Three-time NBA champion Klay Thompson and nine-time Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado are rookies again—this time in the wine business. They’ve just released their first vintage of Diamond & Key Napa Cabernet, made by Nickel & Nickel winemaker Joe Harden and in partnership with Thompson and Arenado's wealth manager, Joe McLean.
"I'm always very hesitant about celebrity brands, being a winemaker and someone that's super passionate about making wine," Harden told Wine Spectator. "But if you want to understand the process, let's do it the right way and go find interesting fruit, start small and put quality over everything." Harden even advised Thompson and Arenado that they could collaborate with a bigger winery if all they wanted to do was taste a barrel of wine and put their label on it.
But Thompson's passion for wine runs deeper than that. His interest started in 2017, when California wildfires ravaged Napa and Sonoma counties. Thompson partnered with the North Bay Relief Fund and helped raise more than $10 million for victims, meeting with winemakers, including Harden, in the process.
"Learning about the winemaking process and the dedication, commitment and patience it takes to bring it all together reminds me of the game I've played all of my life," Thompson told Wine Spectator. "Building Diamond & Key with family and friends and learning together makes it even better."
"It’s not just about trying [wine], but also appreciating all the little things that come with making a quality wine," said Arenado. "It’s an obvious challenge because I don’t know all of it, but just like baseball it’s a challenge and it’s something I’m willing to work at."
Harden, who also recently partnered with NBA stars Channing Frye and Kevin Love to make a Sonoma Pinot Noir, sat down with Thompson and Arenado to get an idea of their palates, and decided to make the wine in St. Helena. The grapes for the 2018 Diamond & Key Cabernet Sauvignon ($150, 175 cases made) came from Panek Vineyard, which Harden was introduced to by Thomas Rivers Brown.
"I think the quality is outstanding, and I put it against the top Napa Cabs," said Harden. "I know it's an expensive bottle of wine and [Thompson and Arenado are] new to the wine business, but as a winemaker, I stand behind the quality of this wine."
McLean is committed to leading with quality and growing the project. "The business model has been to take our time and produce something that should be valuable and high quality and use that revenue to reinvest back in the business," he said. "I’m just excited for the wine community to enjoy the efforts that Nolan, Klay, their families and Joe Harden have dedicated to this project."
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