That Li'l Ol' Winemaker, Popovich

Jul 5, 2006

When your wine business takes off, you might think all the news would be good. After all, cash is rolling in, people like what you're doing, you like what you're doing. Life is good.

That would seem to apply to the Hatchers and the Tannahills, partners in A to Z Wineworks in Oregon. Their high-value $18 Oregon Pinot Noir and $11 Pinot Gris quickly vaulted them to a leading position in a state that can use more good wines at those prices. They are growing fast. They expect 2006 sales to reach 75,000 cases, and that's a lot for Oregon. They need more capital to buy ever more grapes and wine for the next vintage.

"We didn't have to take a partner, but we didn't want to have to rely on the bank either," says Bill Hatcher. "Our banking support has been extraordinary but has been built in part on my personal relationships. I wouldn’t ever want to find us in a position where key bankers leave and their successors do not know me or are unenthusiastic about the wine business."

Hatcher had an ace in the hole. His friend Gregg Popovich, the coach of the NBA San Antonio Spurs, often mused about doing some sort of wine project with him. This week's news that Popovich has bought into A to Z as a partner looks like a win-win all around. It brings a famous figure into the winery (and into Oregon wine). It plumps up the winery's capital.

And it gives Popovich bragging rights around his NBA pals. Popovich is a serious wine collector. He had to build a separate wine cellar next to his home in San Antonio to accommodate all his bottles.

As part of the deal, Hatcher and his other winemaking partners in A to Z, the husband-and-wife team of Sam Tannahill and Cheryl Francis, will pick a couple of barrels of 2004 Pinot Noir to blend into a special wine for Popovich under the new Rock & Hammer label. The wine will come from the more upscale Hatcher Wineworks and Francis Tannahill enterprises. Popovich expects to share the wine with his friends in the basketball world and donate some of the bottles to charity auctions.

Will it ever be available to the public? "How far we go with it will be entirely up to Gregg," Hatcher writes in an e-mail. "Above all, I want this to be a place where he can have some fun; he spends entirely too much of his life with everyone wanting something from him."

The Rock & Hammer name comes from a quotation by Jacob Riis, a reporter, photographer and social reformer in turn-of-the-(20th)-century New York: “When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two and I know it was not that blow that did it but all that had gone before."

It is the only quote on the walls of the Spurs’ locker room, says Hatcher, "and self-evidently describes his coaching philosophy."

United States Oregon Red Wines Pinot Noir

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