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Bottoms Up

It used to be enough to buy a yacht, festoon it with blondes and moor it at St Tropez. But these days there is only one thing on which anyone who's anyone wants to spend their money: a vineyard. Cliff Richard planted his five years ago in the grounds of his home in the Algarve. Sting has vineyards in Tuscany. Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall owns vineyards on the slopes of Mount Etna. And the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi caused mayhem earlier this year (he was heckled by locals) when he arrived in Montalcino in Tuscany to buy a castle and five hectares of vines. Alas, the 10m-euro deal fell through.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that merely purchasing a plot of land will suffice. A celebrity in possession of a vineyard must also make his own wine. Some take this more seriously than others. Gérard Depardieu ("I have seen his nose in a glass on several occasions and it is a sight to behold," says a fellow enthusiast) has a chateau in the Loire and other vineyards in the Languedoc, the Médoc, and Morocco. Although he employs a professional consultant on his estates, his passport is said to list his occupation as "acteur-vigneron". He helps out as much as his schedule allows; he told one British critic that each vintage drives him to distraction, "a leetle like a pregnancy, worrying about ze birth of ze wine".

The film actor Sam Neill is similarly driven, if a little more down to earth. He owns plots of land in central Otago, New Zealand. It is the most southerly wine-making region in the world and there Neill teases life into pinot noir, a notoriously tricky grape to grow. He employs a wine-maker and a vineyard manager, but is very serious about, and involved in, production.

His Two Paddocks wine has met with much acclaim, as well as being praised by critic Jilly Goolden. "It's got a gorgeous nose, a piercing berry fruit with a little simmering compost," she wrote of the 2001 vintage. (For those of you reaching for the nose clips, compost is a good tasting note when it comes to this grape.) Unfortunately, Two Paddocks is available here in only one place - the restaurant J Sheekey in Covent Garden, London, where it costs £49.75 a bottle.

[Webmaster's note: Now more broadly available in the UK.]

But the grandaddy of all celebrity wine-makers is film director Francis Ford Coppola. He has been making wine for over two decades, although when he and his wife Eleanor bought their first vineyards in California's Napa Valley in 1975, they intended to be grape growers, not wine-makers. He produces a number of wine styles, from the cheesily named Francis Coppola Presents (both the rosso and bianco are around £10) to his prestige wine, Rubicon (the 1997 vintage goes for around £88).

Coppola directs rather than manages his winery. For example, he once recounted to the influential American Wine Spectator that he had offered some of his Rubicon wine to a French dowager, who said it reminded her of Algerian wine. Coppola was "devastated", and instructed his then wine-maker to alter the style to be less "pure" and more elegant. Rubicon duly changed. Coppola's wines are sold in the UK.

© Copyright 2003, The Guardian Observer . Posted with the permission of the publisher.

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