When the Boca Juniors lost the 2004 Copa Libertadores South American soccer tournament, distraught fans of the Argentina club could drown their sorrows in the team's own brand of wine.
The 2003 Boca Cabernet Sauvignon is only the latest in a series of "celebrity" wines that have come out of South America in the past year. These signature wines, named after sports and media stars, are taking aim at the growing Hispanic market in the United States.
Last fall, Mendoza-based Raices de Agrelo, which produces the Boca Cabernet, launched wines named after Diego Maradona, Boca's most famous son and arguably the best soccer player of all time. The Argentinean publicity campaign showed billboards of Maradona in a victorious pose, his arm thrust in the air with a bottle in hand. The signs proclaimed "God Exists!" -- a reference to the 1986 World Cup goal Maradona batted in with his hand, later attributing the move to "the hand of God."
The initial release of the Diego Armando Maradona Clasico line featured a 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2002 Malbec. From the 2003 vintage, the winery has released four Diego Armando Maradona Premium wines -- a Malbec and three Cabernet-based blends. There's also an inexpensive boxed wine called El Diego that features Maradona's image.
"We had an idea to build a strong brand, with a national identity [in the international market]," said Fernando Cordoba, vice president of Raices de Agrelo. "But who could carry the flag for Argentina?" The answer was Maradona, and the winery approached him with the idea.
Raices de Agrelo then followed up by launching a line of six Cabernet- and Malbec-based wines named after Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama, Colombia's most famous soccer star.
Both the Maradona and Valderrama labels, which will retail for about $13 a bottle, are now being launched in the United States, out of Tampa, where Valderrama used to play for the Tampa Bay Mutiny Major League Soccer team. (The Boca wine will eventually follow.) The winery looks to use the players' popularity to tap into the extensive Hispanic market in Florida, followed by those in New York, New Jersey and possibly California and Texas. Valderrama will promote the wines at events and games, but Maradona's greater demand and recent health troubles will keep him out of the spotlight.
Soccer players aren't the only South American celebrities getting into the wine game. Argentina's top polo player, Bautista Heguy, has teamed up with Mendoza's Bodega Benegas on a special edition of the winery's 2000 Benegas Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot; the labels on 10,000 bottles will bear an image of Heguy playing polo. Thirty percent of the production will be exported to the United States late this year or early next year, with a retail price of $40 a bottle. Much of the wine will be sold in New York, California and Florida, primarily where polo is played.
And one of the most famous Hispanic television personalities has started his own wine brand. Mario Kreutzberger, better known as Don Francisco, hosts the long-running Sabado Gigante variety show, which is viewed by millions each week. A native of Chile, Kreutzberger grew up in Talca, surrounded by vineyards and wineries. Interested in creating his own label, he partnered in 1998 with the VIA Wines Group, which owns vineyards in San Rafael, Curico, Colchagua and Casablanca valleys; Kreutzberger owns a 20 percent stake in the company.
Don Francisco comes in three lines. The varietals, which feature his image on the label, are priced at $6 and include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 production totals 20,000 cases. The 5,000-case Reserva line, priced at $9, includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Carmenère, Syrah and Cabernet. The Private Collection Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, of which 500 cases were made, are priced at $24. The wines have been introduced in Florida and Texas, with California, New York and Illinois as the next targeted audiences.
Like Valderrama, Kreutzberger also lives in Florida and will promote the wines through public appearances, and his marketing appeal to the Hispanic community is tremendous. But Don Francisco product manager Alex Huber said he hopes that the wines will eventually transcend the celebrity status and "down the road, in a year or two, people will recommend these wines on quality alone."