Former NFL Exec Takes a Stab at Napa Cabernet

Mar 16, 2009

Carmen Policy thought competition was tough in the NFL. Now he’s competing on a rigorous new playing field—making wine in Napa Valley.

The former San Francisco 49ers president presided over that team's rise to greatness—starting in 1977, building five championship teams from 1981 through 1995 (he proudly displays his Super Bowl rings in his home office in Yountville)—and the team's unraveling, when then-owner Eddie DeBartolo lost control of the team.

“When it worked [with the 49ers], there was nothing better,” he says of his tenure in San Francisco.

The last ring came in 1995 and then, when the 49ers' family issues imploded and new owners emerged, he departed for his home state of Ohio and ran the Cleveland Browns. No rings there.

Policy is still actively involved in the NFL, and you can tell he’s eager to get another shot with another team. If the San Diego Chargers end up in Los Angeles, few would be surprised if Policy, 66, might be somewhere in the mix.

In 2003, he and his wife, Gail, purchased their property in Napa, where they hired Jim Barbour to plant 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. Thomas Brown is the winemaker; he owns River Marie, his label, and makes Schrader’s stunning Cabernets.

“It’s a business and it’s not a business,” Policy says of Casa Piena, Italian for "full house" in cards. Their debut wine from 2006 ($125, 200 cases made) is terrific—rich, intense, vibrant and full-bodied, with well-defined loamy currant, berry, herb and toasty oak flavors, but made in a more elegant style than many Napa Cabernets. Production is projected to expand to 800 cases.

“What’s the goal?” he asks. “The goal is to make something great. It’s part of your credibility. [The wine] needs to stand up to value and quality. We didn’t want a big, strong, dominant style—something more feminine, more like Bordeaux.”



“I used the 49er model [for organization],” he says, “putting the right people (Barbour and Brown) in the right positions and let them make the decisions. I oversee but don’t supervise.”

United States California Napa

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