Celebrity wine kicks

Retired French international footballer David Ginola turned up at the London wine trade fair to promote his rosé wine from Provence. Christian Davis tackled him
27 August, 2008
Page 26 

What is it about the phenomenon of celebrity? Grown women become simpering teenagers again. Men try to look disinterested and tough but you can see they are dying to talk to him or her . And autographs. What's in a squiggle on a piece of paper - proof that, "no s***", you met this demi-god of the screen or pitch.

And so to the London International Wine Fair, held in London in May. The International Wine Challenge releases the results of this year's competition. A rosé wine from Provence gets a silver medal. So what? Nothing earth-shattering about that. But there is because, lo and behold, the heart-throb French footballer David Ginola has his name on it.

Sans Ginola, the wine would barely get a mention, but with the former French international's involvement, the IWC publicity machine has kicked into action and the great man is due to appear on the stand. Normally the wine trade's very own celebrities, Tim Atkin and Charles Metcalfe, have the floor to themselves. Not this Tuesday - this Super Tuesday for the IWC and LIWF.

There's no getting away from it. At more than six feet tall, he is an imposing specimen - undoubtedly good looking and oozing Gallic charm. With piercing blue eyes and bronzed skin, his dark blonde hair much shorter than in his playing days and wearing a shiny, grey suit with narrow legs, he has clearly kept himself in trim. There's a fight to be in his presence. Female colleagues suddenly change and want to stand near him, touch him and have their picture taken with him.

It's a struggle to get near him - so many people want a piece of him. Ask them which teams he played for and many probably wouldn't have a clue.

Finally, it's time and the man is there. I ask him which clubs he played for - Paris St Germain, Brest, Toulon, Newcastle, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Everton. I sense he thinks I'm just a football fan. He's right, partly. But that's not why I'm talking to him.

Most people in the wine trade are sniffy and suspicious about so-called celebrity wines. Greg Norman, Sir Cliff Richard, Ian Botham and Bob Willis, Sam Shepard, Sting. How many of them know anything about wine? The truth is, not many. So why should a wine drinker pay a couple of pounds, euros or dollars extra for a brand with a celebrity endorsement.

At least most of Sir Cliff's wine comes from his own vineyard at his holiday villa just north of Portugal's Algarve. But he'd be the first to admit that, for all he knows about viticulture and vinification, canopy management, Scott Henry, veraison and vendange may have been former competitors or song titles in the Eurovision Song Contest .

So, what is the connection with Monsieur Ginola? Is it a money-making exercise or a vinous ego trip? In the immortal words of the great French president, Charles de Gaulle, when the UK came knocking belatedly on the EEC door asking to be let in: "Non, non, et non encore".

First and foremost, Ginola hails from Provence, near St Tropez, and this is an opportunity to give something back by promoting the local wines.

"I wanted to do something. I drink a lot of rosé in the summer. We go to the beach, take a bucket of ice and it tastes very special - fruity, very clear," says the 41-year-old, clearly getting into his stride.

While he does not pretend to have any technical knowledge, he is at pains to stress that he was there for the "assemblage" - deciding which lots go into the final blend.

He reels off the grape varieties, or "cépages", that go into Château Coste Brulade, Côtes du Provence rosé:

Cinsault (40 per cent)

Grenache (30 per cent)

Syrah (10 per cent)

Tibouren (10 per cent)

"The assemblage was my priority,' he says, slightly sternly. "I had the final decision. I did not want people to see my name on the (front of the) bottle and then say: 'OK, so David Ginola is involved ...' I wanted to improve the quality of the wine and then give a little bit of a push.

"Provence is not Bordeaux or Burgundy - instantly recognisable - but it is a nice region and I think with rosé we can do things differently."

Ginola explains that Coste Brulade means burnt valley or area in the Provençal dialect. He will not go into the level of his investment but he is adamant that he is serious, if not passionate about the wine and promoting the region.

The wine is pale pink and there are notes of rose petals and rose hips. Altogether a light, pleasant, summer drink. The bottle is clear with rectangular blue lettering crawling up the side. The subtle Ginola endorsement is on the back label - which rather defeats the point unless a consumer knows what he or she is looking for. Surely a title such as Goal, or My Sweet Left Foot by David Ginola, would have stood out in the premiership of points of difference - let alone the ultimate transfer to shopping basket. Enough footballing puns (for the time being ...)

In the unrelenting quest for the truth, are there any other connections with wine that prompted the French international to get into wine. Did his father grow grapes?

"I used to go with my father to the co-operative every Saturday to fill the bottles. It was a tradition. I felt that one day, if I could find the time and the money, I would like to do something," he says, enigmatically.

It turns out his father worked with the French marines on submarines and torpedoes , so no particular wine background there - unless the French Navy had a tradition like the British Navy of a tot of something before going into battle. Rosé rather than rum, maybe?

Ginola is keen to get Coste Brulade into the UK market as he sees it as an important shop window for wine and, since the hot summer of 2003, the British have acquired a significant thirst for rosé. In fact sales of rosé, along with sparkling, have been holding up the category.

So, the interlude is up. The full-time whistle has blown. David Ginola has fans to meet. Maybe even the odd buyer may drop his or her guard and allow themselves to be awestruck. He is an intelligent man and seems genuinely passionate about the wine. Shall I ask for his autograph? Somehow, I manage to resist the temptation.

One-nil to Ginola but this wine may need extra time. Hopefully no penalties though.

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