Jonathan Vaughters, 36, gets to visit some of the best wine regions in the world every year—California, France, Italy, Spain and more. But he's usually in the passenger seat of a car, following dozens of guys on bikes. Vaughters is CEO and directeur sportif of the Garmin-Slipstream pro cycling team, one of the newer teams in road cycling, but one that has quickly made a big splash. Vaughters was a pro rider himself until 30, and helped win the team time trial in stage 5 of the 2001 Tour de France. Vaughters recently spoke with Wine Spectator about enjoying the local beverages along the route of the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España and the Giro d'Italia.
Wine Spectator: How did you get into wine?
Jonathan Vaughters: Well I didn't really get into wine until I retired from cycling. Life in the saddle was too hectic to ever really enjoy wine or the winegrowing regions we raced through. Once I retired and returned to Colorado, there was a restaurant called Adega in Denver that I went to often, and one of the owners was a really big cycling fan. I began getting invites to come down and taste stuff at like 11 at night, way after dinner service.
Getting to taste all these wines with people who knew them ensured that I was bitten by the bug. Going back to Europe as a team manager, I had an arsenal of information and began to recognize all the wines that I used to taste, putting names with bottles, and regions with wines. I began recalling all of these villages I used to ride through and now I had the wines in my memory, it all just clicked. And of course now I could actually enjoy the regions and their wines in a way I was never able to before.
I also had some world-class help along the way: Richard Betts, Bobby Stuckey—he's a serious cyclist, I used to race against him when we were both younger—Bret Zimmerman, Jay Fletcher—all Master Sommeliers and all cycling fans. They helped my wine knowledge a great deal, exposing me to wines that were never on my radar.
WS: Was there one bottle that did it for you?
JV: It wasn't just one bottle, but more of the back and forth of comparing one bottle against the other, being able to identify the differences. The learning curve, that's what got me hooked. I was introduced to all kinds of wines, all kinds of regions, pretty much all at the same time.
WS: Any favorite varietals or regions?
JV: Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape specifically. Château Rayas is one of my favorite châteaus, but any of the more feminine wines from around there are what I really enjoy. The fun for me is in trying anything and everything, so I don't really tie myself down to one region, one favorite. I love Burgundies too, more than Bordeaux. I'm definitely an Old World kind of guy, although Sine Qua Non is a New World favorite of mine, but it's only New World in geography.
WS: What do you think are the correlations between the worlds of wine and cycling?
JV: Geography and the culture, I guess, though I don't really know. I'll have to get back to you on that one. That's an intriguing idea. [Five-time Tour de France winner] Bernard Hinault has a small vineyard, [five-time Tour winner] Jacques Anquetil was practically infamous for drinking, Lance Armstrong is a big wine fan. [French rider] Christophe Moreau is a huge collector too. So there has to be something to it.
WS: What part of the daily meal does wine play in cycling?
JV: There's always a bottle of red on the table, but sort of a one glass per rider rule. The rumor was that Jan Ullrich used to down a bottle a night during the tour, hey, maybe that was the difference between Lance and Jan. Lance would have a glass, and Jan a whole bottle. [German rider Ullrich won the tour in 1997, then finished in 2nd place five times.]
Nowadays, I always give the regions where we race some thought from a wine fan's angle. When we were plotting and planning the logistics of moving an entire team across the whole of France for the Tour, I was excited about our finish at Mont Ventoux. I made sure we spent the night in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We don't get a lot of say as to what hotel we stay at each night, but there will definitely be some CdP on the table after that stage.
WS: Do you have a cellar?
JV: Yeah, I have a small one, nothing crazy. I keep a small amount of Côte de Beaune and Châteauneuf-du-Pape that I like, stuff to sit on for 15 years and drink. Or flip if I get bored with it. Who knows what I'll be into then?
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