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Why celebrities are getting into the wine business

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Why celebrities are getting into winemaking

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There are celebrity clothing lines, fragrances, headphones, jewelry, restaurants -- you name it. Now add celebrity wines as the latest business venture to take Hollywood by storm. At least 60 celebrities including Drew Barrymore, Sam Neill, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Antonio Banderas, Emilio Estevez and Kyle MacLachlan are producing high-quality wines. Some are even winning international awards: The 2012 vintage of Pitt and Jolie's Chateau Miraval Rose was named the best rosé in the world by Wine Spectator. Six thousand bottles of the rosé were available for sale last March and all sold out within minutes.

Sommeliers and oenophiles can taste the dried red berry, tangerine, melon and spice notes in the Pitt-Jolie rosé, but few wine lovers have the trained palates to distinguish the nuanced flavor. The rosé's popularity probably has more to do with Brad and Angelina than its high accolades, says Food & Wine's executive wine editor Ray Isle. But our fascination with all-things celebrity only goes so far.

"If the wine is not very good consumers won't drink it," Isle notes. "Sometimes celebrity wines sell better, sometimes they tank."

Some celebrities simply attach their names to a wine, a win-win deal for both the celebrity and wine producer if the wine develops a following. Others, such as Neill, Estevez and MacLachlan, are active at their wineries and have gotten their hands dirty in the vineyards. Neill, for instance, started producing wine 20 years ago in New Zealand and lives on the vineyard. He is "very serious" about his wines, says Isle.

Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola was the first Hollywood star to establish a presence in California's Napa Valley when he purchased a vineyard in 1975. His wines are a staple at most liquor stores around the country and his winery attracts thousands of visitors each year. Rocker Dave Matthews owns a vineyard in Virginia that is open to the public, but many of these celebrities produce their wines behind closed doors.

Are celebrity wines priced higher than their competitors simply because of the star's power and status? Isle says Pitt's and Jolie's wine sells for a relatively affordable $27, but explains that other rosés grown in the same region of France are priced closer to $18 a bottle. MacLachlan's cabernet sauvignon, grown in Washington's Columbia Valley, retails for $65, a fair price point says Isle.

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