Basketball superstar Amar'e Stoudemire made headlines in 2014 when he posted a picture of himself bathing in a tub full of red wine on social media. Some call this post-workout regimen vinotherapy, but for the former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks All-Star, it was another way to incorporate a passion into daily life.
Over the years as an NBA player, Stoudemire began to taste and explore wine, but after he traveled abroad to wineries in Bordeaux and Italy it became a passion. Toward the tail end of his career, the six-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year (2003) and Olympic medalist (2004) decided to pick up his bags and move to Jerusalem to both play basketball and connect further with his Jewish faith.
While in Israel, Stoudemire explored the wine region of Upper Galilee on his off days. In 2018, he made his winemaking debut with three Israeli Cabernets and red blends.
This year, Stoudemire moved back to the States and joined the Brooklyn Nets coaching staff. To commemorate his return, the American-Israeli dual citizen teamed with Herzog Wine Cellars in California to make a Paso Robles Cabernet and a Clarksburg rosé, both kosher, released just in time for Passover. The wines retail for $30.
Stoudemire took a break from his Seder preparations to chat with assistant editor Shawn Zylberberg about his NBA days, making kosher wines and his new California collection.
Wine Spectator: How did you find your passion for wine?
Amar’e Stoudemire: It started in the summertime of my NBA days, traveling around the world and doing wine tastings in Italy, France and Greece. I started hosting tastings in Phoenix, but it really kicked off when I joined the Knicks. That's when I developed my love and palate for wine. I had parties in my penthouse and I used to invite people over for wine tastings. Then, a buddy of mine introduced me to the notion of starting my own wine company. I learned about the winemaking and harvesting.
WS: What was the bottle that got you hooked?
AS: I was infatuated with Caymus when I was first introduced to wine. It was a nice smooth taste for me and it wasn’t too much of a heavy body. I understood that I can enjoy wine without having to be overwhelmed by the flavors. That’s when I thought, “Let me try this some more.” I wanted to taste more wine and figure out where my palate is, and it grew from there.
WS: How did you pivot to winemaking?
AS: The winemaking journey started when I moved to Israel in 2016. I was there learning Torah and playing for Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club. I met with Tulip Winery in northern Israel and sat down with them to plan my own wine brand. I tasted lots of different juices and I created the blends for the three bottles that were harvested that year in the village of Kfar Tikvah. I also visited a few wineries while I was playing, including Domaine du Castel.
WS: Why did you decide to make kosher wine?
AS: I’ve been eating clean animals since I was 19 years old, so I've been keeping kosher for a long time now. I became stricter in my kosher eating when I moved to Israel, though. That’s why I wanted to continue to make kosher wine, because as I continue to grow within my Torah learnings, I want to make sure the wine resonates with my growth.
There’s a massive awakening right now as far as winemaking in Israel, and I am happy to be a part of pushing the envelope forward. The point is to make a brand where people won't be as intimidated by kosher wine.
WS: How did the partnership with Herzog Wine Cellars start?
AS: I wanted to make wine in America. When a buddy of mine introduced me to the Herzog family, they were willing to take on the style of my brand, so that’s how it started. Herzog’s a kosher wine company, but I’m the first African-American kosher winemaker in the world, so that was a major accomplishment for myself and my family, to be able to step into this wine process.
WS: What are your wine pairings for the Passover Seder?
AS: I love steaks. I'm a big steak guy. So that's gonna be a great pairing for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Passover Seder is a feast, and there are so many different types of food we're eating on Pesach. You can also have the rosé with different pairings as well. My Seder won't be the same as usual, but this year I'll have a bigger gathering because things are getting better and people are wearing masks and are more health conscious.
WS: How do you see wine influencing other professional sports?
AS: A lot of times younger NBA players ask me for advice on art, fashion and wine. Being innovative and a trendsetter has been amazing for me and doing the same in the wine space is awesome. Wine is a luxury brand and a lot of guys in different sports, whether it's football or soccer or basketball or baseball, are starting to get more involved in luxury brands. I think wine is a way to do that.
WS: What's in your cellar?
AS: I have a nice apartment here in New York where I hold about 60 bottles, which is what I need. I don’t need anything more than that. It's enough for my friends and family to enjoy. I store wines from California, Israel, France, and I have friends that don't keep kosher so I have wines for them as well.