Professional Athletes and Oregon Wine Make Great Collaborative Teams

Most NBA fans know about players’ affinity for fine wine, but what may be less known is among the wines they love are many standouts made in Oregon. When players like LeBron James are quoted as saying this to Yahoo Sports in 2017:  “Oregon Pinot is some of the greatest wine you can find in America, and maybe not even America, but the world,” you know Oregon wines are on to something.

CJ McCollum tours Adelsheim Winery , September 25, 2019. Justin Tucker / Nine Eighty Four

Echoed ESPN Magazine in a 2018 article: “In dozens of interviews with players and those in the wine industry who’ve interacted with them — winemakers, collectors, master sommeliers — it’s clear: The game’s iconic figures are burgeoning oenophiles.” Right now in the age of COVID, what’s the number one import into the NBA Bubble, the social isolation zone for full-time NBA players inside of Walt Disney World? You guessed it, wine. And Blazer CJ McCollum keeps 84 bottles protected at cellar temperature, out of the light. “For the most part, McCollum shipped in pinot noir from Oregon, where he is a member at several local wineries, along with the first bottling of his own recently released wine, McCollum Heritage 91, also an Oregon pinot noir,” writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

For players like McCollum and Michael Jordan, who with Domaine Serene made Barrel 23, a Pinot noir made blend exclusively for Jordan’s personal wine cellar and steakhouses, tasting wine notched up from being a lifelong pursuit to making it.

CJ McCollum Heritage 91

CJ McCollum tastes at Adelsheim Winery , September 25, 2019. Justin Tucker / Nine Eighty Four

CJ McCollum recently took a leap in winemaking with Adelsheim’s Gina Hennen, and the results of this McCollum Heritage 91, a 2018 Chehalem Mountains AVA Pinot Noir, are stunning. According to a Forbes article on McCollum’s upcoming show, ReMaking America, McCollum Heritage 91 sold out in 45 minutes.

McCollum, 29, made waves in 2019 when he broke a franchise record by scoring 37 points in a Game 7 win over the Denver Nuggets to advance the Blazers to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the 2000 NBA playoffs. Soon after, Adelsheim created the Blazers’ 50th anniversary commemorative wines, and are now working with the team to raise COVID-19 relief funds for the community.

“Adelsheim’s roots run deep in the wine community, and together we share similar beliefs about wine: it should taste great, it should be approachable and it should be enjoyed with those you love,” said McCollum. “I wouldn’t have been able to bring McCollum Heritage 91 to life without the care and expertise I received from the team at Adelsheim. I’m truly grateful for this partnership.”

The wine launched online for purchase on September 15, 2020, and down the road will be available in-store. Retail is $50.

Channing Frye and The Wine Team

Most teams travel more than 40,000 miles together in a regular season, which leaves time to swap stories, visit wine regions and drink wine together. Channing Frye fell in love with wine while playing as a power forward for the Portland Trailblazers, crediting his love of wine to wife and native Oregonian Lauren Lisoski Frye, whom he was introduced to on his first day in Portland as the 2007-08 NBA season began.

Channing Frye, creator of Chosen Family wine in the L’Angolo Estate barrel room

Frye, retiring from pro basketball in 2019 after playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, known affectionately as The Wine Team for their wine appreciation, told the Cleveland Plains Dealer that year, “When I got out to Oregon, what happened is I started drinking lighter stuff, more commonly known stuff over the years. I was a big beer guy since there are so many breweries in Portland. As I got older I discovered my love for wine, visiting places like Cristom (and) Bergstrom…”

Frye, 37, is now putting the final touches on a project at L’Angolo Estate called Chosen Family, a multi-vineyard 2018 Pinot noir ($73) and a 2019 Dundee Hills Chardonnay ($60). Chosen Family comes from the fact that Frye picked and chose the different grapes for his vintages, and is also a reference to the ways he believes wine brings people together.

In a July 2020 article, Frye told the Wine Spectator that is proud to join the growing ranks of Black winemakers, saying “It’s just amazing that so many African American men are being able to have this opportunity to make wine and change the face of the industry,” he said. “That accessibility that the wine industry has created is amazing, and it’s getting this new generation of people that don’t see it as just scary.”

Frye told the Newberg Graphic that he’s hoping his project will inspire other Black winemakers and to help elevate Oregon wine in the eyes of a diverse audience. He has visited Bordeaux, France, and tasted wines from across the globe from California to Italy, but his connection to Oregon Pinot noir and Chardonnay is part of the reason he returned to Portland upon retiring.

Fine wine and NFL

Motiv8 Wines and Sweet Cheeks Winery collaboration

But NBA players aren’t the only pro athlete fans of Oregon wine; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback and former Oregon Duck Marcus Mariota launched a wine label with South Willamette Valley’s Sweet Cheeks Winery to help raise money for Mariota’s charity Motiv8 Foundation. Through providing meals, Motiv8 helps support homeless youth, pets, frontline nurses and healthcare workers, meals for students while schools were shut down due to COVID-19, and housing for survivors of domestic violence.

Mariota spent three years in Eugene as the leader of the Ducks’ offense team, also the home of Sweet Cheeks. The Motiv8 wine is $40 for the 2018 Pinot noir, and $30 for the Pinot gris. Both wines sold out quickly as testimony to the love people have for Oregon wine, Marcus Mariota, and a great cause.