Touchdown on Fantastic Vintages: Sports Legends and their Wine Firms

The world of sports is physical and intense, but behind every field goal and remarkable play is tremendous precision and lengthy preparation. One could say it’s almost the same way with winemaking. Over the years, we’ve seen a handful of sports stars transition successfully into wine brand ambassadors and vintners. These icons invest large chunks of their fortunes in putting up their own wineries. Not only do they view their estates as relaxing havens outside the hustle and bustle of sports arenas, but they also recognize the revenue that can be generated from lucrative wine trade

At first glance, sports and wine may appear to be worlds apart. However, given the extravagant inclinations of world-class athletes, they often opt for the finer things in life. Vino just happens to be the centerpiece of the luxe lifestyle.

Andretti Winery (Mario Andretti)

Mario Andretti lives life on the fast lane. He’s even won multiple awards for it, including the Indy 500, NASCAR, Formula One and IROC (International Race of Champions) VI championships. During his travels as a racecar driver, Andretti was able to sample some of the finest wines in the world had to offer. He developed a particular fondness for local wines. It was this fondness that eventually translated into a lifelong passion.

In 1996, Andretti and his old friend, former-Kmart president and CEO, Joe Antonini, decided to establish a wine company of their own. They bought a large plot of land, a vineyard, and a winery in Napa Valley, California. Thus, Andretti Winery was born. This picturesque, Tuscan-inspired estate is a study in classic and rustic elegance. The vast compound houses an exceptional wine storage facility, tasting room, and even has a guesthouse for wine tourists. Its scenic grounds feature 48 acres of lush and verdant vineyards.

Andretti Winery currently offers three distinct portfolios: the Napa Valley Series, the Andretti Valley Series, and the Montana Reserve. Each series brandishes vintages, which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. With these stunning wines, the Andretti Group will no doubt claim pole position in the hearts and palates of wine enthusiasts around the world.

Nick Faldo Wines (Nick Faldo)

Nick Faldo is no stranger to grassy areas, expansive plots of land, and stunning topography. Having held the position as the world’s top-ranked golfer for almost 100 weeks, this English athlete is an expert at bringing his A-game to lush green environments. Evidently, this knack for success extends even outside the sport of golf, and into the arena of winemaking.

During his stint as the number one golfer in the world, Faldo traveled to various countries. In 1987, while celebrating his Spanish Open win, one of his buddies recommended a bottle of Marqués de Riscal. This was the pivotal moment for Faldo as this was the time he discovered his love for wine. In 2002, he headed to Coonawarra, Australia, to visit Katnook Estate vintner, Wayne Stehbens. Together, they swirled, sampled, mixed, and matched the Coonawarra estate’s vinos. And, just like that, Nick Faldo Wines was born.

Faldo has a knack for approachable, rich, fruit-driven tipples with lightly acidic cores. When he launched his first line of wines in the early 2000s, his Sauvignon Blanc, Nebbiolo, Chardonnay, and Shiraz were met with good reviews. This time around, he pulled all the stops to put the ‘wow’ factor in his elegant but affordable Faldo European Wine Collection. The range includes Old World wine cellar favorites like Rioja, Barolo, Chablis, and Châteauneuf du Pape.

With athlete-winemaker peers like Greg Norman, Ernie Els, and David Frost, you can say that this top golfer is in excellent company. A proud Faldo claims that his vintages stack up well against the wines of his fellow golfers, but of course, he’d rather let your taste buds decide.

Passing Time Wines (Dan Marino and Damon Huard)

It’s indisputable. Dan Marino is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play American football. Fans will tell you that the former NFL superstar’s success is one rooted in physical power and mental precision. Marino’s ability to read plays, alongside his agility, strength, and stamina, allowed him to make an eye-popping 48 touchdown passes in a single season. His determination to excel in whatever field he’s in is a trait that eventually rubbed off on his backup quarterback, Damon Huard. And this partnership extended outside the football field.

These NFL players continue to work together as teammates and entered different arena – winemaking. The Passing Time wine estate was forged out of Marino and Huard’s friendship and shared passion for wine. Partnering up with notable vintner Chris Peterson, the quarterback duo went on to develop a vintage that would shock critics.

Passing Time’s initial release, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, would earn a 93 and a 94 from Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate, respectively. By then, Marino and Huard knew they were on to something special. Now, Passing Time looks to produce 1,200 – 1500 cases through 2017 and garner more revenue thereafter.

Gretzky Estate Wines (Wayne Gretzky)

Wayne Gretzky is the epitome of a winner. His nickname “The Great One” speaks volumes on the way he played ice hockey. In fact, he is considered by most players and sports scribes as the “greatest NHL player to ever play the game.” What’s even more remarkable is that Gretzky also took on the wine making industry and also hauled awards there.

As the founder and owner of Gretzky Wine Estates, Gretzky has reaped numerous wine competition trophies. This included gold medals from the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships and the 2012 San Francisco International Wine Competition to name a few.

Beyond satisfying the most finicky of wine enthusiasts, the NHL legend aims to use his vinos to promote Canada’s different wine regions. With his rich collection of Rieslings, Chardonnays, Merlots, and Pinot Noirs, Gretzky could potentially become ‘the Great One’ in the global wine market.

A to Z Wineworks (Gregg Popovich)

The San Antonio Spurs has upheld a winning tradition in the National Basketball Association (NBA) with famed coach Gregg Popovich at the helm. He is a great architect of intricate plays and smart basketball strategies and it’s an understatement when we say that Popovich has an incredible eye for detail. His observant nature has served him well in the world of sports and this same trait has helped him score success in the wine industry as well.

In 2006, Popovich partnered up with the owners and vintners of A to Z Winework, a wine firm in Oregon. Like the Spurs, A to Z Wineworks is considered an industry giant. Its fleet of wineries is capable of producing 360,000 cases of wine annually. Its founders also happen to believe that the key to any business’s success is getting the organization’s fundamental values and principles right. This sentiment is very similar to Pop’s coaching style and it’s no wonder he decided to pair up with this particular Oregon winery.

Now you’d expect Popovich to be like the rest of the enterprising sports luminaries that we mentioned but no. Popovich’s private label, Rock & Hammer Pinot Noir, is actually not for sale;  he gives the wine to family, friends, and charity auctions. In 2014, the Spurs head coach actually offered a one-off wine tasting of the 2004-2012 vintages of Rock & Hammer wine. Naturally, Popovich did it for charity. The tasting was conducted during the 30th Classic Wines Auction dinner at Rex Hill. Guests paid $750 each to get in on the action, but Pop made sure to match the total donations made that night.