Celebrity sells: The power of wines backed by famous faces

Paul Schaafsma of Benchmark Drinks celebrates the launch of Kylie Minogue’s Côtes de Provence rosé at The Ritz London. He believes her broad appeal and engagement with the brand has aided its success

While it’s easy to be sniffy about celebrity wines, you can’t argue with the numbers. Since launching the range on her birthday at the end of May, pop princess Kylie Minogue has shifted half a million bottles of her Vin de France rosé, which is now the top-selling rosé over £7 at Tesco.

The success of the wine seems to be translating overseas too – over 70,000 bottles of Minogue’s eponymous French rosé sold within a week of going on sale in her homeland of Australia, with De Bortoli looking after the distribution.

“Kylie’s wine range is the most successful product launch I’ve ever been involved in, and has had an extraordinary uptake,” reveals Paul Schaafsma, owner of London-based drinks distributor Benchmark Drinks, which created the brand in collaboration with Minogue this year.

Kylie has sold half a million bottles of her Vin de France rosé since it went on sale in the UK at the end of May, with it proving a hit in the UK and Down Under

Schaafsma puts the success of the brand down to Kylie’s broad following and her active engagement with both the brand and her fans.

“Kylie has such a broad following and wide demographic – my 18-year-old daughter has grown up listening to her. She’s had five number one albums in five decades, so she cuts across so many generations,” Schaafsma says.

“As much as the wine industry wants to educate, people want something fun that fits with their lifestyle, and Kylie is friendly and easy going. They buy the first bottle because of her, and come back for more because of the quality of the wine – celebrity wines are bringing new consumers into the category,” he adds.

Having added a Côtes de Provence rosé, Gascony Sauvignon Blanc and Pays d’Oc Merlot to the range, the newest addition to the Kylie stable will be a 2019 Margaret River Chardonnay made in collaboration with Howard Park, which will hit UK shelves soon.

There is also a Yarra Valley Pinot Noir in the pipeline, as Minogue was keen to pay homage to her parents’ Victoria roots. The wine will be made by De Bortoli and is due to be bottled next spring.

The next step for the brand commercially is to expand its distribution network, but this is something Schaafsma wants to take his time to get right.

“We’ve had a lot of people ask when the brand is coming to Brazil. I’m working hard on trying to find the right distribution partners in the right countries at the moment, and not rush into it. We recently appointed a New Zealand distributor and are looking for the right partners in Europe and the US,” he says.

Sir Ian Botham has built up a loyal fan base for his wines

Schaafsma is no stranger to celebrity wines. In the summer of 2018 he launched a three tier wine range in collaboration with former England cricketer, Sir Ian Botham, which was a success off the bat, and seems to be going from strength to strength due to its loyal fan base.

The brand has totted up almost £4m in value sales this year alone, and is growing at a rate of 228% year-on-year.

Schaafsma reveals that the core demographic for the wines are 35 to 65-year old men who know a bit about wine and are willing to spend generously on the bottles they buy.

“Ian has been asked to be a wine judge at competitions, so people know he has good wine knowledge, and the range is attracting serious buyers,” he says.

The range is currently on sale in 14 countries, which are largely cricketing nations, including Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

Soon to be added to the Botham range will be a 2019 Central Otago Pinot Noir made in collaboration with Maude estate, which will commemorate the 40th anniversary of England’s Ashes win in 1981, in which Botham played a pivotal role.

Also proving a famous face and hands-on involvement with the brand is a recipe for success is Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, who has sold over 500,000 bottles of her Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc since it first went on sale a year ago.

Sarah Jessica Parker has sold over 500,000 bottles of her Invivo X Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc since it went on sale around the world last year

Made in collaboration with Kiwi wine company Invivo, SJP’s eponymous wine is on sale in 43 US states and is expanding its global distribution to the Caribbean, Japan, Greece, and as far afield as Kazakhstan.

She recently added a Provence rosé to her Inivio X, Sarah Jessica Parker range and scooped the award for Best Launch at The Drinks Business Awards 2020, recording an acceptance speech for us in New York.

“To launch in multiple countries shows the pulling power of the collaboration, the quality of the wine and respect for our hard work over the years.

“In most cases, we are working with our established distributors and retailers. A lot of new ‘celebrity’ brands have not built the up the established international route to market we have worked on for years.

“It’s important to take your time choosing your partner. Our collaboration is authentic and not gimmicky, it’s a long-term partnership,” says Invivo co-founder, Tim Lightbourne.

He and Rob Cameron are well versed in celebrity wines, having first collaborated with chat show host Graham Norton on a range back in 2015.

Having kicked off the range with a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it has since expanded to include a New Zealand rosé, a Prosecco and even a pair of gins. Since the brand launched in 2015 over 10 million bottles of Graham Norton-branded wines have sold around the world, proving the pulling power of celebrity backing.

Tim Lightbourne (left) and Rob Cameron first collaborated with Graham Norton in 2015 and have since gone on to sell 10 million bottled of his wines around the world

Norton’s Prosecco is going great guns – sales are currently up 83% year on year, while volume sales of his New Zealand Sauvignon are up by 200% in the UK since 2018.

The success of the Sarah Jessica Parker and Graham Norton ranges has helped Invivo grow its exports by 62% this year, in a tricky year of trading.

One of the most recent additions to the celebrity wine canon is Avaline, a ‘clean’ wine brand founded by Hollywood star Cameron Diaz and American entrepreneur Katherine Power.

Marketing itself as a ‘clean’ wine brand has caused controversy within the wine trade, but this doesn’t seem to be negatively effecting sales.

Since launching in July with a Spanish white blend and a Provence rosé, Diaz and Power have shifted over 120,000 bottles of Avaline, no doubt helped by regular posts and videos on Instagram of them enjoying a glass or two of Avaline.

The brand, which recently added a French red to the range, is on sale in 2,000 stores across 40 US states, with Avaline Red shifting nearly 20,000 bottles in its first week alone.

A new player in the celebrity wine game is ‘clean’ wine brand Avaline, founded by Hollywood star Cameron Diaz (right) and entrepreneur Katherine Power

Having a clearly defined target audience has helped to fast track the brand’s success, with Avaline having already amassed over 72,000 followers on social media.

“The consumers who come to Avaline are a diverse group, mostly women aged between 25-45 years old. What binds them together is a level of concern and care for what they put in and on their bodies.

“We know that health and wellness are very important to her; that’s she’s eating organic, buying clean skincare, and is looking for other ways to level-up the items on her shelves.

“But nothing had changed in the wine aisle to address these rising trends. Avaline is answering her call for transparency and clean ingredients, and is serving information up in a way that’s accessible and relatable,” says Avaline’s CEO, Abbott Wolfe.

Love them or loathe them, celebrity wine brands are here to stay, and are helping to shake up the often fusty world of wine, introducing a dynamic new audience to the category in the process.

At a time when wine consumption is in decline, the trade should be grateful for this surge in interest, which is swiftly translating into strong sales.

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