While many football fans are debating what kinds of wine to drink during this weekend's big game, some of professional football's power players are deciding what kinds of wine to make.
Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, Kansas City Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos and former Cleveland Browns (and San Francisco 49ers) president Carmen Policy are all making a pass at winemaking. And, perhaps fitting for the gridiron, each of the NFL alums has chosen to produce a hefty California Cabernet.
Although he's the youngest of the bunch, former 49ers and Chiefs quarterback Joe Montana has the most experience. He and his wife, Jennifer, operate a small Sonoma vineyard, from which they sell grapes and make small batches of homemade wine. A few years ago, Montana met Beringer Vineyards winemaker Ed Sbragia and, after some chalk talk, the two decided to collaborate on a wine.
Using grapes from some of Beringer's best vineyards, the duo bottled their first wine in 1999 and named it Montagia; it's an earthy Cabernet with an added splash of Cabernet Franc, a consolation to Jennifer Montana. "Joe and I are both big guys and we like big wines, so it was easy for us to put a blend together that made us happy," Sbragia said. "But Jennifer has a greater appreciation for wines with a little more softness, so we had a good time playfully wrangling back and forth a bit. …In the end, we were all satisfied with the results."
Only a tiny amount of the 1999 Montagia was released and sold in Beringer's tasting room for $75 a bottle. They doubled the production to 225 cases for the 2000 bottling, which was released last year to Beringer Wine Club members and at the winery. A good portion of the production has been earmarked for charity.
Coach Dick Vermeil, who came out of retirement in 1997 and led the St. Louis Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV and now heads the Kansas City Chiefs' coaching staff, is producing a Napa Cabernet with partner John Scarpa and OnThEdge winery in Calistoga.
A fourth-generation Napan, Vermeil named his wine Jean-Louis Vermeil, after his father and great-grandfather. Starting with the 1999 vintage, Vermeil and his partners have produced about 200 cases a year of a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend from grapes grown by Jean Frediani, near the Eisele Vineyard. "It's something I've always wanted to do," Vermeil said. "I used to help my grandfather make his own wine. It's a nice change of thinking for me, but I probably only get to spend about 15 minutes a week on it during the season."
Although he's still new to the business, 81-year-old San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos got his winemaking start more than 70 years ago. "My dad used to make his own wine, and my brothers and I would crush the grapes every year with our own feet," he said. In 2002, Spanos teamed up with son-in-law Ron Berberian to purchase Bell Wine Cellars in Yountville, where they've bottled small amounts of SpanosBerberian Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot. They also purchased 42 acres of land in Napa from David Arthur winery, where they've planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Spanos and Berberian are planning on that site's first crush in fall 2005, with the resulting wine to be released in 2007.
Carmen Policy, who was president of the Cleveland Browns until last spring, recently planted his first vines on 9 acres of land he purchased from Charles Krug winery in Yountville. Policy, who became familiar with California wine country while heading the San Francisco 49ers, will name his brand Cinque Vigne, after his five grown children. The vineyard is planted with two clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, and Policy has designated a block of vines for each son or daughter, so they can have their own unique bottling.
Vineyard manager Jim Barbour is excited about the new project: "It's a neat little vineyard," he said. "We planted the vines in June and already the growth is unbelievable." Barbour expects to harvest the first crop in 2006 and release the first Cinque Vigne bottling in 2009. "Carmen is passionate about wine, and he's a fun guy to work with."
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