Wine Talk: Don Garber

While the MLS boss has tried to grow Americans' appreciation of soccer, he's built up his taste for—and his collection of—wine
Nov 6, 2007

Don Garber, 50, is the commissioner of Major League Soccer, the premier professional soccer league in the United States. Prior to being named commissioner in 1999, he spent 16 years working for the National Football League, finishing his tenure as director of NFL International, including the NFL's European league, where he was exposed to both Europe's fanaticism for professional soccer and the wines of France and Italy. Under Garber's stewardship, MLS has added four teams, bringing the total to 14 (with plans for 16 by 2010), built five new soccer-specific stadiums and negotiated television deals with ABC, ESPN and Fox. In July, to perhaps even more fanfare than the addition of soccer legend Pelé to the New York Cosmos in 1975, former England national team captain David Beckham signed a five-year contract with the L.A. Galaxy of MLS.

Wine Spectator: How did you first become interested in wine?
Don Garber: The first wine I bought for collecting was during a Butterfield & Robinson tour of Burgundy for my 10th wedding anniversary in 1995 with my wife, Betsy. I bought three bottles of 1992 Gevrey-Chambertin. Drank the first bottle when I arrived home. I should have waited! Second bottle on my 40th birthday and the last this summer for our 22nd anniversary.

I really didn't start collecting until the mid-1990s, while working at the NFL. My first "good wine" was a gift from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who gave wine to his senior staff for the holidays, a tradition I continue with my own senior staff each year. This past year the theme was Spanish wines, with bottles of Numanthia and La Basseta [Priorat].

I still have a bottle of 1994 Kathryn Kennedy that Paul gave me in 1996 when I joined the NFL's senior staff as managing director of NFL International.

WS: What makes up the bulk of your collection?
DG: I have an 1,100-bottle cellar in my home in Montclair, N.J., and I also have about 300 bottles at an off-site storage facility here in New York. I love meritage wines—I have verticals of Pahlmeyer, Dominus, Shafer, Bryant, Harlan, Bond, Phelps, Caymus ... I'm very passionate about California wines. I run an American soccer league so I've got to support American wine!

WS: What do you consider to be the prize of your collection?
DG: There are two. My wife and I visited Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and I own a bottle of 1970 DRC La Tâche. I've been saving that bottle for a long time and I hope to open it at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when the U.S. team gets into the semi-finals. My other prize bottle is a 2003 Screaming Eagle that I received from Stan Kroenke. Stan owns an MLS team, the Colorado Rapids, and when he purchased Screaming Eagle last year, I called him up and asked if there was any chance I could get on the mailing list. And of course, being the complete gentleman that he is, he very politely told me that no, I could not. [Laughing.] However, I later helped him secure the naming rights to his new soccer stadium for the Rapids and he gave me that bottle of Screaming Eagle as a thank-you gift.

WS: What is your attitude toward your prized bottles and collecting for investment?
DG: I collect wine so that I can have great wine to drink and to share, not for investment. Wine has become a wealthy man's toy, [but] to me wine is meant to be consumed. It's about having wine I can experience with good people and great food. Wine is a great way to celebrate special occasions, but also it can make an everyday occasion become special. I enjoy having a simple bottle with my wife at dinner time.

People

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