Wine Ink: Sports and Wine — Stan Kroenke plays in the big leagues of both
Kelly J. Hayes
Stan Kroenke is a collector.
And if his Los Angeles Rams play well enough to win the Super Bowl this Sunday in Atlanta, he will collect his first Lombardi Trophy. Quite an accomplishment for any NFL owner (actually, Robert Kraft has five of them and could have a sixth Sunday) and one that comes not just from a commitment of cash but also from displaying trust in the experts, his coaching staff and front office to do their jobs without interference.
So what does that have to do with wine? Well, in addition to his myriad sports interests, Kroenke also has a collection of vineyards and wine labels that are of playoff quality, indeed, Super Bowl caliber. In fact, his wines score even higher than this year’s prolific Rams offense. You may have heard of, and perhaps even tasted (I have yet to have the pleasure), his cult cabernet classics from Napa’s Oakville appellation, Screaming Eagle, which he became the sole proprietor of in 2009. If so, you have experienced the wine equivalent of having 50-yard-line box seats at this year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium. No doubt fine wines will be poured in those boxes on Sunday.
A commonality between the Rams and Screaming Eagle is that Kroenke made decisions to trust youth with both of the esteemed entities. Famously, in January of 2017 Kroenke named Sean McVay as the coach of the Rams. At just 30 years of age he was the youngest coach in NFL history. Now, two years later, his team is in the Super Bowl, and he is the youngest coach ever to be there.
That decision mirrors one Kroenke made five years earlier in 2012. Legendary Screaming Eagle winemaker Andy Erickson was ready to move on (he currently is making his own wine under the Leviathan moniker) and Screaming Eagle needed a new winemaker. The brand stayed in-house to hire the then-29-year-old Nick Gislason, who had been Erickson’s assistant, for the prestigious position. The bold move paid off as the 2012 vintage, Gislason’s first, would go on to receive perfect 100-point scores from Robert Parker, among others. That is akin to winning the Super Bowl on your first try.
In addition to Screaming Eagle and the Second Flight labels, Kroenke also owns the Santa Barbara-based Jonata, which makes a plethora of outstanding wines, including a plush syrah, as well as the Sta. Rita Hills pinot specialist The Hilt. Two years ago he shook up the wine world by purchasing Burgundy’s Domaine Bonneau du Martray. If ever there was a trophy property, Bonneau du Martray is it. Owned and operated for nearly 200 years by the same family, the estate boasts a Grand Cru parcel on the Hill of Corton. They only produce two wines — a red, Corton, and a white, Corton Charlemagne.
All of these wines regularly score in the high 90s and some have garnered even 100 points in ratings from writers and publications. Oh, and they are priced so high that only the likes of NFL owners and free agents can afford them. And even then, only if they make the limited allocation lists.
Kroenke, who is not as vocal as many of his fellow owners, has been dubbed by some as “Silent Stan” because he does so few media interviews. So you may not know much about him. He was a high school athlete in Missouri before becoming a real estate developer. Today, according to LandReport.com, he was the fourth-largest landowner in America in 2017 after his purchase of Texas’ enormous Waggoner Ranch. He also owns properties in Aspen, where he met his wife, Ann Walton (yes, of the Walmart Waltons), in the early 1970s, and in Basalt, where a Columbia, Missouri-based company he owns bought the building that houses Whole Foods.
And did we mention the teams? The currently high-flying Denver Nuggets and the not-so-hot Colorado Avalanche are owned by the eponymous Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, as is the Arsenal Premier League football side in England. He also owns the Colorado Rapids soccer team, the Colorado Mammoth Lacrosse team in the Kroenke-held stadiums, Pepsi Center and Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium.
Named for a pair of St. Louis Cardinals (his name is Enos Stanley Kroenke), Enos Slaughter and Stan “The Man” Musial, Kroenke broke the heart of the city of St. Louis when he moved the then-St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles in 2016. And in two years he will open the most expansive, and expensive, stadium in American sports that will play host to both his Rams and the L.A. Chargers in Inglewood, California.
Sports and wine. If there is a single player on the world stage who has made the most of both, it would be Stan Kroenke.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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