What do wine bottles and basketball have to do with each other? Well, Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum along with many other NBA stars for one. See how NBA players are driving diversity within the wine industry.
From NBC News:
In his early 20s, when other NBA players were indulging in traditional libations of young professional athletes, Portland Trail Blazers guard 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 tasty glass of vino piqued his interest. Then, a visit to a winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, known for its pinot noir, turned him into a wine enthusiast.
That simple introduction came full circle when he and his wife, Elise, purchased 318 acres of land last month to construct their own winery in Oregon.
“I’m fortunate that basketball brought me to Oregon, just a short drive from one of the top wine regions in the country, taking my existing passion for, and knowledge of, wine to new heights,” McCollum, 30, said. “Playing in Portland has given me the opportunity to immerse myself in the Willamette Valley, and pinot noir has earned a special place in my heart.”
McCollum is the embodiment of a movement among NBA players who enjoy wine beyond a glass at dinner. 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 the retired Channing Frye, the New Orleans Pelicans’ Josh Hart, the Sacramento Kings’ Moe Harkless and Seth Curry of the Philadelphia 76ers are all immersed in the wine culture. Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade has had his own brand, Wade Cellars, since 2014.
Their involvement speaks to another level of socialization in an evolving industry that has long carried a snobby reputation. These Black athletes are studying to be connoisseurs, investors, owners—all with the underlying purposes of enhancing the wine access and opportunities for Black people.
According to a 2019 survey of 3,100 industry professionals by SevenFifty, an online marketing survey company, only 2 percent identify as Black. Less than 1 percent own wineries, according to another study in July.
“This is a different approach by NBA players now,” said Gary Mortensen, president of the Stoller Wine Group in Oregon. He consulted with McCollum and Anthony on wine and McCollum’s vineyard purchase. “It really signifies a leadership role for CJ, by going out and carefully finding that right piece of property. Purchasing it now, he gets to plan exactly what he wants, and that’s really exciting. And so this is going to be his process all the way through. He bought the piece of prime land that is ideal for pinot noir. It was a very shrewd purchase.”
Beyond that, Mortensen said, “What I love about what I’m seeing from people like CJ is they understand their leadership role, and what they can bring to the wine industry in terms of bringing opportunity and visibility for people of color, and the underprivileged in general. They’re making an industry that hasn’t been that 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 — make up the challenge, in which they use the proceeds from 300 donated bottles per brand toward efforts to break down racial barriers in the wine industry, from consumer and employee standpoints.
“Since announcing my label a year ago, I’ve learned more and more about the lack of representation in the wine industry,” McCollum said. “I want to ensure wine is more approachable for everyone, particularly those who may not see people who look like them leading the profession.”
Frye said the intention of the challenge is “to incite change and increase diversity amongst those seeking careers in our beloved craft, and our commonality in giving back is wine.”
Hart, 25, got into wine when his Lakers teammate James would bring and share vintage bottles on road trips. Hart’s interest grew quickly, and he partnered with Wine Access, an online wine retail shop, to establish the Diversity in Wine Scholarship Program, which sponsors Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 1 certification 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.