Aykroyd says he knows having his name on the bottle can only take the brand so far. It serves to pique consumers’ interest and convinces some of them to purchase it as a curiosity. He is quick to note that the liquid has to captivate their taste buds or the business is doomed to become nothing more than the answer to a pop-culture trivia question.
“The number-one thing my name establishes is familiarity. A lot of wine consumers today are a little afraid of it. What I’m saying to them is, ‘Look, I know as much about wine as you do. Really, I’m not a sommelier.’ You don’t have to be able to pronounce sommelier to like a good wine. Our campaign is, ‘These are snob-free grapes,’” he says.
“I’m like the art buyer who walks into the gallery and looks at the Rockwell, the Matisse and the Picasso and says, ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I like. Give me a Rockwell!’ I’m someone who is a consumer primarily. I’m just learning about the business. That’s what this name says. ‘Hey, come in and try with me. Let’s discover together good wines and enjoy them with food.”’
The four varieties—Cabernet/Merlot, Cabernet/Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—are priced under US$ 20 a bottle, right in the wine market’s sweet spot. Aykroyd says it was a conscious decision not to put his face on the label, à la Paul Newman with his salad dressings. Instead, the label features a more symbolic item, an old-fashioned Sennheiser microphone.
“Everything I’ve done requires a microphone—radio, music recording, television (even though it hangs upside down), film and the blues music. The microphone covers all the aspects of my show biz career in a way where people can say, ‘Dan Aykroyd, microphone, oh it’s that Dan Aykroyd.’ If it was a motorcycle, it would say Evel Knievel on it,” he says.
Aykroyd says he’s not overly concerned about consumers failing to make the leap in terms of his personal brand from entertainer to wine producer. “I think people realize that actors have a certain ability to gain access to the best in other fields, other industries. Anybody who has a functioning brain would know that I’m not going to get involved with people in an industry who are of an inferior nature. If I’m going to put my name on something, I’m going to get involved with the best winemakers in the country,” he says.
“My voice has been on various recordings, television and film, and my voice speaks to you. It says, ‘Come into the world of wine with me.’ Anybody who thinks a comedian can’t make great wine, well, they should buy anything else. Don’t buy the label if you’re intimidated.”
Aykroyd is the latest in a long line of celebrities to come out with his own brand of wine. Wine shelves on both sides of the border boast the likes of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 Unoaked Chardonnay, singer Olivia Newton John’s Koala Blue Chardonnay and film director Francis Ford Coppola’s Diamond Merlot. A trio of golfers has even gotten into the game—there’s Mike Weir’s Cabernet Merlot, Greg Norman Shiraz and Ernie Els Stellenbosch.
There’s also the chance that Aykroyd’s wines will be around much longer than him. A number of long-dead celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Jerry Garcia, former lead singer of the Grateful Dead, have their names on wine bottles.
Aykroyd says while his name is the first point of contact, the production behind the product is what establishes the credibility. (Several of the varieties have garnered critical acclaim, most recently the 2007 Discovery Series Sauvignon Blanc, which took gold at last year’s All Canadian Wine Championships.)
But just because wine is a serious business doesn’t mean there aren’t a few laughs to be had (while simultaneously reinforcing Aykroyd’s everyman status). For example, each cork, in addition to containing a picture of the microphone, has a little saying on it.
One reads, “A rich bouquet of things you can pretend to identify.” Another says, “Made from 100% Snob-Free grapes.”
Aykroyd admits working with winemakers wasn’t that big of a jump for him because he’s used to dealing with scriptwriters and producers. “[Winemakers] are very passionate, very creative people. We have differences but we sort them out. It’s great to be involved in this because it’s the same kind of creative passion that’s involved in producing a script or a piece of artistic work. That’s the way the winemakers think of themselves,” he says.
“I like being in this business. You can touch a record or you can touch a movie, but you can’t sip a movie or a record. This is a material, tangible product of my creativity in a way that you can sip it down and have it with a pesto or a chicken wing.”