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WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Robin Garr » Mon May 29, 2006 4:09 pm

Marilyn Merlot

This Wednesday, June 1, 2006, would have been the 80th birthday of Norma Jeane Mortenson of Los Angeles, better known to the world as Marilyn Monroe. The date is mirrored in the smaller world of wine as 20th anniversary of the birth of a wine-marketing concept that, from a business standpoint, has shown similarly beautiful "legs:" Marilyn <i>Merlot</i>.

Wine producers Bob and Donna Holder, who say they came up with the idea at a dinner party at their Napa Valley home, acquired an exclusive license to use Marilyn's name and image on wine and launched the first vintage in 1985. The 2004 vintage, to be released internationally on Wednesday, is the 20th. Each vintage has borne a colorful portrait of the starlet. This release features a 1953 Sam Shaw photo portrait from the movie "<I>How to Marry a Millionaire</i>," in which she starred with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. (One bottling, the 2002 "Velvet Collection," features a nude image rendered marketable with a vinyl peel-off-the-bikini label that can be removed for the collector's private enjoyment.)

The combination of the celebrity connection, the punning label and a wine of at least arguably ageworthy stature came together in what has proved to be an all but perfect commercial storm, prompting it to succeed where scores of velvet-flocked Elvis labels have failed. They're beloved by both wine and celeb-curio collectors, who snap them up quickly after release. Older bottles of Marilyn Merlot have appreciated rapidly in value, without much relation to the quality of the vintage or even, perhaps, the actual evolution of the wine in the bottle.

The winery asks $3,800 for a single bottle of the inaugural 1985 vintage, for example; all the vintages before 1990 sell at the winery for four-figure price tags, and even the relatively recent 2002 has jumped up to $200. A "vertical" set, one bottle from each vintage 1985 through 1996, goes for a cool $8,000. Auction prices, if a little more realistic, nonetheless play in the same ballpark. (The producers, it should be noted, pay royalties on sales to the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York and Los Angeles and the Anna Freud Centre in London.)

But never mind Marilyn, how about the wine? It's hard - no, impossible - to make the case that it justifies those celestial prices for older bottles; but the new edition sells at the winery for a more affordable $26 for a standard bottle, and I find it competitive if not head-and-shoulders above the competition at that price point.

It's a blend of 90 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, purchased under long-term contracts from growers in Napa's Beckstoffer and Yount Mill vineyards and made by wine maker John McKay for the Holders' Nova Wines Inc. at Napa Wine Company, a small-winery production company in Oakville, Calif. It's held for 12 months in small oak barrels, one-fourth of them new.

The 2004 is made in a luscious, crowd-pleasing style, but there's plenty of good acidic structure and soft tannins to raise it well above the mass-market level and provide ageworthiness. Some wine enthusiasts will certainly buy it and drink it, but it's fair to guess that a surprising portion of the production run will remain unopened and held in hope of appreciation and resale.

Marilyn wines are widely available at retail in the U.S. and from the winery Website, but they don't appear to be exported. The winery also makes a modestly priced Merlot labeled Norma Jeane ($10.50 retail), a limited amount of Marilyn Cabernet, and a high-end "Velvet Collection" it a presentation package featuring a magnum bottle of the 2002 Merlot in a velvet-lined box ($250). (DISCLOSURE: In order to be able to report on the wine before its release, I accepted a winery sample of the 2004 Merlot. My tasting report is below.)

<table border="0" align="right" width="110"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/mari0527.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Nova Wines 2004 Napa Valley "Marilyn Merlot" ($26)

This is a very dark ruby wine, black at the center and dark purple at the rim. Pleasant, accessible aromas offer the standard profile for New World Merlot: juicy black cherries, dark chocolate and a whiff of vanilla. Ripe and fruit-forward, the first taste follows the nose, luscious and almost soft, but it gains structure from fresh, mouth-watering acidity and gentle but perceptible tannins. (May 27, 2006)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> An amiable companion with a wide range of meats and cheeses, it was a fine match with char-grilled Cornish hens.

<B>VALUE:</B> Viewed objectively, it's not drastically over-priced in the $20s, but with a good range of quality Merlots available for the same price or less, it's hard to believe that the celebrity quotient doesn't boost the asking price by a buck or three.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Structure, acidity and tannins suggest that it should age reasonably well, although fruit-forward California Merlots in general don't strike me as candidates for long-term cellaring. Ready to enjoy now as an approachable Merlot, although the primary reason for keeping it, frankly, would be to take advantage of its interest as a collectible celebrity-reated curiosity.

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
Here's a link to the Marilyn Merlot Website.

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Compare prices and locate vendors for many vintages of Marilyn Merlot on Wine-Searcher.com.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Pierpaolo A » Mon May 29, 2006 4:19 pm

We sold this at my restaurant and it was a big hit, we also sold a James Dean and Elvis wine.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Peter May » Mon May 29, 2006 4:28 pm

Wednesday, June 1, 2006 also sees the publication of my book Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape - odd wines from around the world, reviewed by Robin in The 30 Second Wine Advisor of 1 May - see http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvis ... 0501.phtml

Marilyn Merlot is just one one of more than 100 odd and interesting wine labels featured.

Since I'm not in the States, I'd appreciate news of any sightings. It should be in all US Borders and Costcos.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Robin Garr » Mon May 29, 2006 4:51 pm

Peter May wrote:Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape - odd wines from around the world


Doggone it, I wish I had thought to plug it again! Maybe I'll sneak in a blurb on Wednesday. :)

Did your publisher schedule the date for Marilyn's birthday, Peter, or is it just a good coincidence? I don't know if you know it, but Nova did plug your book in their news release ...
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Peter May » Mon May 29, 2006 4:58 pm

I think publication date is a co-incidence. It was aimed (they told me) at the Father's Day gift market.

And yes, I did read your post anticipating I'd get a second bite of the book plug cherry.

I've not seen the Nova mention.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Thomas » Mon May 29, 2006 5:46 pm

Ah Peter,

I shall keep my eyes open for it.

Keep yours focused for my tome due out in July.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Bob Ross » Mon May 29, 2006 7:31 pm

Robin, you might find the following extract from the Wall Street Journal interesting -- maybe we can expect a flood of Marilyn wine labels:

More than 40 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe's photos are used to hawk everything from T-shirts and posters to coffee mugs and key chains. Now, the late actress is at the center of a bitter legal dispute over who controls the rights to her profitable image.

Licensing her famous poses and pout have made more than $30 million in fees for two of the litigants. They are Anna Strasberg, the wife of Ms. Monroe's former acting coach, and her Indiana-based business partner, a professional peddler of dead peoples' images. Seeking to share in the Monroe spoils are the families of four photographers who snapped famous Monroe pictures, but who have earned far less in licensing fees.

The central issue in four Monroe-related lawsuits, now pending in Indiana, New York and California is seemingly simple: At the time of her death, was the actress a Californian, or a New Yorker? The answer is worth millions.

As the majority owner of Ms. Monroe's rights of publicity -- which permit the licensing of celebrity images for commercial purposes -- Ms. Strasberg insists the star was a Californian. The photographers, who own copyrighted images of Ms. Monroe, have asked the courts to declare that she was a New Yorker. If the photographers prevail, they could potentially wipe out much of Ms. Strasberg's Monroe business.

The reason: unlike copyrights, which are protected by federal law, publicity rights are a creature of state laws, resulting in a legal patchwork. Some states, including New York, refuse to acknowledge or protect the publicity rights of dead celebrities, so they cannot be bequeathed in a will. California does grant postmortem publicity rights, making it possible for heirs to pursue profits for decades.

Ms. Monroe was born and raised in California, and moved to New York to study acting in 1955, seven years before her death of a drug overdose. In New York, she met Lee Strasberg, director of The Actors Studio, a school attended by many famous actors and actresses. Ms. Monroe came to depend on Mr. Strasberg until her death.

In her will, the actress, who died with no spouse or children, left much of her $800,000 estate to Mr. Strasberg. She left a smaller portion to her psychiatrist, Marianne Kris.


Regards, Bob
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Robin Garr » Mon May 29, 2006 10:22 pm

Interesting stuff, Bob. I took Nova's statement as to owning the rights for Marilyn's image on wine at its face value, and I would guess that with the value of that franchise, they probably would go a long way to defend it.

Philosophically, you know my radical fundamentalist views on free speech. :) I don't think celebs or their heirs <i>should</i> have any right to reach back from the grave and control use of their image (other than standard copyright in their work); for that matter, I'm not even in favor of <i>live</i> celebs objecting to having their pictures taken if they choose to go out in public places. But nobody consults me about this kind of thing ...
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Bob Ross » Mon May 29, 2006 10:35 pm

Let me ask you a question that has bugged me for a number of years.

Assume you are a really beautiful woman who loves baseball. Or, as you are, a really handsome guy who loves baseball.

You really want to go to a game and watch your favorite team. You know, get a hot dog, drink a beer, cheer when your guys do something great, yell at a little kid who hates your guys -- all the good old guy or girl stuff.

Some jerk puts a picture of you on TV and on the screens at the stadium -- millions of folks see you.

[Fill in the blanks.]

OK with you?

Regards, Bob

PS: Look, I recognize that if I go to the circus and the elephant shits on my lap, that's a risk I've accepted. But what right does a camera person have to publish your picture? Just cause you want to watch some baseball in person?

B.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Robin Garr » Mon May 29, 2006 10:47 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Some jerk puts a picture of you on TV and on the screens at the stadium -- millions of folks see you.

[Fill in the blanks.]

OK with you?


Absolutely, Bob. You go out in a public place, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. That's why we don't go naked in public places (and in fact, that's why the law proscribes that). Now, if you're sun-bathing behind a fence in your own back yard and some jerk climbs up on a ladder and takes your picture in your private space, that's another story.

But in a stadium? Absolutely. Why in the world should anyone have any expectation of privacy in a public space where he or she has no ownership and where people mingle freely? Common sense dictates that you don't behave in public in such a way that your actions might embarrass you.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Bob Ross » Mon May 29, 2006 10:58 pm

I'm not a public person, Robin. Just a guy who wants to see a ball game. So folks can sell my image on TV whenever they want, right?
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Robin Garr » Mon May 29, 2006 11:15 pm

Bob Ross wrote:I'm not a public person, Robin. Just a guy who wants to see a ball game. So folks can sell my image on TV whenever they want, right?


Bob, I'm not sure that there's really an eager market for your image, or mine. :)

But in principle, sure. Let's restate it from my position as a sometimes photojournalist: I go out on the wine road with my camera, as I'll do at NiagaraCool in a couple of weeks. I'll take pictures of vineyards and wineries and tasting rooms, and people will be in those photos. Some of them may be folks we know - Paul and Ed and Howie and Thomas and, I hope, many more. Others will be strangers. I don't anticipate asking anybody's permission before I publish those photos online ... they're all taken in public places.

Now, if one of the pictures shows someone with a peculiarly ugly expression, or catches someone in an embarrassing moment - picking his nose, scratching her butt - I might choose not to publish that one just because I'm a good guy. But I'd certainly assert a <i>right</i> to do so, because I'm only shooting scenes that anyone can see.

Your example of a stadium is a good one: When the cameras zoom in on a bunch of crazies who've taken off their shirts to reveal that they've painted their torsos in team colors - or scans the stands for any reason - do you think any individual fan has a right to demand that the network go to black?
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Bob Ross » Tue May 30, 2006 2:06 am

Nope. Those crazies clearly want to be seen. Pisses me off, though. I'd like to go to baseball and football games -- but go to operas and musicals and concerts instead. Just as you say -- at Yankee Stadium, I've given my consent to having my picture plastered over the networks. Just don't like it, that's all, so the Newark Bears will have to do without me.

Matter of personal choice, of course. Conclusion: avoid public venues where your picture will be taken without your consent if you can. A choice I often make, frankly.

What troubles me more, though, is the journalists who take photos from a public space of my personal privacy.

Example: two months ago a TV news crew stopped on our street -- owned by Franklin Lakes, no verges or whatever where there is only an easement. Took a photo of our mailbax, front of the house, rose bushes, across the street to a cottage, then to a news lady in front of our neghbor's house.

She did a little story about how this was a typical street in our town, and how some folks were pissed off that peddlers were coming around selling magazine subs and how the town was making it tougher to do so.

Irritated me to get nine phone calls when folks saw the "news" segment on Channel 12 -- a New Jersey news station. One guy saw me for an instant picking up the newspaper from my front step as they panned over the scene -- blew it up he did and sent it to me.

Another guy said my roses should have been pruned and the lawn looked like it should have been mowed. Ted, my Bolivian friend, got it on TIVO -- one that I gave it -- and ran the clip dozens of times for all his buddies -- greatly enjoyed it too. Bunch of other comments too.

Worst of it was that none of the people who lived in the three houses in the picture supported the restrictive licensing.

Of course, the TV crew had every right to stand in a public street and take any pictures they wanted to. Probably would fight for their right to do so.

And, I'll be sure my bathrobe isn't open when I pick up my paper from my own front porch in the future.

Inhibiting, it is. Even in the back yard -- bunch of folks can see me skinny dip in the pool, I suppose. There is an angle from the public street where people can see me.

Just don't like the idea that I have to balance what I want to do with the public's "right to know" about stuff that has absolutely no public interest.

A rant, Robin -- go take your pictures and publish them or not as you choose. The First Amendment is very important -- but that doesn't mean I have to like the way it sometimes infringes on my personal choices.

Regards, Bob
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Robin Garr » Tue May 30, 2006 9:59 am

Bob Ross wrote:A rant, Robin


And well-ranted it is, Bob. The concept of public space and private space has worked out so generally well, though, in the 3,500 years or so since humans started living in cities, one wonders why we need to create new definitions at this late date ...
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Bob Ross » Tue May 30, 2006 10:25 am

I'm just expressing irritation, Robin. If I were advocating change, though, I might point out a number of technological changes that have occured over the past 3500 years, let alone 35 years.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Isaac » Tue May 30, 2006 1:20 pm

I think the issue is ownership of the image in all its forms. If a photographer takes a photo, he created that image, and it should be his (unless it was done under contract). However, that does not mean the he owns all instances of similar images. If I take a photo of Robin at a baseball game, I should be able to publish that. But owning the rights to Robin's image implies that whoever owns those rights can prevent me from profiting from my own work.

On the other hand, the fact that it's a picture of Robin - or Marilyn - greatly increases the value due to none of my skill or work. Why should I get that increase in value, instead of Robin, or Marilyn, or her estate?

It's tricky, which is why it's not entirely settled yet.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Robin Garr » Tue May 30, 2006 1:26 pm

Isaac wrote:It's tricky, which is why it's not entirely settled yet.


No kidding ... and as Bob pointed out initially, different states have different interpretations.

I think (although I'm not a lawyer) that there are also some quirky aspects of celebrity status: If you've built yourself as a brand and derive revenue from that, you have certain legitimate ownership rights in that image and a right to protect it. Yet this conflicts with other established principles that go in the other direction, including the assumption that "public figures" lose some privacy considerations that extend to private individuals. It's complicated.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Peter May » Tue May 30, 2006 2:21 pm

Thomas wrote:Ah Peter,

I shall keep my eyes open for it.

Keep yours focused for my tome due out in July.


Thomas - what is it about and what is its title?
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Hoke » Tue May 30, 2006 2:45 pm

Peter:

Saw your book prominently displayed on the new arrivals stack display in the main entry hall of the large Borders Bookstore in Santa Rosa, California this weekend.

Looks good. Looks good. Nice job.

Who's the be-hatted sophisticate looking dashing and continental in the back of the book?
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Hoke » Tue May 30, 2006 2:49 pm

Decent write up of a phenomenon...if not what I think of as wine. :)

But one thing:

The winery asks $3,800 for a single bottle of the inaugural 1985 vintage, for example; all the vintages before 1990 sell at the winery for four-figure price tags, and even the relatively recent 2002 has jumped up to $200.


There's a world of difference in what the winery asks for, and what bottles sell at... and how much wine is actually sold. I would suggest that if the winery is asking for $3,800 for a single bottle, that wine might be sitting there for a very long time. :D
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Robin Garr » Tue May 30, 2006 3:14 pm

Hoke wrote:not what I think of as wine. :)


Well, in fairness, it's competitive with other $20s California Merlots. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with Beckstoffer fruit. Obviously there's the Miles thing. :) But I wanted to taste it partly to discern for myself if they were putting $5 plonk in a bottle with a picture of Marilyn on it and selling the result for $26. Upon tasting, I don't think it would be fair to say that.

There's a world of difference in what the winery asks for, and what bottles sell at... and how much wine is actually sold. I would suggest that if the winery is asking for $3,800 for a single bottle, that wine might be sitting there for a very long time. :D


Again, although I didn't make a deep analysis, a run through Wine-Searcher.com suggests that retail and auction market don't differ from the winery prices by an order of magnitude. This whole phenomenon says more about the crazy market for celebrity-related curios than it does about wine. But I agree, it's safe to say that no serious wine enthuiast would pay anything like that amount for a bottle with the intention of drinking it.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Bill Spohn » Tue May 30, 2006 3:28 pm

Bob - your mistake is going to mass events like sports and concerts.

Enjoy them on the tube at home and you'll have no chance of having your personal space violated.

I haven't been to a concert in a large venue since some pillock behind me, slurping his beer, kept sticking a cell phone almost in my ear so someone at the other end could also enjoy Clapton (he is probably still looking for his phone - I hope it didn't hit anyone....)

As for wines named after personalities, it raises the question of what sort of wine you'd want named after yourself.

I rather picture a Spohn Rouge as being a particularly intransigent Madiran, the more interesting for the unyielding rough edges.....
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Thomas » Tue May 30, 2006 4:50 pm

Peter,

The publisher titled it, WINE: the 8,000 Year Old Story of the Wine Trade

My original title was, In the Service of Wine: 8,000 Years in the World's Oldest Profession.

Anyway, I gleaned from many wine history, general history, and classics books to put together a chronicle of the ways wine has been traded and the many pitfalls the trade had to endure over the centuries and into contemporary times. Took me a number of years to put together and not too long to get it published--strange as that sounds even to me...
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Marilyn Merlot

by Peter May » Tue May 30, 2006 5:07 pm

Thomas wrote:Peter,

The publisher titled it, WINE: the 8,000 Year Old Story of the Wine Trade



I was quite chuffed with my publisher's design idea of using wine labels on bottles to hold the title, and now I see your publisher had exactly the same idea. And its a classy looking cover.

It's not yet available from amazon.co.uk - has a July publication date. I'll tryand get it then.

How do you feel it compares with Hugh Johnsons 'Story of Wine'?
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