Ricky Ponting punts on first drop with wine pitch

Josh Dye
Ready for a long innings: Ricky Ponting hopes his new wine range can crack overseas markets.
Ready for a long innings: Ricky Ponting hopes his new wine range can crack overseas markets. Photo: Simon Schluter

Among wine critics, celebrity-endorsed labels often provoke cynicism and scorn. For every genuine business venture backed by a wine-loving celebrity, there's someone else leveraging their fame in a short-term marketing ploy to earn a few bucks. 

The latest entrant to the celebrity wine category is former Australian men's cricket captain Ricky Ponting who officially launched his first drop Ponting Wines this week.

The brand is striving for the best of both worlds: a quality wine in its own right that also trades on the prestige of the Ponting name. The venture is part of Three Kings Merchants, part-owned by former Wallaby Nathan Sharpe and award-winning McLaren Vale winemaker Ben Riggs. 

Involved in all aspects of the business: Sam Neill at his Two Paddocks vineyard in Central Otago.
Involved in all aspects of the business: Sam Neill at his Two Paddocks vineyard in Central Otago. Photo: Christopher David Thompson

Despite wading into a cluttered category, Ponting says his wine is no gimmick as he settles in for a long innings. 

"We're not just going to put the wine out there and sit back and hope that it makes us some money, we're going to give it a red-hot crack and make sure everything we do with it is as good as it can be," he said. 

"It's one thing to have your name on the front of the bottle of wine but it's [another] to be heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the overall business." 

Graham Norton blends his sauvingon blanc out of a London apartment.
Graham Norton blends his sauvingon blanc out of a London apartment. Photo: Supplied

Wine writer and Drinks Adventures podcast host James Atkinson said "not all celebrity wines are created equally". 

"At one end you have the extremely cynical, gimmicky products where a celebrity has next to no involvement with the wine, other than licensing their intellectual property in exchange for a royalty on any sales that flow from it," he said, citing Shane Warne's short-lived wine collection in 2002. 

At the other extreme, Mr Atkinson said there are celebrities such as Kiwi actor Sam Neill who have genuine wine-making ventures and "clearly love wine very deeply and are involved in all aspects of their businesses". 

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Stuart Gregor remembers marketing Warne's wine back in 2002 and says the trend of celebrity-endorsed wines "certainly appears to be growing a head of steam right now". 

"It's a good way to cut through in a category that has too many brands that have no apparent differentiation," Mr Gregor, co-founder of spirits company Four Pillars Gin, said. 

"Successful people in other fields have for hundreds of years owned wine businesses. It's a thing they're naturally drawn to because it's a complicated and interesting and fascinating world.

Former Wallabies Adam Ashley Cooper (left) and Drew Mitchell with their Backline Wines shiraz.
Former Wallabies Adam Ashley Cooper (left) and Drew Mitchell with their Backline Wines shiraz. Photo: Supplied

"It's one thing to love Ricky Ponting. It's a very different thing to love Ricky Ponting's wine unless it's delicious and well-crafted."

Mr Atkinson said celebrities offer winemakers the opportunity to "cut through the clutter and appeal to consumers who feel intimidated when they enter a bottleshop and are confronted by a wall of wine with fairly homogenous branding".

"But consumers should be aware that the royalties paid to the celebrity are embedded into the price they are paying for their wine, so there is certainly better value to be had elsewhere if they do their research," he said.

Wine taster Stuart Knox tasting  celebrity wines at his Sydney CBD bar and restaurant, Fix.
Wine taster Stuart Knox tasting celebrity wines at his Sydney CBD bar and restaurant, Fix. Photo: Edwina Pickles

As for his transformation from beer-lover to wine connoisseur, Mr Ponting seems as surprised as anyone. 

"I must admit never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get to the stage where Rianna [Mr Ponting's wife] and I would have our own wine label," he said. 

"Outside of our charity foundation, we have pretty different interests to be honest … so this was something that was a real passion project for us that we could work on together."

A few of the celebrity made or endorsed wines tasted in the line-up.
A few of the celebrity made or endorsed wines tasted in the line-up. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Mr Ponting hopes to crack the major retailer market before eventually expanding overseas to countries such as India and the UK "where my name might resonate with some people".

Celebrity Wine Taste Test

Professional wine critic and restaurateur Stuart Knox scored a selection of celebrity wines supplied by the Herald and The Age. Here are the results.

Graham Norton Wines

The BBC talk show host partnered with New Zealand producer Invivo & Co in 2014 to "personally blend" a range of wines available through BWS.

Graham Norton's Own Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Marlborough, $14

It certainly smells like Marlborough sauvignon blanc – tinned asparagus, slippery onion skin, a good amount of cat's pee. It's not too bad to drink though, a little too much sugar for me, but it flows quite well. Score: 85/100

Graham Norton's Own Rosé Pink By Design 2018, $14 

There's nothing mentioned on the label about grape type or New Zealand region, so I suspect it's made with fruit from everywhere. There's a little bit of softness, generosity and creaminess. Flows across the palate quite well, but then drops short. Score: 83/100

Ponting Wines

Using South Australian and Tasmanian grapes, these wines, according to their labels, have "been forged to celebrate the dedication and achievements" of Punter and winemaker Ben Riggs.

First Session Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Adelaide Hills, $23

Typical Adelaide Hills restraint with a little bit of green herb on the nose, but in that thyme zone rather than a lantana patch. Tight focus, nice acid and sea-spray salinity. It's pretty bloody smart, actually. Score: 91/100

Mowbray Boy Pinot Noir 2019, Tamar Valley, $34

Fresh red cherries and a bit of dried herb work, good acid and crunch. It's a properly nice drink. I like that Ben hasn't tried to make it into a blockbuster wine with the celebrity name attached. Score: 92/100

The Pinnacle Shiraz 2017, McLaren Vale, $25

I like the nose. McLaren Vale can be quite voluptuous and this one's not, it smells like it has been kept under control. It's still a big boy. Good structure. Plenty of tannins. There's a seaside-y, iodine character which gives it a nice savoury element too. Score: 93/100

Two Paddocks

Sam Neill's single vineyard wines are highly regarded, retailing for around $90 and quick to sell out. Picnic range grapes are sourced from multiple vineyards for a more affordable entry-level wine.

Picnic Pinot Noir 2018, Central Otago, $40

Good nose, nice and tight, not like a classic full-bodied Otago. Good front palate with lots going on, but the reductive element cuts things short. I want pinot to flow all the way from front to back. The Ponting pinot represents better value. Score: 88/100

Backline Wines

A collaboration between winemaker-at-large Ben Riggs and Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell.

Pilou Pilou Rosé 2020, Fleurieu Peninsula, $19

"Rugby" and "rosé" are two words I never thought I would see together. I suppose it's for the WAGS. It's made in that pale French-style of strawberries-and-cream. The palate is a bit too crunchy though, and baggy acid tightens the back row, as it were. Score: 82/100

Je Fais Cabernet Blend 2018, Langhorne Creek, $23

"An immersive experience for those who cross the line" says the label. I appreciate the marketing team's effort in any case. Tomato leaf and cigar notes, and beautiful black fruit on the nose. However, there's a bit too much of an oyster-brine character which shuts that fruit down on the palate. Score 85/100

Block Raiders Shiraz 2018, Langhorne Creek, $23

Medium to full-bodied, plummy fruit characteristics. Good tanin. Some salinity is sticking out but not as much as the cabernet. It's not a wine for drinking by itself, but with chargrilled meat, it would stand up quite well. Score: 89/100

With Callan Boys