In his early 20s, as other NBA players indulged in the traditional libations of young professional athletes, Portland Trail Blazers goaltender CJ McCollum was introduced to wine by the woman who would later become his wife. .
Lemonade had been his drink of choice, he said. But a delicious glass of wine piqued her interest. Then, a visit to a winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, known for its Pinot Noir, made him passionate about wine.
That simple introduction came full circle when he and his wife, Elise, bought 318 acres of land last month to build their own vineyard in Oregon.
“I’m fortunate that basketball brought me to Oregon, a short drive from one of the best wine regions in the country, taking my passion and knowledge of wine to new heights,” said McCollum, 30 years old. “Playing in Portland gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in the Willamette Valley, and pinot noir gained a special place in my heart.”
McCollum is the epitome of a movement among NBA players who appreciate wine beyond a dinner drink. All-Stars such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony of the Los Angeles Lakers, Chris Paul and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns, and notable players such as retired Channing Frye, Josh Hart of the New Orleans Pelicans, Moe Harkless and Seth Curry of the Sacramento Kings of the Philadelphia 76ers are all immersed in the culture of wine. Hall of Fame keeper Dwyane Wade has owned his own brand, Wade Cellars, since 2014.
Their involvement is a testament to another level of socialization in an evolving industry that has long had a reputation for a snobbish. These black athletes are studying to become connoisseurs, investors, owners, all with the underlying goal of improving access to wine and opportunities for blacks.
According to a 2019 survey of 3,100 industry professionals by SevenFifty, an online marketing survey company, only 2% identify as Black. Less than 1% own wineries, according to another study in July.
“It’s a different take on NBA players now,” said Gary Mortensen, president of the Stoller Wine Group in Oregon. He consulted McCollum and Anthony on wine and the purchase of the McCollum vineyard. “It really means a leadership role for CJ, going out and carefully finding the right piece of property. By buying it now, he can plan for exactly what he wants, and it’s really exciting. And so that’s going to be his process all the way through. He bought the prime piece of land which is ideal for Pinot Noir. It was a very wise purchase.
Beyond that, Mortensen said, “What I love about what I see from people like CJ is that they understand their leadership role and what they can bring to the world. wine industry in terms of opportunities and visibility for people of color, and the disadvantaged in general. They make an industry that hasn’t been so accessible in the past, accessible, and that’s really, really important.
Last year McCollum launched his own brand, McCollum Heritage 91 – a pinot noir that sold out in 45 minutes – and immediately participated in the One Barrel Challenge, described as “a collective dream of making Oregon’s wine industry more accessible and inclusive, regardless of color, class or creed.”
Seven wineries – including McCollum’s and former NBA player Channing Frye’s Chosen Family label – stand up to the challenge, in which they use the proceeds of the donated 300 bottles per brand for efforts to break down racial barriers in the the wine industry, from the perspective of consumers and employees.
“Since announcing my label a year ago, I’ve learned more and more about the lack of representation in the wine industry,” said McCollum. “I want to make sure that wine is more accessible for everyone, especially for those who may not see people who look like them leading the profession.”
Frye said the intention of the challenge is “to inspire change and increase diversity among those seeking a career in our beloved craft, and our common ground in giving back is wine.”
Hart, 25, took to wine when his Lakers teammate James brought and shared vintage bottles on road trips. Hart’s interest quickly grew and he partnered with Wine Access, an online wine retail store, to establish the Diversity in Wine Scholarship Program, which sponsors the Level 1 certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) for 100 people with the goal of discovering and developing Black, Indigenous and people of color in the wine industry through the Napa Valley Wine Academy.
Angela McCrae, Creative Director for an entertainment company in New York City, was awarded a Diversity in Wine Scholarship in 2020. Due to the pandemic, certification took place online instead of Napa, but “it has deepened my knowledge of wine a lot. “
She created the Uncorked and Cultured wine group on Facebook as a vehicle to elevate black wine education. “And have that certification by Josh Hart and the Napa Valley Wine Academy,” she said. “I was able to take a group of 15 black wine enthusiasts and professionals to Napa for Juneteenth. It really changed the way participants experienced wine as novices and as consumers. All thanks to a black player in the NBA who commits.
Travis Stanley, president and CEO of the Napa Chamber of Commerce, who spent 25 years as an NBA executive, said he was impressed with today’s players breaking down the barriers around the wine consumption in black communities and create opportunities. “I don’t remember seeing any players being heavy wine drinkers – or even social – in my 25 years in the league,” he said.
“And if you look at the age and maturity of the players who are really committed, it’s not just about consumption. It’s about using their influence to meet winemakers and industry leaders and go behind the scenes to learn all there is to know about the industry.
Stanley, who plans to launch his own wine project in 2022, said he regularly hosts or meets NBA players in Napa, which is no longer an anomaly. “I look forward to the day when someone takes the plunge and owns a full winery here in Napa,” he said. “You hear chatter from current and former African American players who aspire to own their own sports team. But I guarantee you they would have a much better time owning a magnificent winery in the greatest wine region in the world.
Harkless embraced the world of wine as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers from 2015 to 2019. He began by attending wine tastings on days off with his teammates. Eventually, he hosted “Wine Wednesdays” on James’ Instagram platform, Uninterrupted.
Now a member of the Sacramento Kings, Harkless has partnered with The Prisoner Wine Company in Napa, whose parent company, Constellation Brands, has committed more than $ 100 million to the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit group that advocates to fix the criminal justice system. Harkless’ platform, Black Lives Now, has partnered with The Prisoner to make an impact on systemic change.
“For me, basketball and wine represent business opportunities, requiring a lot of study, understanding the complexities, learning the different strategies, dissecting the competition and investing the time to learn the ins and outs. the outs, ”McCollum said. “But what’s most amazing about wine is the way it brings people together.
“By being involved in the NBA, I have a platform to not only create awareness, but also change. I am proud that my teammates have made a similar commitment.
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