Chateau Madge: Madonna gets a new (wine) label

The pop diva is reinventing herself again, as the name on a range of Californian wines
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The Independent Online

In the 1980s she was the Material Girl; in the 1990s, the sado-masochistic siren. Now she has an unlikely new incarnation: Madonna, the wine label.

The 47-year-old pop diva is launching a range of Californian wines in a lucrative licensing deal that promises to alter the way that wine is sold to the public.

"Confessions" - a series of wine bottles adorned with a choice of two pictures of the singer, linked to her new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor - goes on sale in Britain this week. Billed as a "first edition", the initial online offering of four Madonna wines - a pinot grigio, a barbera, a cabernet sauvignon and a non-alcoholic "Un-wine" variety - is aimed at collectors and Madonna fans worldwide. Priced from $25 for a bottle of "Un-wine" to $40 for the cabernet sauvignon, the wines are expected to sell out within days.

The limited edition set will be followed by a large-scale sales drive featuring different varieties - a push that could see tens of thousands of the Madonna wines sold within weeks.

The wine trade is a new departure for Madonna. However, in 1995 her father, Tony Ciccone, established a vineyard in Michigan, a venture his daughter recently supported with a $1.5m gift.

"Chateau Madge" is the brainchild of Marty Erlichman, a veteran Hollywood player whose day job is managing Barbra Streisand and whose company Celebrity Cellars was launched in 1997. Mr Erlichman's first attempt to create a celebrity wine product line - "Dead Red", linked to The Grateful Dead - was initially thwarted when the lead singer, Jerry Garcia, died in a rehab clinic. Instead, a non-alcoholic wine was produced in Garcia's honour. The idea took off, with more than 35,000 cases sold. Mr Erlichman followed with labels devoted to Frank Sinatra, Streisand, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

The contents of the bottles, admits Mr Erlichman, aren't really the point. "We're not selling what's inside the bottle, but what's outside the bottle," he said, adding that only around one in five buyers of his celeb wines actually drink them.

Celebrity-linked wines are nothing new, but the use of stars' images and promotional material on labels represents a break with the wine world's traditional understatement.

"Celebrity-linked wine is becoming bigger and bigger," says Matthew Jukes, Britain's best-selling wine writer. "Wine is seen as aspirational, but there's a kitsch cross-over with some. Shane Warne was going to launch one, but that was pulled. Ian Botham has launched an Australian one with Bob Willis. It became Tesco's fastest-ever selling wine. There's a good side to celebrity wines - it does attract more people."

Other experts see the rise of rock and pop wines as a long-overdue boost to a drink that remains the domain of the cultured and aspirational elite.

"I want more people to feel more comfortable with wine," says Matt Skinner, Jamie Oliver's sommelier. "If it's a celebrity, then that's one way of bringing people to wine. Wine purists might say it's disrespectful to the wine, but in some ways it's no different from the millions of brands that supermarkets invent."

EXPERT'S VIEW

Californian cabernet sauvignon, $40. "This is about an average price for a high-end Napa Valley cabernet, but you can get a really good one in the UK for between £8 and £15. Claret is made with cabernet, and that can cost up to £180"

Californian pinot grigio, $29. "That's extremely expensive. That would have to be equivalent to a top-class pinot grigio from a top estate; even then, you rarely pay $29. A good one costs up to£12."

Chris Orr is wine director of Quintessentially

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