Will Blackmon doesn't take shortcuts. The former NFL defensive back and Super Bowl champion is earning his stripes in the wine world, studying for certifications from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and the Court of Master Sommeliers, while he juggles The Wine MVP, his new concierge service. In the latest episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Blackmon spoke with senior editor James Molesworth about building his company from the ground up, making the wine industry more approachable to all and a new project in the skies.
Blackmon enjoyed wine in college, but never thought it was a space for him. "I thought it was a place where I had no business having a business," said Blackmon. It wasn’t until he got drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2006, where he met defensive veteran and Intercept owner Charles Woodson, that he realized it could be a possibility. "That’s where my gears started grinding in terms of wine being an interesting space and getting started in the industry."
As Blackmon explored wine selections at corporate events in Wisconsin and team dinners on the road, his passion grew, and like any new wine fan, he made a few mistakes. After telling a sommelier that the white wine he was presented with couldn't possibly be a Burgundy (since it wasn't red), Blackmon decided it was time to hit the books.
"I felt like in order for me to be taken seriously, I had to go get these certifications, and study and learn the art, craft, viticulture and history," Blackmon said. "That’s how I got into the space of being a wine educator."
Blackmon had his eyes set on creating a wine label, but wherever he sought advice, the same question came up: Can you sell the wine at the end of the day? As Blackmon walked the aisles of local retailer and now business partner Wine Exchange, one of the owners offered him a better idea. "He said, 'You have a really cool network. You should think about catering to their needs on a concierge level as opposed to having your own wine,'" Blackmon recalled. In 2019, he launched The Wine MVP as an opportunity to highlight premium wine labels and educate the consumer on Blackmon's favorite part of wine, its history.
"The drive for me is I love seeing everybody win," Blackmon said. "I’m not here to compete and take over and be better than so and so, honestly. I want to help add to the community." Apart from offering cellar consultations, Blackmon's wine club offers two premium wines per month, along with NFL-influenced wine cards and short educational videos that go into further details about the bottles of the month.
Blackmon is currently working on a new addition to The Wine MVP services. He has partnered with two aviation-industry veterans to create J3 Jet, a private jet company specializing in direct flights from Orange County to Napa Valley, with the goal of bringing high-end clients to California wine country.
Despite the lack of diversity in the industry, Blackmon believes younger versions of himself shouldn't be intimidated by the world of wine. “The biggest thing I preach is just be yourself,” Blackmon said. “You don’t have to go into this area thinking you have to be a certain way, and anytime a situation has worked out for me is when I have been myself.”
Watch the full episode with Blackmon on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET. Tonight, executive editor Thomas Matthews will chat with veteran wine journalist and educator Julia Coney. Sommelier, vintner and author André Mack joins Matthews on Aug. 20, all part of a month of highlighting Black voices in the wine industry.