Does being a film star or famous athlete give you a head start when it comes to winemaking? Or does having a recognisable name merely help in getting bottles off the shelves? Many celebrities have thrown their hat into the vintner's ring, but here we look at some of the more successful forays.

French actor Gerard Depardieu (now the holder of a Russian passport due to a row over French taxes) is an accomplished winemaker, with vineyard holdings in France, Italy, Argentina, Morocco and Algeria. His views on wine consumption are quite amusing: "When I'm stressed, I still drink five or six bottles of wine a day. When I'm relaxed, three or four, but I'm trying to cut down …"

Yao Ming, the retired basketball star, makes a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon priced at just under 1,800 yuan (HK$2,270), and a flagship wine, Yao Ming Family Reserve, which sells for about 6,000 yuan.

Both are big, bold wines with generous lashings of ripe fruit and oak. I find it difficult to imagine the seven-foot-six-inch Yao in his vineyard, pruning away - maybe the vines have been raised on enormous trellises …

While these ultra-premium wines are out of reach for ordinary Chinese citizens, Yao - the first Chinese celebrity to put his name on a wine brand - is creating a mid-market wine aimed at China's emerging middle class. Napa Crest, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot, will cost about 550 yuan a bottle.

With the help of Rhone Valley producers Famille Perrin, our favourite movie star couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, produced a rosé from Provence last year called Miraval. They made 6,000 bottles, which sold out within a day of going on sale online. Wine has always been made at Chateau Miraval, but it was never this popular.

My favourite quote about wine comes from Sam Neill, star of Jurassic Park. He was one of the first to plant vines (mostly pinot noir) in Central Otago, New Zealand, in 1993. His initial vintage was made in 1997 and he is still actively involved in his Two Paddocks vineyard.

The inspiration for his career tangent came from his father, who, after serving 20 years in the British army, became a wine merchant. Today, Neill primarily produces pinot noirs (ranging from Picnic, for every-day drinking, to the single-vineyard First Paddock). He also makes a small amount of riesling, which he planted purely for his wife, who one day declared she would no longer drink red wine. And that quote from Neill? "I like making wines everyday because I drink wine everyday."

Spoken like a true aficionado.


Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers