Sports Celebrities In The Wine Business In Napa/Sonoma, CA
By Steven Lay
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.
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