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waters on wine

Jesse Bongiovi, left, Jon Bon Jovi and Hampton Water co-founder Gérard Bertrand, winemaker at the Gérard Bertrand winery in Narbonne, where Hampton Water is vinifiéd, blended and bottled.CORENTIN BERGER/Handout

“Why is Jon Bon Jovi calling me?” the French rugby player turned winemaker Gérard Bertrand remembers thinking. Turns out the American rock star was reaching out with his son Jesse Bongiovi (Bon Jovi’s actual surname) with an idea for a rosé brand called Hampton Water.

A third-generation winemaker, Bertrand is the largest producer of biodynamic wines in the world, coveting 850 hectares of vineyards to the staunch organic farming practices, and has elevated the image of wines made in the south coast of France, a region often associated with mass-market brands. (Biodynamic grape growing and winemaking embraces sustainable, organic farming practices that follows holistic principles and ecologically ethical methods.)

Bon Jovi’s proposal was of interest, Bertrand explains, because it wasn’t pitching a celebrity brand, it was building a family business.

Celebrity wines take different forms these days. While some stars, such as Francis Ford Coppola or Alecia Moore (a.k.a. Pink), are seduced into buying vineyards to make wine from the ground up, many follow the Bongiovi family’s model, partnering with existing wineries to create their own blends. In other instances, like the 19 Crimes and Snoop Dogg collaboration, the relationship is pure marketing. The star lends their name and, possibly, some opinions to create a vanity brand.

The Hampton Water label doesn’t loudly broadcast its connection to the musician who has released 17 albums and was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. There’s none of the braggadocio of the front man who sings of having “seen a million faces and rocked them all” in the 1986 hit Wanted Dead or Alive.

“We are all serious. We have a vision,” Bertrand said in Toronto while attending an event to launch the fifth vintage of Hampton Water prior to its Sept. 10 release at the LCBO. “We want it to be successful because we enjoy it.”

From Bon Jovi’s perspective, the wine business wasn’t a dream he had originally, but he’s been caught up in the process. “We take a lighthearted approach to make a premium wine that’s the very best of the best. Not just white label some pink juice from somewhere,” he says. Hampton Water is forecast to sell its one millionth bottle by year’s end.

Back in 2016, Jesse Bongiovi’s notion to create a premium rosé made in the south of France was novel. It was ahead of the so-called rosé revolution. Before pink wine became one of the fastest growing categories in drinks business.

It wasn’t a bolt out of the blue, mind you. There was precedent. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt teamed up with the Perrin family, owner of famed Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to launch Château Miraval, a rosé grown on their 1,000-acre estate in the Rhône Valley, in 2012. But the category wasn’t the thriving, star-studded portfolio it is today, populated by celebrity brands by the likes of John Legend, Post Malone, Kylie Minogue, Sarah Jessica Parker and Drew Barrymore.

To hear Bongiovi tell it, there’s a reason more celebrities have been inspired to create their own pink juices. “Rosé is about creating memories, spending time with your friends and family, enjoying yourself …” he says. “Rosé is accessible, not intimidating like other wines. It is more fun and relatable.”

Star-powered brands to try

Inglenook 1882 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (United States), $71.95

Rating:91 /100

Since 1975, Hollywood director Frances Ford Coppola has been working to revive the legacy of Inglenook, Napa Valley’s first estate winery. Wine director Philippe Bascaules oversees operations in Napa and at Château Margaux. The 1882 on the label refers to the first vintage made by Inglenook founder Gustave Niebaum. This delivers the richness and concentration expected from Napa cabernet without losing the fragrance and finesse of the grape variety. There’s tobacco and savoury notes in addition to the ripe dark fruit and smooth texture that make this so enjoyable. Drink now to 2032. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.

Invivo x Sarah Jessica Parker Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (New Zealand), $22.95

Rating:90 /100

This fruity and appealing Marlborough sauvignon blanc was the first collaboration between the Sex in the City star and New Zealand winery, Invivo. A French rosé and Sevenly, a line of low-alcohol wines, has since been added. More juicy than zesty or herbal, this is a dry white with bold and crowd-pleasing tropical fruit and floral notes. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $29.99 in British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

Hampton Water Rosé 2021 (France), $29.95

Rating:90 /100

Hampton Water offers a different take on dry rosé from the South of France. This is a blend of grenache, cinsault, mourvèdre and syrah, including 20 per cent aged in oak barrels, for more richness and texture. The result is a smooth pink wine with appealing cherry, red currant and savoury notes. The finish lingers, which winemaker Gérard Bertrand singles out as a hallmark of a quality rosé. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario.

Miraval Rosé 2021 (France), $24.95

Rating:88 /100

Made in Provence by the Perrin family, Miraval helped attract worldwide attention to rosés from the South of France when it was introduced in 2012 (the celeb-backed boost from the Jolie-Pitts helped too). The current release is a crisp and clean model of rosé with plenty of brightness and a subtly fruity personality. The mix of mostly citrus and subdued red-berry notes check the boxes for benchmark Provencal rosé but might be too lean and chiselled for its own good. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $33.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $24.60 in Quebec, $30.99 in Nova Scotia.

Vanderpump Rosé 2021 (France), $29.95

Rating:88 /100

The Vanderpump name came to fame through appearances on reality-television programs, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules. This dry and stylish rosé made in the Côtes de Provence region in France likely owes more of a debut to her family’s restaurateur background. This delicious mouthwatering refreshment in the form of citrus, red currant and savoury notes. For many, this wouldn’t be fun enough – too austere – to sip while watching the latest housewife drama on Bravo, but it’s the perfect complement to a meal. Save a bottle for a no-drama match for Thanksgiving turkey and all the fixings. Available at the above price in Ontario, $39.99 in Manitoba.

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