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I Launched My Own Celebrity Wine Brand for Under $300 — And You Can Too

How to build a wine brand on a teeny-tiny budget (in just two months)

Aaron Goldfarb By April 28, 2022
Aaron Goldfarb, writer and founder of his newly released Blue Check wine
Aaron Goldfarb, writer and founder of his newly released Blue Check wine. Photo illustration by Pix.

Scrolling through GrapeStars one afternoon as happy hour neared, I was paralyzed by choice. For less than $25 I could order John Legend’s LVE French Rosé or Cameron Diaz’s Avaline Rosé or Post Malone’s Maison No. 9 — also a rosé.

That was only the beginning. The app, which connects consumers to celebrity alcohol mavens, lists more than 300 different celebrity vodkas, cognacs, and wines. 

And then I started thinking:  

I like stroking my ego as much as the next Lisa Vanderpump, the Bravo reality star behind Vanderpump Wines.

What would it take to launch my own celebrity wine?

I know what you’re saying: Goldfarb, you are not a celebrity and I have never even heard of you. Fair enough. But then again, is the “Meet Virginia” rock band Train really a celebrity? And yet, they’re also on the app. Their Save Me, San Francisco Wine Company offers seven different wines, each named after one of the band’s iconic song lyrics, such as their Hella Fine Merlot. 

Then and there, I decided to do it.

Classy or crass?

First, I needed a good name. Celebrity wines are, if anything, branding exercises and shameless self-promotion. While some celebrities really lean into their own bold-faced attributes — think tenor Andrea Bocelli’s Bocelli Sangiovese or NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming’s Yao Family Wines — others try to be more subtle, classier, putting their names nowhere on the bottle as if to intentionally handicap themselves.

“The celeb aspect was a hindrance at first,” admits Jesse Bongiovi, Jon Bon Jovi’s son, and the co-founder of Hampton Water. “It was a hurdle to get people to understand that this was a family business, not just a vanity project.”

Well, my wine is 100% a vanity project so I might as well be as vain as possible. 

Now I didn’t write “Livin’ on a Prayer” nor have I won the Heisman trophy like Charles Woodson, the former NFL cornerback behind Intercept Wines. But I do have an IMDb page, based on a single talk show appearance from 2019. And I’m apparently notable enough to have a celebrity net worth page, showing how much I’m rollin’ in it. More importantly, I am Twitter verified, which is not something Trudie Styler, actor, director, Sting’s wife, and the co-owner of Il Palagio winery, can claim. Though, to be fair, she doesn’t even have a Twitter account. 

And thus was my wine, Blue Check, born. The name leans into a pejorative term often slung at journalists, giving my wine instant appeal to my fellow media elites, many of whom drink way too much wine while doom scrolling every evening in their tiny Brooklyn apartments. 

If Hampton Water “is about creating a lifestyle and inviting people to join us in that life,” according to Bongiovi, Blue Check would evoke the feeling of wanting to quit the industry after being shat on by anonymous social media users all day. 

Bringing it to life

I turned to Keenan Towns, the co-founder of Trusted Spirits, which helps develop and market beverage alcohol brands in partnership with celebrity co-owners, like Snoop Dogg, with whom he recently launched Indoggo Gin. He tells me launching a new celebrity brand nationwide is no problem — as long as I have $15 to $20 million in capital.

My editor says I don’t. Apparently, all I can spend is $300 maximum. 

As talented label designers charge a whole lot more than my budget, I went to Fiverr, an online marketplace where freelancers from across the globe offer rock-bottom rates for quickie services. Based on a brief email and an iPhone photo of my Brooklyn apartment building — which I would label Château Goldfarb — the anonymous designer came back to me with, quite frankly, a pretty cool label. His price was $100, but I added $50 to get an overnight turnaround. Who knows how long this celebrity wine racket might still be booming? 

Someone in the know told me you’re not supposed to use blue as the primary color on a label, but I thought that might separate me from the pack of other celebrities with their million-dollar branding consultants who all seem to recommend a similar aesthetic.

“We knew that we needed to be memorable, so using a name like Hampton Water is easy to read and unique,” Bongiovi explained to me, concerning their design. “We describe the diver image as our Nike swoosh because anyone can see it from across a room, and again it’s very memorable.”

If Hampton Water “is about creating a lifestyle and inviting people to join us in that life,” according to Bongiovi, Blue Check would evoke the feeling of wanting to quit the industry after being shat on by anonymous social media users all day. 

Now for the wine

Some celebrities produce their own wines. Often, they’re dedicated and earnest. “Twin Peaks” actor Kyle MacLachlan, for instance, is the vintner for his well-reviewed Pursued by Bear wines from his home state of Washington. Kevin O’Leary, Shark Tank’s “Mr. Wonderful,” is a member of Burgundy’s elite Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a sensibility he brings to his O’Leary Fine Wines, which he often hawks on QVC.


Other celebrities partner with top winemakers. Mary J. Blige’s Sun Goddess wine is made by Marco Sentinel in Italy, Dwyane Wade’s Wade Cellars is a collaboration with Napa Valley star Jayson Pahlmeyer, while the Bongiovis work with Gérard Bertrand, owner of 15 vineyards in southern France.

Unlike them, however, I have no intention of doing any actual work to get my celebrity wine bottled and to the market. I just want to slap my imprimatur on the product and then get feted by the uncritical press, (“Drinking $14 Wine With My Idol, Hilary Duff”) and invited on the fourth hour of “The Today Show” to clink glasses with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager. I won’t be buying a multi-million dollar vineyard like California Governor Gavin Newsom or Sting, I won’t be hiring a noted French vintner, and I’m not even going to travel to Napa Valley or, god forbid, Italy to secure some vino. 

Instead, I will source my wine from one of the many companies that sell it in bulk to celebrities looking for a quick cash grab.

I tracked down Michael Webster of Miramont Estate Vineyards & Winery in Linden, California. This mid-sized, family-owned business offers six different bulk wines, three reds, and three whites. Agreements meant Webster couldn’t tell me who, if any A-listers he supplies, but he did mention that he currently has over 200 customers in 45 states. Business is booming.

“I deal with inquiries every single day, at least two or three a day, from people literally not knowing where to start,” Webster told me. 

Unfortunately, Miramont is out of my league, as the wines are priced from $14 to $16 a gallon, and sold in such units as a 55-gallon plastic drum, a 60-gallon used wooden barrel, or a 330-gallon plastic tote.

Enter Amplify Wines in Santa Barbara County, a hip natural wine company owned by husband-and-wife team Cameron and Marlen Porter. They started in 2013 selling just 90 cases a year but are up to around 2,500 cases per annum these days. Though still growing, they’re no stranger to helping craft a celebrity wine either, currently working on a project with some retired NBA and NFL players who shall go unnamed. They think choosing to partner with them is a savvy move.

“Natural wines are perfect given the celebrity interest in organic products, clean living,” says Cameron Porter, who can’t help but reference Cameron Diaz and her easily mockable “clean” wine. “Some will be total BS, some won’t be.”

What seals the deal is that they’re able to sell me what are known as “shiners,” which are filled yet unlabeled bottles, sold by the 12-bottle case at $120 plus shipping. 

The Porters offered me at least a half-dozen possibilities, from Grenache Blanc to Sangiovese. Not sure of what’s best for my rabid fan base, I opted for a blend of everything. Blue Check will be produced from 12 varieties, both white and red: Carignane, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Grenache Blanc, Merlot, Refosco, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Tempranillo, and Viognier, from three different vintages. 

I haven’t actually tested it yet, but I’m optimistic. To be a celebrity you kinda have to be. 

Government approved

Early on in my celebrity wine journey, many industry insiders were quick to let me know that my first step, and the most critical one, is to get the correct licensing. This will let me sell my product. The Porters advised me on the legal wording I needed and then submitted my Fiverr label to the TTB on my behalf in hopes of getting a Certificate of Label Approval. It’s free, but an absolute necessity for selling an alcoholic product in America.

One week later, my label was approved. Blue Check will now be listed on government databases ’til this republic is no more.

Aaron holding Blue Check wine bottle up close

The Blue Check label cost $100. Photo courtesy of Goldfarb Family Wines.

But now I needed someone with the correct licensing to acquire and sell my wine as I have no plans to get bonded myself. The correct paperwork depends on what state you live in, what states you want to sell to, and the venues through which you want to sell. 

“You have to get distribution,” says Towns. “That’s tougher than most people think. There are maybe only four or five distributors in America that can give you distribution on a large scale level. Getting into their sales channels, becoming a priority in their business is not always easy as an independent, especially when you don’t have other brands to leverage.”

With only a single case of Blue Check to my name, I can’t afford to spread it out to all 50 states. As much as the Binny’s and BevMo!s might covet my wine and want to put it on an endcap, there’s just not enough to go around. Instead, I offered my one case to Blake Riber, owner of Seelbach’s, an online wine and spirits retailer based out of Washington, D.C.  He has the correct licensing to buy and then sell my wine and said he might be interested in doing so, pending the quality.

Messing it up for everyone

“Of the celeb-produced wines that I have tried so far …” says Dee Jones, the operations manager and in-house mixologist for Seelbach’s, “This is definitely the one I would keep in my rotation at home.”

She thinks Blue Check has a great balance of sweetness, acidity, and tannins, and she would be thrilled to stock the remaining 11 bottles. Tasting it for the first time myself, I have to agree with her. 

Thus, a little more than two months after I decided to create my own celebrity wine brand, it sits in Seelbach’s warehouses in Washington, as of this article’s publication for sale in their online store at $50 per bottle.

It cost me less than $300 to launch Blue Check by Goldfarb Family Wines, and I have the receipts for my expense reports.

Like Jesse Bongiovi or Keenan Towns or the guy from Train, I know the battle has just begun, however. 

First was my afternoon of official celebrity shots for Instagram, handled by a neighbor using my iPhone.

I still need to travel the country, tirelessly visiting other retailers and on-premise locations — bars, restaurants, Chuck E. Cheeses — to offer owners, bartenders, and sommeliers a taste of Blue Check, hoping they like it enough to begin stocking it, to become evangelists for it. I’ll likewise have to deal with Instagram and TikTok influencers, sending them free product — and sometimes even cash payouts — in order that they may introduce Blue Check to all their zoomer followers. And I’ll have to cozy up to journalists like myself, maybe even flying them out to Château Goldfarb for a press trip, putting them up on our sofa, just praying for some positive coverage.

After all this work, though, I have to wonder: why would any legit celeb want to do all this when they could just attend movie premieres and jet-set around the world? How arrogant do you have to be to think the world needs yet another celebrity wine? 

“The more guys that come into the game and mess it up for everybody else,” says Towns, hopefully not referencing my shenanigans, “the harder it is for distributors and retailers and consumers to get behind the next celebrity deal.”

But while the deals are happening, while the fire hose is still pumping millions into already-rich celebrity pockets, why can’t the same thing happen for me? True, my celebrity wine may not have integrity, investors, slick branding, a big budget, or really anything else, but it’s mine. And it’s just $50.

Go on, buy it.

Aaron Goldfarb lives in Brooklyn and is the author of Hacking Whiskey, among other books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Esquire, VinePair and more.