Li'l John is selling wine, and Dave Matthews is selling wine, and Madonna is selling wine, and Olivia Newton-John is selling wine, and Sting is selling wine. 

And Drew Barrymore is selling wine because...I have no idea. Well, yeah, I do, actually.

I once asked a wine business expert why celebrities are getting into this field, given that winemaking is almost as brutal an industry as filmmaking.

“Wine is sexy,” Ray Johnson, director of Sonoma State University's Wine Business Institute, told me.


But then again, maybe it’s just about cash. Another celebrity winemaker, Fergie of the Black-Eyed Peas, may be the most honest celebrity vintner out there, having described her venture simply as an "investment." And when you have a famous last name, such "investments" just might to pay off more quickly than if your last name were, say, Gornstein. Brangelina’s Chateau Miraval rose wine sold out just five hours after it debuted on the market earlier this year.

But I suspect yet another reason for stars getting into the wine business—at least, those who buy vineyards: tax breaks. According to celebrity tax attorney Bruce Givner, partner at the Los Angeles firm Givner & Kaye, fruit-producing vines can depreciate, tax-wise, about three times faster than a building. Let me explain how that works in theoretical dollars: A star might invest $1 million in a building and write off, say, $36,000 a year...or invest $1 million in a vineyard and write off $100,000 a year, all because plants depreciate in value faster than buildings.

Pair that reality with another—that taxes for rich people have gone up in California—and Hollywood's interest in winemaking starts to look pretty obvious.

Of course, not every star is actually buying a vineyard. Santana's wine venture, a sparkling rose called Supernatural—a nod to his album of the same name—is more of a partnership than an out-and-out investment.

“Much like the song Smooth, and other now classic tracks on that album, Supernatural Rose is also the product of careful collaboration,” the wine’s press release says. “Mumm Napa winemaker Ludovic Dervin worked closely with Santana, using his feedback on wine style to create an elegant and lively sparkling wine with a rich, creamy palate featuring flavors of fig and blackberry jam.”

Make that fig, blackberry jam and crisp dollar bills: A single bottle of Supernatural will set you back $65.

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