Wine Industry Advisor
All-Star Wines: The Growing Trend of NBA Stars’ Brands
Athletes regularly parlay their sports careers into successful lifestyle brands, often in fashion and beauty products. In the early 2000s, NFL all-stars like Mike Ditka, Terry Hoage, Drew Bledsoe and Dan Marino pivoted to wine after retiring from sports. Recently, the trend of NBA players entering the wine game is on the rise, but rather than treating their ventures as vanity projects, they’re using their platforms to create legacy and promote diversity in the wine industry. Some might call them trailblazers.
Building a legacy
Former NBA champion and Chosen Family Wines partner, Channing Frye, hopes to change the perception around athletes and celebrities creating wine brands as mere vanity projects. He recognizes there’s important work to be done and is realizing those goals through wine. He wants to put his stamp on the industry by making the next generation of vintners more diverse while improving the quality of wine in the process. He says, “For athletes — and for black Americans — we can raise awareness of the opportunities that the wine industry has for all people.”
Working in wine challenges Frye to be uncomfortable in a space where he considers himself a rookie. Frye also believes in creating something for generations to come. “It’s an investment of time, labor and love, so of course I want it to work out,” he says. “I want my kids and my kids’ kids to be able to say, ‘Look what my dad started. We built this.’ I hope we will continue with this tradition, including a wide range of nationalities and ethnicities to ensure the [wine] industry is representative of the world as we see it.”
Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers and also a partner in Chosen Family believes, “We have a unique opportunity to build a special community in the world of wine, one that’s inclusive and approachable no matter where you are in your journey.”
Take the shot
CJ McCollum, point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans, discovered wine while dining with his wife, Elise, at Ringside Steakhouse in Portland, Ore. They ordered a bottle of 2012 Walter Scott Pinot Noir and the rest, he says, was history. “When my career took me to Oregon — one of the top wine regions in the country — my passion for wine grew to the point where I wanted to be part of that world in a bigger way,” he says. Inspired by NBA players Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, who each started their own wine brands, McCollum followed suit with his own wine label, McCollum Heritage 91.
McCollum recognizes, “It’s all about being part of a great team. We’ve partnered with Adelsheim Vineyard winemaker Gina Hennen from the beginning. I’m grateful for Gina’s skills as a winemaker, as well as her mentorship in helping me refine my own wine preferences and learning the ins-and-outs of the wine industry.”
McCollum admits that making wine hasn’t come easy, but he wasn’t afraid to ask questions. “You quickly figure out what you don’t know and put yourself around those who do.” He applies his philosophy with basketball to his wine label. “You’re probably going to miss more shots than you make, but you can make the ones you do shoot count.”
McCollum acknowledges his good fortune, in that his day job gives him the ability to spend money on this project. He says, “I’m passionate about creating a legacy to honor the people, communities, places and causes that mean the most to me. It’s also important to contribute to the spirit of inclusivity within the wine industry, especially as it relates to people of color.”
He adds, “Kids, students and college athletes see me and think, ‘If CJ can do it, maybe I can do it too!’”
Look to the future
What’s the next slam dunk for these basketball stars? As a part of their long-term vision, McCollum and his wife purchased 318 acres of vineyard property in the Willamette Valley and will announce plans for developing the land soon. Chosen Family continues to cultivate collaborations with rising star winemakers from Lingua Franca, Hazelfern Cellars, L’Angolo Estate and Salty Goats as they build a portfolio of wines with partners that share their passion and vision.
For these players, their commitment to creating opportunities in the industry is immensely important, but their love of great wine is at the core.
— Tamara Belgard