Wine Ink column: The ties between wine and sports

by kelly j. hayes

It’s fall and that is the time for both sports and wine. Wine because it is both the harvest season and the time of year when new releases come on the market. And sports because it is the time of year when the major spectator sports — football, basketball and hockey, in that order — begin their new years.

Of course there are other ties between sports and wine than just chronology. Both, let’s face it, are about money. And money and wine are a convergence point. On both sides of the world of professional sports, owners and players are .001 percenters when it comes to disposable cash. The owners, for the most part, have enough cash to own major wineries, and the players, well, they have the coin to drink and collect some of the world’s top drops.

Let’s start with NFL owner Stan Kroenke. Well, actually, Kroenke is more than just an NFL owner. Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, his holding company, along with his wife Ann (whom he met while skiing in Aspen), are in control of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and England Premier League Football Club Arsenal. Quite the collection.

But he also maintains a smaller though equally prestigious wine, and winery, collection. In addition to his majority stake in Burgundy’s Domaine Bonneau du Martray and Jonata on the Central Coast of California, Kroenke is the owner of Screaming Eagle, one of the most cultish of the California Cult Cabernets. With just under 50 acres of prime Oakville AVA land, Screaming Eagle produces less than 750 cases of cabernet sauvignon a year that, if you can get it, sells for thousands of dollars a bottle. Oh, there is a “second flight” that can occasionally be found in the hundreds, but even so, it helps to have received a signing bonus if you wish to drink Mr. Kroenke’s wines.

Ironically, there is one NBA figure who has never earned a signing bonus but can still surely afford Screaming Eagle. LeBron James signed a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in June, which brings him closer to the wine world that he has fallen in love with. Follow LeBron on Instagram or Twitter and you’ll know that he has developed a serious passion for wine, one that he encouraged his former Cleveland Cavaliers teammates to participate in.

Last December, James Beard Award-winning writer Baxter Holmes accompanied the Cavs as they made a trip to the Mayacamas winery in Napa for a Lebron-inspired tasting. His story on the venture, “The NBA’s Secret Wine Society,” written for ESPN The Magazine, outlined how a passion for fine wine has made its way through the NBA. Players like Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul are not just creating cellars for their wines but are actually traveling wines on the road with them. Players who were once about cash, flash and dash in the early part of their careers are now into investment, nuance and longevity.

One player who is taking it to the next level is Dwyane Wade. The Miami Heat guard and three-time NBA champion has launched a wine venture with noted Napa winemaker Jayson Pahlmeyer called Wade Cellars. Wade has said in interviews that he did not start drinking wines until he was in his late 20s but now, at age 36, he is fully immersed in the grape. His most recent releases include a 2017 rosé under the Three By Wade label and a cabernet under the Wade Cellars moniker.

Wade, who received a sizable offer to play hoops in China this year, released his first wine, a 2012 vintage cabernet, in China in 2015. He followed in the footsteps of former NBA center Yao Ming. Yao has had great success selling his branded Napa Valley wines in China, as well.

Domestically, a number of ex-professional athletes have had wine projects, some serious and others simply vanity projects. Among the most successful and serious have been wines made by former racecar drivers Randy Lewis (Lewis Cellars) and Mario Andretti in Napa. A former Oakland Raider defensive back also is making a foray into the wine trade with his eponymous Charles Woodson Wines. It should be noted that the Raiders summer training camp home is in Napa. And in Washington state, the DoubleBack Bordeaux Blends made by ex-NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the Walla Walla AVA are magnificent.

‘Tis the season for both wine and sports. Enjoy.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at

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