Introducing Niles Plonk, 'the Classiest Man in Pro Wrestling'—and Missouri Winemaker by Day

We go ringside with the man of grapes you love to hate. Plus, Sarah Jessica Parker tosses out Cosmos, launches wine; and here's how you can help Sonoma winemakers after the floods
Introducing Niles Plonk, 'the Classiest Man in Pro Wrestling'—and Missouri Winemaker by Day
A reverse punch-down, fruit-bomb suplex … Nebuchadnezzar! Unbelievable! (Courtesy of Niles Plonk / Kraig Keesaman)
Mar 7, 2019

Forget Hulkamania: Whatcha gonna do when the Plonkémania runs wild on you?! There's a new bad guy in wrestling: Niles Plonk, "the Connoisseur," is here to "bring a little class" in a glass to the ring—and crush his opponents like a vat of Cabernet.

By day, Kraig Keesaman is a mild-mannered Midwestern winemaker and proprietor of Windy Wine Company in Osborn, Mo. But by night (and on most weekends), the sixth-generation farmer transforms himself into his alter ego, a 6'2", 209-pound unabashed wine snob who calls his opponents "Two Buck Chucks" and strides out to the ring with a glass in hand and classical music blasting at his back.

"Basically every negative stereotype you can think about wine is him: snob, hoity-toity, uptight, better than everybody," Keesaman told Unfiltered of his Plonk persona. "He's definitely a bad guy."

Keesaman, who's been wrestling since age 17, had the idea in 2016 to create a "wine snob" character for his career with the Midwestern wrestling league Journey Pro KC. After developing a storyline and deciding on a name ("Vic Vintage" didn't quite make the cut), Keesaman became Niles Plonk, a Napa Valley vino connoisseur who wears a smoking jacket and enunciates the silent "T" in Mer–lot and Caber-net.

"Niles is kind of a cliché name—no offense to anyone named Niles—for that type of snobbery, [and] obviously Plonk is a reference to the wine world," Keesaman said. "He likes to correct people and tell them that it's Plonké."

Though there's no question that Plonk is a villain—or a "heel," in wrestling terms—in the league, Keesaman isn't shy to admit he sees a little bit of himself in the character, whom he based off of some of his favorite bad-guy wrestlers growing up, like Ric Flair. "In wrestling, the best characters are ones that are kind of a reflection of yourself, just amplified by 500 percent," he said. "There are times, with anybody, that you bite your tongue and you have to restrain yourself in situations, but in a wrestling ring I'm allowed to let that out."

But only a little bit: "Our personalities are completely different. I'm not a bad guy; I'm not an elitist in the least bit. To me, wine is not a social status; wine is about having fun with your peers and opening up." His "peers" in the ring, though, should be aware that his brand of fun includes signature moves like "grape stomping" his hapless opponents and dropping a "corkscrew-elbow" to the back.

We Thought this Existed Already But: Sarah Jessica Parker Is Launching a Wine Brand

She may have become a household name sipping Cosmopolitans on the hit TV show Sex and the City, but these days, Sarah Jessica Parker's beverage tastes trend toward wine—so much so, in fact, that she has teamed with a New Zealand winery to make her own line of Sauvignon Blanc and rosé.

The executive producer and star of HBO's Divorce has partnered with Invivo, the company behind talk-show host Graham Norton's line of libations, for the project, which is expected to launch this summer. Parker has become a shareholder in Invivo and plans to be heavily involved in making the wines, from creating the label design to selecting the final blends.

"She is fantastic," Invivo co-founder Tim Lightbourne told Unfiltered of the notorious SJP. "We’ve been speaking for over a year and right from the beginning, she has wanted to be very involved and accessible. She’s smart, naturally funny and passionate about enjoying a glass of wine. She is a global star—we are just two old schoolmates from New Zealand—and we all just had a great time chatting away."

The new friends in wine will reconvene after the 2019 Southern Hemisphere harvest to taste eight to 10 samples of Sauvignon Blanc and rosé. Beyond selecting the base, the Invivo guys say they are giving Parker free rein on the final blend, and Lightbourne is adamant that this is more than just a "celebrity wine," he said. "We want people to try the wines if they’re fans of SJP, and return to purchase because they love the quality."

Courtesy of Invivo
The Sauvie IS a character …

As of now, the partners have not decided on a name for the new line, but as Unfiltered ran through the endless possibilities of what it could be, we couldn't help but wonder: What would Carrie Bradshaw do?

After Floods, Sonoma Wineries Need Your Help, So Grab a Glass

Parts of Sonoma County were hit with record-breaking rains last week, and the surge of the Russian River spilled into low-lying parts of Sebastopol, Calif., flooding a number of Sonoma wineries and food purveyors' tasting rooms and facilities. Some lost electronics, equipment and even dozens of cases of wine. As the wine community does, it quickly mobilized to help the most recent victims of natural disaster, but relief efforts are ongoing, and you can help out—by giving money, going to a fund-raising party, or just buying some wine, which you needed to do anyway!

Courtesy of Friedeman Wines
The Friedeman Wines tasting room with 51 inches of standing water

Brooks Friedeman of Friedeman Wines blended 30 gallons each from his favorite two barrels of 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot and didn't plan to sell it until next year. But after the floods waterlogged and shut down Friedeman's operation in the Barlow, "in order to at least keep our two employees fully paid, we decide to sell it at a discounted future. The response was overwhelming, and we sold all 130 magnums out in about 36 hours," Friedeman told Unfiltered via email. "The industry response has been amazing and humbling"; Healdsburg Custom Crush offered to bottle the wine gratis, while Dutton-Goldfield is letting Friedeman club members pick up wine shipments at their place. While Friedeman's tasting room—from which they usually sell some 80 percent of their wine—is closed, the winemaker encourages you to pick up some bottles online.

Pax Wines in the Barlow also took on serious damage. Winemaker-sommelier Patrick Cappiello set up a GoFundMe for Pax with more details. Cappiello makes his Monte Rio Cellars wines at the Pax facility and had just finished bottling the week before the floods. The wine is safe, he told Unfiltered, but "the tasting room will have to be ripped out and put back in. Everybody's positive and working around the clock. It's amazing to see all the winemakers pitching in." New York sommeliers at Popina in Brooklyn and Morell Wine Bar are hosting wine dinners to raise money for Pax. "The best thing you can do," said Cappiello, "is to buy the wines."

Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winner and winemaker hangout Zazu Kitchen + Farm has also started a GoFundMe to cover repairs and staff pay.

If you're in Sebastopol looking to get down on Friday for a good time and a good cause, Horse & Plow Winery is throwing a fundraiser/party/silent auction tomorrow night, March 8. "We are fortunate not to receive any major damage from the floods but many of our local community did," winemaker Chris Condos told Unfiltered via email; food will be provided by local purveyors that haven't been able to reopen their own stores like the Farmer's Wife, the Nectary and Victorian Farmstead. You can still donate items to the silent auction—more than 70 to bid on so far—and 25 percent of wine and cider sales from Horse & Plow will go to West County Community Services, including online sales. Check out all the details on tomorrow's shindig.

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