The newest celebrity wine actually tastes good: a Sonoma rosé from country band the Chicks (2023)

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The group formerly known as the Dixie Chicks has partnered with the family from popular Gundlach Bundschu Winery

Esther Mobley

The newest celebrity wine actually tastes good: a Sonoma rosé from country band the Chicks (13)

Celebrity wines are a dime a dozen these days, but a new wine brand from the country band the Chicks, formerly the Dixie Chicks, shows real potential.

For Gaslighter Wines, which debuts with a rosé this week, the Chicks have teamed up with Sonona County’s Bundschu Co., which owns Gundlach Bundschu Winery, one of Wine Country’s most famous destinations, and the newer Abbot’s Passage Winery.

“A lot of celebrity brands just stick their name on it and it’s not a passion,” said Martie Maguire, one of the three members of the band along with Natalie Maines and Emily Strayer. Maguire will serve as the wine brand’s main figurehead. The band hopes that partnering with a reputable, established family like the Bundschus will give Gaslighter greater credibility.

Celebrity-owned wine brands have often been criticized as unserious marketing ploys, and in many cases the celebrities behind them have revealed themselves to not understand basic information about their own wines. Actress and vintner Drew Barrymore once gave a major faux-pas interview in which she declared that rosé is made by peeling the skins off of grapes (it isn’t), and actress Cameron Diaz met an enormous backlash when she introduced Aveline, a wine brand that purports to be “clean” in ways that some wine experts, including this one, believe are misleading.

The Chicks are hoping to turn that reputation around. Later this year, Gaslighter — a reference to the Chicks’ 2020 album and song of the same name — will release a Sonoma Coast Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines come in an unusual bottle, coated along a diagonal in matte, black paint, leaving the wine itself visible through clear glass only at the bottom.

The newest celebrity wine actually tastes good: a Sonoma rosé from country band the Chicks (14)

The initial release, the Gaslighter 2020 rosé of Pinot Noir ($25, 13.5%), is a nice wine, light and dry without sacrificing flavor or texture. The soft, floral aromas lead into juicy, ripe notes of strawberry and nectarine. The grapes for this wine come predominantly from Sonoma County, some from the Gundlach Bundschu estate specifically.

The Chicks had been tossing around the idea of making some sort of alcoholic beverage for a while, Maguire said. They were in talks with Sonoma vintner August Sebastiani about creating a ready-to-drink product and had discussed the prospect of making an agave spirit. Initially they wanted to take used oak barrels that had held red wine in Sonoma, ship them down to Jalisco, Mexico and make a pink Tequila.

But as they looked into sourcing the wine barrels, they got more interested in skipping the Tequila part and focusing on wine instead.

The three band members gravitate toward different styles. “I tend to like Pinots, Emily is more of a Cab lover, and Natalie was always a rosé and super-dry white wine fan,” Maguire said. They like to have a celebratory glass before performing. Eventually Strayer and Maguire realized that red wine before going onstage wasn’t such a good idea: “We didn’t want our teeth to be purple,” she laughed. “So we thought, ok, we’ll all drink rosé with Natalie before the show.”

The ritual became so ingrained that the Chicks started putting Whispering Angel, a popular rosé from Provence, in their rider, requiring a bottle of it in their green room before any concert. They started drinking other rosés, too, and over time started to develop a sense of their preferences. “We figured out we obviously like this really crisp, dry, not-too-sweet Provencal style,” Maguire said.

The newest celebrity wine actually tastes good: a Sonoma rosé from country band the Chicks (15)

When it came time to find a winemaking partner, Maguire had help. Her husband, Clem Moore, has lived in Sonoma for many years, and has lots of vintner friends. Moore arranged a meeting between the group and the Bundschu family, who had just purchased a large new property in Sonoma that would allow them to expand winemaking operations.

Katie Bundschu, the chief marketing officer of the Bundschu Co., said she was initially wary of the idea of making a celebrity wine, but the Chicks won her over. She was impressed by the fact that the Chicks had a fully formed vision for the rosé. “Neither of us wanted our names associated with something that we didn’t believe in.”

From there, Bundschu and her team blended a range of different options from their existing wine inventory. The Chicks were mostly aligned on what they liked and disliked — something they’ve gotten used to doing over years of working together. “Whether it’s stage design, or production decisions on a record, we try not to give three different directions,” Maguire said.

Envisioning the wine’s packaging proved trickier. The three musicians walked around a Target one day to look at the rosés, and they were struck by the sameness of their appearances — clear bottles, pastel-colored labels, “a lot of kitschy sayings,” Maguire said. In order to “stand out in this sea of pink and white,” they opted to go in the opposite direction: black. Maguire hopes people will gravitate toward it as a kind of art piece. “We want people to want to put flowers in it” after they’re finished drinking the wine, she said.

Along the way, Maguire and her bandmates learned a lot about wine like why high-elevation, mountainous areas are prized for winegrowing, especially Cabernet Sauvignon. After years of insisting she preferred lighter Pinot Noirs to heavier Cabs, Maguire started to come around, after seeing how elegant and refined Cabernet can be when made in a certain way. “What I don’t like about Cab, that sticky, sweet, syrupy, plummy flavor — we are not doing that,” she said.

The Gaslighter Cabernet Sauvignon ($140) and Pinot Noir ($65) will be sold in the fall, and they’ll be available only directly through Gaslighter, not in any stores. The 2020 rosé of Pinot Noir ($25) is already available throughout California at BevMo! A 2021 rosé ($25) and 2021 Sauvignon Blanc ($25) will be available within the coming months, distributed nationally by Pacific Highway Wines.

Esther Mobley is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior wine critic. Email: Twitter: @Esther_mobley

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