Monday, February 22, 2021

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

Nova Wines "Marilyn Merlot" Napa Valley Merlot 2018

As I have written in these pages before, wine geeks, aka oenophiles, often take their passion for wine way too seriously, or certainly so, to those not so compulsive or fixated, which is most folks. Its important to back it down and simply have fun with wine too.

This blog focuses on wine tasting and collecting. Another discussion thread is a study in wine branding and marketing. Several producers release an artist series with each label featuring a piece of artwork to adorn that vintage release. 

One unique approach to wine branding and marketing is Marilyn Wines, of the entity Nova Wines, who since 1985, have featured iconic imagines of Marilyn Monroe, captured by many of the most talented portrait photographers of her era, to grace the labels of their Marilyn Merlot and Norma Jeane wines. 

In addition to Marilyn Merlot, Norma Jean is a lesser label with 'younger' second label grapes. Continuing the whimsical play on names, Norma Jean features a photograph taken of the young actress in the years just before she captured the imagination of the American public as Marilyn Monroe.

They have created an entire franchise on one celebrity identification theme based on a play on words - Marilyn Merlot featuring the iconic starlet Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Wines holds an exclusive agreement with the estate of Marilyn Monroe for the use of the name and the images in their wine marketing and packaging.

The brand is the creation of Bob and Donna Holder of Rutherford in Napa Valley, who initially crafted a homemade Merlot back in 1983 using some purchased grapes and some grapes from the Holder property. They started selling their wine and created the brand.  In the early days, they purchased bulk wine, then, in 1997, they shifted from purchasing bulk wine to purchasing grapes. The wine is made at the Napa Wine Co. in Oakville, CA.

Marilyn Wines has extended the brand to a broad portfolio of labels based on Marilyn Monroe. The portfolio has expanded to also include Marilyn Meritage, Sauvignon Blond, Marilyn Cabernet, Red Dress and Blonde De Noirs, a sparkling wine. 

Building upon the collectables theme, they also produce an ultra premium Velvet Collection based upon a photo session on May 27, 1949 in Hollywood with photographer Tom Kelley. That two-hour photo shoot made history and established the aspiring but unknown actress, Marilyn Monroe as the ultimate sex symbol of the 20th century. The series features ten stunning photographs from the historic session, known as the "Red Velvet" series, each one a portrait of Marilyn Monroe posing on a red velvet drape. Each label of Velvet Collection of wine is covered with a protective vinyl overlay that, when removed, reveals the complete, original portrait.

Continuing the collectables theme, in many vintages, they also produce special process etched and painted bottles of Marilyn Merlot in limited production large format bottles, usually around 6 to 36 bottles of 1.5 Liter magnums and 2 to 10 bottles of 3 Liter double magnums. The bottles are placed in a sand carving cabinet where the artist utilizes instruments to hand carve out the design image on each of the bottles then to be hand painted. 

The brand has grown further with the release of Marilyn Merlot Rose and Marilyn Monroe Chardonnay.

Of course the most famous or notable iconic collector series is Mouton Rothschild. A study in wine branding and marketing at some point invites a discussion of art label series featuring original or reproductions of notable art or artists on the wine labels. No wine producer in the world captures the imagination or attention of wine collectors and wine art enthusiasts more than Mouton Rothschild with their annual artist series artist featured wine labels.

Each year a renowned artist is commissioned to do the artwork for that vintage. The featured artist is said to be paid ten cases of various vintages of the classic Chateau Mouton Rothschild for their work. Every collector dreams of collecting a 'vertical' collection (wines of multiple vintages of the same wine) of the classic premium First Growth Bordeaux to display the 'artwork' of Mouton.

My Winesite Label Library lists the Mouton Rothschild Label Library Series Artists and associated works by the artists for reference or to aid in further exploration or research of the library and its history. Just last month I updated the library with the 2018 release label of the legendary wine. 

As with Mouton Rothschild, I've assembled a portfolio of Marilyn labels in my label library on my winesite

This weekend, the 2018 vintage release of Marilyn Merlot label just appeared in stores in the Chicagoland market, the 35th vintage of the iconic brand. They also just released Norma Jeane, the 23st vintage of the Norma Jeane brand.

Playing on the name of the famous cinema starlet, Marilyn Monroe, the marketers at Nova Wines have  built the brand on an annual release of moderate priced Merlot varietal featuring an authentic Marilyn Monroe photo on the label. What might have started out as a whimsical or even corny idea has turned into a fun wine that has an almost cult following in some precincts of collectors. 
Some of our close to two dozen vintages of Marilyn Merlot

The producer tries to maintain a delicate balance and moderate the hype of the collectability of the wine and the valuation of bottles over time versus the novelty and fun of the wine. It appears they've earnestly worked to improve the pedigree and quality of the product to produce a wine more worthy of and capable of long (er) term cellaring by sourcing from notable vineyard sources and producing a Red Bordeaux varietal blend. As such, the release price of the wine has crept up in recent years as well. As it has been since the 2016 release, this year's release price is $36 however the 'street price' still remains at the traditional price point in the $25 to $28 range. However, in secondary markets, the price can be elevated even above the release price.

The producer site says, "Each new vintage of Marilyn Monroe Merlot sells out quickly. While collectors have made Marilyn Monroe Merlot one of the fastest-appreciating wines on the market, it is wine enthusiasts with a sense of humor who have long enjoyed the playful spirit behind Marilyn Merlot wines that are now also seeking the Marilyn Monroe Merlot because of the emphasis on making a notable wine from prized Napa Valley grapes. While the concept and engaging label of these wines has given these bottles a degree of fame, it is the wine in the bottle that merits the enthusiasm of those who seek it out every year.'

"This wine is every bit as special as its package," says Donna Holder, one of the owners of Marilyn Wines. "It is a must for collectors, but is also a Napa Valley Merlot that stands beautifully on its own."

The producer promotes highly escalated prices for vintage bottles of the label asking high prices that far exceed the pedigree of the wine, explicable only due to the marketing/branding of the label collection. I know of one reputable wine shop in a mid-size midwestern city that a few years ago held a 1985 Marilyn Merlot that they were offering at $3500.

I've assembled a portfolio of Marilyn labels in my label library on my winesite. And, I admit I've collected a 'vertical' collection of the wine and am still holding what now spans more than fifteen vintages. Indeed, we drank a dozen year old 2006 recently and it was drinking quite nicely. We do have fun gifting these wines to friends for suitable occasions, great for those not into the wine so much, but taken by the clever packaging. The Marilyn Merlot label is now in its 35th  year.

The 2018 vintage release blend is comprised of Merlot from four different vineyards, primarily from the Carneros and Oak Knoll AVA’s, which has added to the complexity of the finished wine.

The iconic photograph adorning the label for this 2018 release was taken by photographer Milton Greene of Marilyn Monroe in 1955 while she was  living with the Greene family for a year in New York. It was during this time that Milton, and Marilyn sued 20th Century Fox to release Marilyn from what they felt was a “slave terrible contract”.   They won!

The Winemaker's Notes for this vintage:  "The color is immediately captivating in this rich deep ruby hued 2018 Merlot.  There is good intensity in the nose with well integrated aromas that hint of ripe blackberries, orange zest, cocoa powder, and hints of mint/menthol, and baking spices.  On the palate there are added notes of toasted oak, integrated with concentrated strawberry and bright plums.  This wine has more than ample body and structure for a Napa Merlot, but still maintains a rich balance ending with a long enjoyable finish."

As always, try it and enjoy the novelty as well as the grape juice. Have fun with wine.