Since retiring from the NFL and moving to wine country, Joe Montana has been interested in the wine business. Now he's found a small niche, teaming up with Beringer Vineyards for a Napa Valley Cabernet to be sold primarily at charity auctions.
The Hall of Fame quarterback, who led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl wins, made a run at Williams Selyem winery when it was offered for sale in 1997. "Back then, something of that high quality didn't come along that often," said Montana.
Montana bowed out of the bidding when the price escalated, but he still had wine on his mind. He and his wife, Jennifer, own a small vineyard in Sonoma's Knights Valley, but they sell most of their grapes and only make homemade wine.
A few years ago, Montana, now 47, met Ed Sbragia, winemaker at Beringer, and they discovered they liked the same style of wines -- big, gutsy Cabernets. "I was going to [make wine] somewhere," said Montana, and that's when the idea for "Montagia," the Montana-Sbragia collaboration, began to take shape.
Using some of Beringer's top Cabernet vineyards, including Chabot and Tre Colline, Sbragia has fashioned a pair of rich, earthy currant-laced Cabernets from the 1999 and 2000 vintage that he and Montana both like. They've added a splash of Cabernet Franc to the blend to give the Montagia wines a sense of elegance, something for which Jennifer Montana pushed.
It's unclear exactly who is the "quarterback" for the Montagia project. Sbragia is definitely the winemaker, Joe gets to work on the blending components, but Jennifer may have the final say. "We want the wine to have a density of character," said Sbragia, "but we want Jennifer to be happy, too."
Jennifer introduced her husband to fine wine during his playing days with the 49ers. Over the years, they've become regular wine drinkers and collectors, assembling a small cellar.
The Montanas haven't ruled out expanding their wine interests. "One thing is we like the earth, and we are passionate about wine," said Joe, who admits a preference for reds over whites. But he's busy with a startup venture-capital fund that he and former teammates Ronnie Lott and Harris Barton own, called Champion Ventures, and he is wary because he has seen how the wine economy can turn and be a sinkhole for money.
Meanwhile, a small amount of the 1999 Montagia will be released in September at Beringer's Rhine House tasting room for $75. Only 122 cases of 750ml bottles were made, and a large portion of those, plus 10 cases of magnums and 24 three-liter bottles, will be for the Montanas and charitable donations only. A very small amount will be available at restaurants where the Montanas and Sbragia eat regularly. The 2000 Montagia, of which there are 211 750ml cases and a similar amount of large-format bottles, will be released in 2004.