Assisted by a UC Davis viticulture and enology alumnus, Earl Stevens — more commonly known as Bay Area rapper E-40 — has come out with Earl Stevens Selections, a collection of high-quality wines made in Napa Valley.
Steve Burch who graduated from UC Davis in 1998, is the winemaker behind Earl Stevens Selections. Burch and his company, California Shiners, have made wines for other celebrities as well, including Michelle Branch and Adam Carolla.
In E-40’s 1992 song “Carlos Rossi,” he calls jug wine a “top of the line wine.” Now, Earl Stevens Selections features three higher quality wines: Function Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel grapes, a Moscato and a unique Mangoscato, which is a mango flavored Moscato, at a staggering 18% ABV.
As a former winery owner, Burch said he feels like there are many advantages for helping celebrities make their wines. Since celebrities have a large fan base, getting bottles out of the warehouse is generally never a problem.
“I have more fun with these wines because people want to buy them. The wine business is hard. It’s not about what I want to drink; it’s about what’s going to sell,” Burch said. “But obviously, it’s going to be good.”
Burch and E-40 came to the winemaking scene through different avenues.
“The first wine I ever drank was Carlos Rossi Rind. I used to see older people drinking it and I couldn’t wait to be of age to drink it myself. I liked the taste — it was sweet,” E-40 said.
E-40 also said that knowing the right people and being a good guy helped this project unfold.
Burch, however, attributes his success in the winemaking world to his education.
“UC Davis is the only reason I got where I am today. It’s the education you get at UC Davis and the science background that really prepares you for every opportunity,” Burch said. “I’ve done everything. I’ve owned my own winery. But no matter what I do, I always rely on my education.”
According to Burch, his position at California Shiners is safer than owning his own operation.
“I do a lot of cool stuff. I get to make wine and not have to worry about paying the electricity bill,” Burch said.
He claimed that this comfort relies on celebrity marketing.
“Nobody wants to drink what you want to make. Nobody cares. People want to drink a high quality product with a big name on it,” Burch said.
Shavika Singha, a fourth-year communication and philosophy double major works as a bartender and said she is familiar with hip-hop artists promoting alcoholic beverages.
“I think it’s nice to see rappers branching out from hard liquor. As a bartender, I get so many people ordering Ciroc and Armandale at clubs. It’s cool that hip-hop culture is expanding to something new and more sophisticated,” Singha said.
Singha said that wine feels like unfamiliar territory in hip-hop, and the fusion of the two is an exciting opportunity.
“I just love wine, and I wanted to hit a category that most recording artists haven’t hit yet,” E-40 said.
E-40 emphasized that being closely involved with the winemaking process is important. He said that being there for tastings, being hands-on with the process and understanding fans’ tastes will help his products succeed.
Burch is fortunate in that he can create wine comfortably, making use of his education and training without worrying as much about the marketing. With E-40 covering that side, Burch was able to focus on the brass tacks of winemaking.
Burch said that winemakers going into the business with an air of narcissism miss the point of creating a great wine. He said that the grapes tell him what to do, and that he can’t turn grapes into something they’re not.
“It’s not about the guy who crushes the grapes or adds the yeast. It’s just the fruit. You have this fruit that can naturally get to this point. It has nothing to do with some joker with a degree from UC Davis,” Burch said.