Refusing to Be Constrained: A Live Chat with Football Great and Vintner Charles Woodson

The former NFL safety and Heisman Trophy winner talks about his early days in Napa, his new wine label from California's Central Coast, and embracing teamwork off the field

Refusing to Be Constrained: A Live Chat with Football Great and Vintner Charles Woodson
Charles Woodson says the greatest reward as a vintner is seeing someone order and enjoy one of his wines. (Courtesy of Intercept Wines)
Sep 10, 2020

Charles Woodson isn't new to the wine game. The NFL great and the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy has been a player in California wine country since he made his first barrel of wine in 2001. Over the past two decades, Woodson has founded two wine labels, including TwentyFour and Intercept. In the latest episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Woodson spoke with senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec about his days as an Oakland Raider living near wine country, his efforts to create an affordable Cabernet brand, and how he's used lessons learned on the field when he's in the vineyard.

Woodson's passion for wine started in 1998, during his first training camp as an Oakland Raider, held in Napa. He calls his wine journey a "natural progression," which began when he was exposed to the restaurant scene. "I was able to watch people and how they interacted with wine and I felt like wine was always served during a laidback setting and it was included in conversation with family and friends," said Woodson. "I was fascinated by the whole thing and I wanted to be part of that culture."

After his first few years in the league and some initial experiences blending wine, Woodson launched TwentyFour (named for his jersey number), a Cabernet Sauvignon label out of Calistoga, in 2005. The 2010 vintage earned a spot among Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines of 2014. But his wine, with a $110 price tag, was out of reach for many of his biggest fans.

"The biggest challenge was realizing people don’t always drink wine the way you drink wine," Woodson said of his expensive taste. "A lot of fans would support me, but they said, 'We need something a little more affordable, but with the same quality.'"

That was the idea for Intercept Wines, an affordable brand for everyone in the stands, made from Central Coast grapes. Last year, Woodson launched his new $20 label at his alma mater, the University of Michigan. He produced the brand with the help of an all-star roster, including industry veteran Jeff O'Neill of O'Neill Vintners. As a team player on the field, Woodson understood that his wine label was no different from his days in Oakland and Green Bay, and made sure every player knew their role.

"In order for a team to be the best, you have to have many different parts, but all moving toward the same goal," Woodson said. "Everyone has to understand their role and what they’re expected to do."

Intercept's logo contains a lion, Woodson's favorite animal. He even has a tattoo on his arm of the iconic hunter and the phrase, "A Lion Isn't Supposed to Be Tamed." "People will try to put you in a box because of your career, and wine for me is stepping out of that box that people put you in," Woodson said.

Woodson's favorite part about making wine is seeing the work pay off. The NFL star recently saw a couple order his wine at a restaurant, and he told the waiter to put the bottle on his tab. "That’s the most rewarding part of it," Woodson said. "To be somewhere and have someone order your wine."

Watch the full episode with Woodson on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator every Tuesday and Thursday. Tonight, Sept. 10, senior editor James Molesworth will chat with Napa winemaker Cathy Corison of Corison Winery.

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