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And It Blends Into a Jerry Garcia Tie

August 04, 1996|Steve Hochman

Orson Welles, in his role as pitchman for a winery, was famous for his line about not selling any wine before its time.

Well, the time for a Grateful Dead wine has apparently come.

Bottles of Dead Red--with the band's familiar red, white and blue skull and lightning-bolt logo on the label and dancing skeletons around the seal--are on their way to stores right now, with four more series of releases using Dead iconography coming between now and Christmas.

It's the inaugural release from Celebrity Cellars, the brainchild of Barbra Streisand's manager Martin Erlichman, who is close to signing deals with other artists for their own varieties of vino.

"The genesis of it was when I was out on tour with Barbra [in 1994]," Erlichman says. "When it was over, I came to the realization that musical artists don't have the same merchandising life as, say, athletes. Most artists have a life only if they're on tour, and afterward it's the end of it. And most of the products that are sold at concerts don't have the kind of collectibility that can be achieved."

Not that he had anything to complain about regarding the Streisand tour, which broke the record for merchandising with concert-goers spending an average of more than $20 each on items ranging from ballpoint pens to limited-edition jewelry, developed with the Sony Signatures company. Additional sales came through catalog orders.

Streisand is said to be mulling an arrangement for her own wines, though Erlichman would not comment on who will follow the Dead.

But in his search for something that would sell without a concert tour tie-in he hit on wine as something with rising stock among collectors. At the same time, he was struck by the proliferation of items with Grateful Dead logos--cultural symbols that took on even more mainstream significance following the death last summer of leader Jerry Garcia. The pairing of the two seemed like a natural.

"We made up a bottle with the logo and took it to the band and they loved the idea," he says.

The California red table wine, which will sell for $12.99, is produced by Delicato winery in Manteca, Calif., though they are bottling it under the name the Long Strange Trip Beverage Co.--another Dead reference. Technically, Dead Red is not a wine, but an "unwine"--with nearly all the alcohol removed by a reverse osmosis process.

"The Dead felt that they wanted to reach all their fans of all ages and asked us to do something other than real wine," Erlichman says, noting that this can be sold in record stores or other appropriate outlets where wine cannot. "Down the road we'll have wine with alcohol for other artists."

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