Celebrity Vineyards

Sports Celebrities In The Wine Business In Napa/Sonoma, CA


Celebrities, in any capacity, have always been involved in the second or  third oldest profession… winemaking. Whether they are celebrity politicians,  sports figures, moviemakers, actors, or authors, they are probably into  winemaking for reasons of prestige, financial, and/or genuine interest. I have  long repeated has been said before; winemaking is really, in the final analysis,  nothing more than agriculture/farming. So what makes the wine business so  interesting? Probably Robert Mondavi made winemaking a chic moniker of wealth,  culture and status. But, winemaking is still all about growing, harvesting and  processing a fruit.

I recently read that Drew Bledsoe (NFL) has been doing well in the wine  business with his own label along with his good friend Rick Mirer (also from the  NFL). Drew’s label is Doubleback which is a Washington State wine. That got me  to thinking about sport celebrities who were making wine in and around Napa and  Sonoma Counties, California. In wine country I would probably say that the NFL  has produced the greatest number of wine labels, but others in other sports are  entering the fray, even in a down economy, and their wines are not  inexpensive.

Some new sport celebrity entrants in the wine business do not own vineyards  or wineries. Rather, they work with wineries and winemakers to produce a wine,  they like, under their own labels. Others have taken the path of owning the real  estate (a vineyard or winery property) and producing their own wine.

So the question that begs asking: Who are the sports figures that are  involved in the wine business within the loosely defined area I have defined as  wine country? My tally is not in any specific order.

Mario Andretti-Andretti Winery, located in Napa. It is a very nice  winery, open to the public, who’s proud owner hails from the motor sports arena;  primarily Indy car racing. Mario is active in his winery so expect to see him  around the property.

Dick Vermeil-Vermeil Wines, Calistoga (North end of the Napa Valley).  Dick was born in Napa Valley and is a partner with Paul Smith (a graduate from  Fresno State School of Viticulture), also the winemaker. Dick’s  great-grandfather was in the wine business in Calistoga. As an aside, Dick  Vermeil was the star quarterback at Calistoga High School. He married Carol who  was a cheerleader at Calistoga HS. The wines are Vermeil Wines from On The Edge  Winery. Dick Vermeil is from the NFL and broadcasting.

Tom Seaver-GTS Wines, Calistoga. Tom is a Hall of Fame pitcher. He is  an active manager of his vineyards and produces a high-end cab’s. Tom was born  in Fresno, where his family grew grapes. Thomas Rivers is the winemaker for Tom  Seaver’s and is the guy who has produced 2 “100 point” wines. The label is  “GTS”.

Rick Mirer-St. Helena. A big fan of Napa as a source for grapes,  Rick’s winemaker/collaborator is Rob Lawson. Do not know the winery that  produces the wines, but they are exceptional. Rob Lawson has founded a winery  and currently consults for wine companies like Rick’s label; Mirror Wines. Rick  is most famous for his college football years at Notre Dame University and his  time in the NFL.

Terry Hoage-Paso Robles (the Central Coast). Here is a gentleman who  got his start in the NFL and today produces a premium wine. Terry and wife  Jennifer own the vineyard and the winery that processes the fruit. The Terry  Hoage Wines are Rhone varietals and are all organic wines.

Arnold Palmer-Napa. Mr. Palmer has a mid range white he produces with  Luna Vineyards. He does spend some time in Napa but it is not his primary focus.  His career in sports does not need to be noted. If you don’t know Mr. Palmer it  is truly a pity.

Carmen Policy-Yountville, Napa County. Carmen owns the Policy  Vineyards and produces a wine under the Casa Piena label. Carmen is best known  for his front office work with the San Francisco 49’ers. His focus is really all  about the fruit from a premium vineyard. Background is sports law in the  NFL.

Jeff Gordon-Jeff Gordon Wines-Sebastopol, Sonoma. Jeff is active in  the winemaking process and spends personal time, after the NASCAR season ends in  November, working with his winemakers in finishing crush and barreling. He is a  native of Vallejo, CA and has been around wine most of his life. The career that  helped him get into wine is motor sports. His wine comes from August Biggs  Winery.

Luke Donald-Napa. Luke works with a long time friend, Bill Terlato of  Terlato Wines International to produce three wines” a Claret, Viognier and a  Chardonnay. He did very well on the PGA tour in 2012. Terlato Wines owns several  wineries in Napa and Luke is very hands on in blending his wines.

Greg Norman-Greg Norman Wine Estate, Napa. Greg has been making fine  wines in Australia for a long time and is now producing wine from the North  Coast of Wine Country. Grapes are sources from Sonoma, Napa and Lake Counties.  He does have wines from other areas in California. Golf is the industry he comes  from prior to getting into the wine business.

Annika Sorenstam-Annika Wines, Livermore, CA. Annika left the LPGA  Tour in 2009 to pursue many and varied business interests in apparel, finance,  golf and wine. She joined forces with Wente Vineyards. Although Livermore is not  exactly in Napa or Sonoma she is close enough. I have tried her wines and they  are a result of a great collaboration with a winery with many generations of  winemaking experience.

By my count there are approximately 11 sports celebrities involved with  winemaking in Wine Country. If you consider former US Ambassadors, members of  Congress, Hollywood moguls, entrepreneurs, etc. then the list grows  quickly.

Steven S. Lay has been in the travel and corporate meetings business for 30  years and is now focused exclusively on small luxury corporate gatherings in  Wine Country. More information about his company, Symtrek Partners, is available  at: http://www.symtrekpartners.com

Mr. Lay has held “C” Level positions in large private and public companies.  These companies, in addition to the travel corporate and leisure business,  include the defense industry and e-commerce. Prior to launching Symtrek  Partners, Mr. Lay was the Vice President of Exhibitor Sales for a major  exposition company.

Symtrek Partners is a resource to any company contemplating a highly  effective meeting, event or function for a small corporate group. Symtrek  Partners is very interested in discussing ideas and options. To initiate a  contact e-mail: stevelay@symtrekpartners.com or  call 707-927-4205

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