Don't think celebrities like to get dirty? Every harvest in the Santa Ynez Valley, sexy, chart-topping pop singer Fergie of the Grammy-winning Black Eyed Peas and her hunky actor husband, Josh Duhamel, stomp syrah grapes in the traditional pigeage method until their toes turn purple.
The singer and her father, viticulturist Pat Ferguson, have been crafting small lot syrah, viognier and cabernet sauvignon at Ferguson Crest since they launched the Solvang winery in 2006. Their flagship wine is a velvety red blend, Fergalicious, named after the single off Fergie's 2006 album, "The Duchess." Apparently, Oprah is wild about the viognier.
Celebrities have always been involved in the wine business. Some, such as Sting and Madonna, have owned vineyards for decades and make wine for their personal use. Others, such as Nancy Pelosi, sell their grapes to top wineries. Many famous oenophiles lend their names to one-time projects, as singer Carlos Santana did with Mumm's 2005 release, Santana DVX sparkling wine.
But a growing crop of celebrities, from Fergie and Pixar's John Lasseter to bassist Les Claypool and members of the mega-band Train, are actually making the wine, planting vineyards, participating in harvest, selecting blends and playing key roles in marketing their brands. These are not gimmicky wines. They are handcrafted with love.
Even that's not completely new. For eight years, Olympic gold medalist Peggy Fleming Jenkins and her husband, Greg Jenkins, made 40 wines, including a crisp rose that raised $56,000 for breast cancer research, in the Santa Cruz Mountains before ending production earlier this year. Similarly, Dave Matthews and his family and childhood friends have been crafting merlot and chardonnay at his Virginia winery, Blenheim Vineyards, since 1999.
Family is the central message at Ferguson Crest, too. "When I was a little girl, my dad spent hours taking care of the fruit trees and vegetable patches he planted in our backyard in Hacienda Heights," Fergie writes on the winery's website. "My sister and I even got to help him in nurturing the garden. Since starting Ferguson Crest, I've gotten the chance to grow something beautiful with my father again, and this time share our family treasure so that each of you can taste the love and care that's gone into every bottle."
Fergie's father insists they're not making a celebrity wine in order to jump on the trend. It shows. They use organic methods, farming six acres in the Santa Ynez Valley and bottling only 1,200 cases a year under the guidance of winemaker Joey Tensley, who is a syrah whiz. The wines ($22.50-$35) are available at http://fergusoncrest.com, and there is talk of building a tasting room.
For now, the Fergusons are building a house on the estate, so Fergie can visit more often and be more active in the winery, her father says.
"Working with my daughter on this has brought us closer together," he says. "She comes up for harvest and is active in selecting the blends for Fergalicious. She's active in the promotion of the wines and very proud that it carries the name of one of her songs."
Guitarist Jimmy Stafford of Train took a similar approach with Calling All Angels chardonnay and Drops of Jupiter California Red, two wines under the band's Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. label. The grapes are sourced from vineyards around California, and the wine is made at Concannon Vineyards in Livermore. Stafford plays the most active role, working closely with winemaker James Foster to taste barrel samples and select blends. When the band is on tour, Foster sends the wines to him.
Train decided to make wine as a way to celebrate the band's Bay Area roots, Stafford says. The band got its start playing open mike nights in and around Haight Ashbury in 1994. Once "Hey, Soul Sister" broke in 2009, the international tours began -- and with them, a desire for home.
"We kept thinking, 'How can we let the world know we're a San Francisco band?' " says Stafford, the only band member who drinks wine. "We couldn't sell weed. So we decided to make wine."
Train currently produces about 20,000 cases of four wines, including the spicy Hella Fine Merlot 2010 and rich California 37 Cabernet Sauvingon 2010. They plan to keep the wines affordable ($12) and widely available at Super Target and Whole Foods. But that doesn't mean they'll skimp on quality. Drops of Jupiter California Red 2011 won a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition. There also are plans to add more wines, including a moscato from Italy, Stafford says.
"We had no intentions of this thing taking off," he says. "We just wanted the wines to reflect the music and not be a gimmicky thing that fans would buy and put on their shelf. We wanted them to taste really good."
other celebs who own wineries
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
David and Victoria Beckham