Professional sport is no picnic. Professional athletes practice hard and play hard. When they’re not “playing”, they are surrounded by the fans and the media. They rarely have a second to themselves and yet, some of them manage to come up with their own brand of wine. Here are 4 athletes who’ve sunk their teeth (or in some cases dentures) into some terroir, and made it to our “celebrity wine” list for better or for worse…
21 – LPGA champion Cristie Kerr is recognized as one of the most successful professional golfers of her era, during which she also was ambassadress for Izod and Lacoste brands. Her love for wine was developed while being on tour, in addition to the various philanthropic efforts off the course. In 2009, she launched Curvature Wines by partnering with award-winning Pride Mountain Vineyards. Unlike other celebrities, Christie remains intimately involved in every step of curvature winemaking process.
The winery makes 2 kinds of wine, a Chardonnay ($45) and a Cabernet Sauvignon ($87). The higher prices are easily explained by the extensive and rigorous winemaking process. For instance, the Cab. is fermented in stainless steel vats, gently pressed to barrel and aged for thirty months in oak prior to bottling. That’s a long time! According to the winery, “due to its extended barrel aging, the wine is ready to drink upon release, or may be aged for 10 to 15 years”. I just love that!
They also offer limited edition magnum and double-magnum, as well as a sweet 3-pack collector’s edition, signed by Cristie Kerr herself! The wine generally sells out from one year to the next.
Arguably hockey’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky played for the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and the New York Rangers during his long career. He is now playing for the wine team. The “Great One” has not just one but three vineyards growing Gretzky-brand grapes in Ontario, Sonoma, and British Columbia for his No. 99 Collection.
Wayne Gretzky Estates offers an unusually wide variety of options. You’ll find a Pinot Noir, a Pinot Grigio, a Riesling, a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a couple of exciting Bordeaux blends, all ranging from $15 to $25. And if that’s not enough, the brand also carries a No.99 Cabernet Franc Icewine for $99 that will “light the Lamp” as they say in hockey. Other than the estate’s notes, I have not found any reviews or ratings about the Wayne Gretzky Estates wine. Please don’t hesitate to comment if you’ve tasted it.
Yao Ming is a [young] retired Chinese professional basketball player who played for the Houston Rockets. In addition to his 7 feet and 6 inches of basketball awesomeness, his economics degree from his native China are putting him in a stronger position to start a new career in the wine industry.
In November 2011, global humanitarian Yao Ming, announced the establishment of his new Napa Valley wine company: Yao Family Wines. Ming took his passion for wine and ran with it, setting up a winemaking team, led by winemaker Tom Hinde.
The flagship of the brand is an elegant, refined and powerful Bordeaux style blend with 82% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is called Napa Valley and sells for roughly $120. It is available via allocation only and you must sign up online to get your own. Additionally, they also make another blend with very limited production offering, the Family Reserve. That wine sells for $300 and “belongs in the library of every passionate wine connoisseur and collector”, as proclaimed on their site.
Their most recent wine on the score board is Napa Crest, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot. The company decided to add one more wine to their portfolio, and introduced a first-class product at a more affordable price, offering a new group of wine drinkers the chance to enjoy their wine. This one is only $48 – a bargain!
Yao is using the growing Chinese wine-drinking market to rocket his wine to the top, and exports a lot of his wine to his native country.
Yao Ming’s wines are scoring very high among some of the most popular wine critics: 91 Points from the Wine Enthusiast, 90 Points from James Suckling, 88 Points from Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate. Those are some incredible ratings for someone who just started in the business.
Robert Parker said “I am aware of all the arguments that major celebrities lending their names to wines is generally a formula for mediocrity, but that is not the case with Yao Ming. These are high class wines. The two Cabernets are actually brilliant, and the Reserve bottling ranks alongside just about anything made in Napa.”
In addition to owning a restaurant in Chicago, football legend Mike Ditka is now “coaching” a new team, where the players are wine growers and winemakers. Mendocino Wine Company (MWC) teams up with football Hall of Fame player & coach Mike Ditka to produce a new line of private label wines.
Ditka visited the MWC winery and vineyards in Mendocino County, and connected on wine style and quality, as well as shared core values: the importance of family, community, and leaving things better than you find them. Since 2007, Coach Ditka actively participated in evaluating and blending these wines: a Chardonnay for $18, a second line called “Da Coach”, which includes a Pinot Grigio for $12, a Merlot $12, and a Cabernet Sauvignon for $20. And last but not least, a reserve-quality bottling called “Kick Ass Red” blending Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah for $50 a bottle.
So get out there and have a glass of Kick Ass Red! As Coach Ditka said during an interview with Wine Spectator: “If I had a penny for every glass of wine I’ve had in my life, I’d be a millionaire.” Alright, now I’m confused.