NFL superstar Keyshawn Johnson could have settled in for a relaxing extended vacation when he retired from professional football in 2007. But instead of resting on his laurels, the former wide receiver launched not just one second career, but about six or seven. Today, Johnson is an analyst and host on ESPN, and has business ventures in real estate and management. Johnson also co-owns 1925, a television production company, and starred in the 2009 A&E series, Keyshawn Johnson: Tackling Design. Now he's added wine purveyor to his résumé: Last autumn, he unveiled his XIX Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Echo West Vineyard 2007 ($125), named after the jersey number Johnson famously lobbied for and won. Freelance writer Katherine Cole caught up with Johnson to discuss wine and entrepreneurship.
Wine Spectator: What is it with football players and wine? Joe Montana, Drew Bledsoe, Dan Marino, you ... . What gives? Keyshawn Johnson: I don't think there is really any connection other than that we like fine things, nice things. Joe Montana is from Northern California. Drew Bledsoe is from Walla Walla. I'm from California and I just love wine.
WS: When did you first become passionate about wine?
KJ: About seven years ago, I happened to be in the south of France, on vacation with my family. We had ordered some wines from California—I remember specifically enjoying Testarossa Pinot Noir and Kistler Chardonnay—and some local wines from the region. I thought, "Hey, this is really good." Over time, it just kind of evolved; people would give me wine as a gift or I would go out to restaurants and try different wines.
WS: What's your collection like?
KJ: My cellar can hold almost 800 bottles, but there are probably only 250 in there right now. We drink our wines! I have some Bordeaux—Léoville Barton—but mostly Napa Valley: Opus One, Caymus, Carter, Harlan Estate, Diamond Creek. And Alpha Omega, which is just through the wine club—they don't sell it in stores. And Kosta Browne and Foley.
I'm building a new house right now, and it will have a nice cellar that holds 4,000 to 5,000 bottles, with a seating area and cigar room. I'm going to make it special. I'll put in a nice couch, and a table where we can eat dinner, and a TV. I like that underground, cavelike feel.
WS: When do you open wine at home? Do you sip Caymus or beer while watching football?
KJ: I really don't drink while I am watching sports; I'm not a big beer guy, either. I usually drink wine when I am having dinner or hors d'oeuvres. My wife and I cook and entertain a lot. Friends are constantly coming over. We don't pair wines specifically with the meal; we just drink what we like.
WS: The source for your Cabernet Sauvignon is the three-vineyard town of Echo, Ore., 60 miles southeast of Walla Walla, Wash.
KJ: R.C. Mills [owner of L.A. Cellars] and I are partners in this venture. When we found this particular vineyard, we decided to take it on and make it happen. We went up to Echo, which is really an unusual location. I enjoyed drinking the wines. It was interesting—small, not like the giant houses and tasting rooms you see in California. I wouldn't want to own my own vineyard—it seems like so much work. David Rizzo is the winemaker; the farmer is Lloyd Piercy, along with his wife, Lois.
WS: $125 is a steep price point for a new label. Have you had trouble selling XIX?
KJ: No, it's not difficult to sell—we only produced 112 cases. When I think of an overpriced wine, I'm talking like $500.