Smokey Robinson smells as good as you think he does. Last night, over a glass of his new private label wine made here in Pittsburgh, I couldn’t resist the ask: “What cologne are you wearing?”
“It’s Obsession, baby,” he crooned.
Almost a year ago, Robinson — the legendary American singer/songwriter, record producer, and Motown royality — was touring the Roberto Clemente Museum with owner, winemaker and baseball fanatic Duane Rieder.
Rieder, who does custom bottling out of his EngineHouse 25 Winery, had hoped to serve the Hall of Famer something that would fit his smooth personality and effortless swagger.
The group was making its way to the cellar when “Cruisin’,” Robinson’s No. 1 hit, came on the house Spotify account. Frances, Robinson’s wife, guffawed. “Did you play this on purpose?!” Rieder swore to the serendipitous coincidence.
In the cellar, Robinson’s wife asked for a Prosecco, and Reider froze. The winery isn’t outfitted for sparkling wine production, a process that requires a special press and a second fermentation.
He had nearly conceded defeat. “I thought, ‘Well, this was a great day, a historic day. I got to meet Smokey Robinson. I’m not going to get to make wine for him, but that’s okay.’”
The winemaker thought fast: “Let’s do a toast to Roberto Clemente! Smokey Robinson is in Pittsburgh, in the Clemente Museum. Let’s do a toast with Clemente wine.”
The star was on board. While his wife swallowed the berry-rich, oaky Cabernet down exuberantly and without pause, Smokey was taken aback. “I’ve had Cabernet with the queen of England,” he said. “And I’ve never even liked Cabernet — but I love this wine.”
Duane’s friends were kicking him under the table in excitement.
The next day, Robinson called Rieder and asked for a couple bottles of wine to keep in his locker at Capital Grille. The winemaker mocked up a Smokey Robinson label to bestow on the music great’s new favorite bottles.
The celebrity admitted to me that he doesn’t drink much at all. “I don’t really like the taste of alcohol. You know, I’ve been offered a line of liquor before — but I just don’t like the taste. This, I love.”
Ten months later, the Smokey Robinson private label wine is in production and ready for consumers. It’s not quite as jammy as the Clemente wine that Robinson sampled first, “just a hair dryer,” Rieder says.
The labels are bright and beautiful. “It’s not unlike choosing album art,” Smokey says. “You gotta catch people’s eyes.” He picks up a blue-labeled Riesling, branded with a black and white photo of himself, singing. “This one’s my favorite.”
Rieder and Robinson are pouring at the Pittsburgh Wine Festival today. Guests can even get their bottles signed by Smokey, himself.
If you get a chance — give him a hug. He smells great.