Inside the NBA's Latest Wine Country Adventure

The New Orleans Pelicans go wine tasting at McEvoy Ranch. Plus, a notorious Australian prison is rehabilitated as a maximum-security wine cellar, and agents bust "special" "club" Champagne bottles (filled with 96 liters of ecstasy)
Inside the NBA's Latest Wine Country Adventure
Nikola Mirotic (left) earns a bottle of wine for every game he does this move 15 times; Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry (far right) and assistant coach Joe Boylan (gray sweater) taste at McEvoy Ranch. (Scott Threlkeld/AP Photo / Courtesy of McEvoy Ranch)
Jan 24, 2019

Nothing gets NBA players more stoked these days than an away game against the Golden State Warriors. But it's not just the glory of getting dominated in front of a hostile crowd—it's because the Warriors are where all the wine is. Last week, the New Orleans Pelicans became the latest team to detour through North Bay wine country on the way to Oracle Arena, with a visit to Petaluma's McEvoy Ranch for a tour and tasting of wine and olive oil. It would be “one of the best experiences on a road trip during my time in the NBA,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told us.

The Pels' journey to Marin County began last October, when Jrue Holiday made a wine wager with Nikola Mirotic, promising to buy his teammate a bottle of wine every time the power forward scored 30 points or more. After posting back-to-back 30-plus point games to open the season, Mirotic earned himself a bottle of McEvoy Ranch Montepulciano 2014.

Courtesy of McEvoy Ranch
McEvoy GM Samantha Dorsey, courtside with Jrue Holiday (left) and Nikola Mirotic

Hearing the news, Samantha Dorsey, general manger at McEvoy, invited members of the team and coaching staff to the ranch, and last week, the team was in town for a game against the Warriors with an off-day to spare. Dorsey and her staff hosted the tour and tasting, as well as a dinner prepared by McEvoy's in-house chef. The menu included braised beef brisket with winter vegetables, with an assist from the famed Montepulciano.

“The entire McEvoy Ranch team really rolled out the red carpet for us—their hospitality was exceptional in every sense of the word," Gentry said in an email. "They made us feel right at home and could not have been any nicer to us.”

“The natural team mentality fits perfectly with food and wine, which is meant to be enjoyed in good company,” said Dorsey. “Everyone took a genuine interest in the winemaking and olive oil making, and we had a very fun evening.”

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry tickles the ivories of the red piano that appears on some McEvoy Ranch wine labels.

The Pelicans reciprocated the hospitality, inviting Dorsey to the game the next night, complete with VIP floor passes during pre-game shoot-around. She, in turn, delivered a bottle of Cabernet for all-star forward Anthony Davis, who'd been unable to attend the dinner. There was seemingly no food and wine hangover for the Pelicans, who engaged in a shootout with the defending NBA champions, but ended up losing the game, 147-140. Mirotic, alas, was one point shy of another bottle of wine in his locker.

Still, the Pels may be leading the league in tasting exercises this season; this is perhaps the most decisive wine-country performance since the dissolution of the legendary Cleveland Caberniers and their superstar supertasters LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Notorious Australian Prison Rehabilitated as Maximum-Security Wine Cellar

If the idea of a filling up a maximum-security prison with fine wine sounds like a novel one, it's not. Enterprising Britons set up a penitentiary-winery more than 200 years ago; they called it "Australia." And Australians have had trouble figuring out where the crime part ends and the wine part begins ever since, as amply demonstrated by the rest of this week's Unfiltered column!

Pentridge prison opened its doors in the Coburg suburb of Melbourne in 1851 and housed some of Australia's most infamous criminals in its 146-year run—outback outlaw Ned Kelly, gangster Joseph "Squizzy" Taylor, the Russell Street Bomber, "Mr. Rent-a-Kill," that sort of character.

Photos courtesy of Pentridge Cellars

Pentridge Cellars Pentridge Cellars Pentridge Cellars Pentridge Cellars Pentridge Cellars

But the historic building, shuttered in 1997, has been given new life. Last August, the former "D Division" wing opened as Pentridge Cellars, still functioning as a maximum-security facility—this time not for convicts, but for wine. "My dream has always been to create a wine emporium out of the building [to] be a hive of activity for wine lovers," director and founder Michael Woodworth told Unfiltered via email. "Gaols [Australian for "jails"] are very secure places for obvious reasons … I have always said that it looks like the building was meant to be wine cellars."

Before that could be possible, though, the place needed a major, years-long upgrade: The thick walls were maintained through the renovation, but cells became cellars, with climate-control units and ambient lighting. Collectors who spring for one can customize the color of the walls and wood for the wine racks, and the price they pay starts at $81,500. You get 24/7 access to your wines—under the vigilant eye, of course, of state-of-the-art security monitoring. So far, 40 customers have committed their wines; next up, Woolworth hopes to unlock the space's potential for a museum and public events like wine auctions.

Aussie Feds Find 96 Liters of Ecstasy Hidden in Champagne Bottles

The Australian Border Force (ABF) is at it again. Mere months after discovering $808,000 worth of cocaine being smuggled in bottles of wine, the law enforcement agency has foiled yet another drug trafficking attempt disguised as a vino shipment, except this time, it was Champagne bottles, and they were filled with the party drug ecstasy.

Courtesy of Australian Border Force
Bubbly bust bursts drug dealers' bubble.

In late 2018, officers at an international mail center in Sydney noticed anomalies when performing an X-ray on an otherwise innocuous package from Belgium containing four bottles of "Champagne" (no word on the brand). A test of a sample of the liquid inside returned positive results for MDMA. Since then, the ABF has intercepted 23 more packages from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany, resulting in the confiscation of a total of 96 liters of MDMA—presumably enough liquid to manufacture tens of thousands of pills—all hidden within bottles of bubbly.

"Our officers will continue to do everything they can to stop [this drug] at the Australian border, before it has the chance to cause harm,” ABF regional commander Danielle Yannopoulos said in a press release about the bust. “ABF officers have cutting-edge technology and unique skills at their disposal, giving them the ability to see further into each package. This detection shows their methods are working—even on highly sophisticated consignments.” No word on the identities of the perps, honorific criminal nicknames the Aussies plan to bestow on them, or prison where they'll be cellared.

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