Wine Talk: Dwyane Wade Gets into the Wine Game

The basketball star makes reds and rosé in partnership with Napa's Pahlmeyer family
Wine Talk: Dwyane Wade Gets into the Wine Game
Juggling the responsibilities of pro basketball and blending wine, Dwyane Wade took to tasting samples on plane flights between games. (Courtesy of Wade Cellars)
Jul 27, 2018

With a 15-year career in the NBA, Dwyane Wade, 36, has devoted most of his life to basketball. But recently, the three-time NBA champion, 12-time All-Star and longtime Miami Heat leading man has been training for another game entirely.

It’s no secret that Wade's been bitten by the wine bug—one only needs to follow him on Snapchat or Instagram to see bottle shots, wine-country visits and vinous escapades involving various NBA players.

But wine has become more than just a pastime. In 2014, Wade teamed up with Napa's Pahlmeyer family—makers of Wine Spectator's No. 9 wine of 2017—to start his own project, Wade Cellars. His first wine, the Wade Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, launched in China in 2015. Soon after, the wine made its way stateside.

Today, Wade Cellars comprises two labels: the flagship, Wade, whose current offering is the Wade Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2014 (mostly Oakville fruit), and Three by Wade, which includes a 2014 California red blend, a 2015 Napa red blend and a 2017 California rosé from Mendocino. Jonathan Keyes—whose winery credits include stints with Sine Qua Non, Outpost and Mark Herold—serves as winemaker.

On a recent visit to New York, Wade sat down with assistant editor Lexi Williams to talk about getting his start as a vintner, how wine became one of the NBA’s hottest pastimes, and blending wine on the team plane.

Photos courtesy of Wade Cellars

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Wine Spectator: What sparked your love for wine?
Dwyane Wade: Growing up, I didn't really experience wine. It wasn't part of the culture. And even when I got older and I got to the NBA, it still wasn't part of the culture. I probably didn't have my first drink until I was, like, 28. I tried a little Riesling because it was supposed to be the easiest thing to try, and then from there, I started to like [wine]. I feel like it represents class. I feel like it represents conversation. I feel like it represents the gentleman or the lady. I wanted to represent those things.

WS: How did you go from being a wine lover to becoming a vintner with the Pahlmeyers?
DW: It wasn't like I woke up with a thought of "Oh my God, I want to make wine." It's just something that kind of organically happened. I got the opportunity to meet the right people; they kind of were like, "Yo, you should think of this as a business."

You always try to find the right partnership. Smaller family brands were something we were looking into; we wanted to be a little bit more hands-on, [rather] than just giving my name to a bigger company.

I came to Napa, and I fell in love with Jayson Pahlmeyer and his family … and then eventually we were like, "You know what? There's good synergy here, and I think this could be a good relationship."

This was 2014, like four years ago. My palate was so young. We tasted a lot of wine—oh my God, we tasted so much wine—to get a feel for what I liked. And I gravitated toward the Cabernet, so when we set out to make my first wine, we kind of gravitated toward that style. The [2012] Wade Cab was my first wine, and it's one of my favorites.

WS: How involved are you in the actual winemaking process?
DW: Obviously, being an active player, you're not able to be there all the time. That's why the team is very important. I'm able to go out there throughout the year, and when we go, we cover a lot of ground. If they can, they will send [samples] to me on the road. There's been a few times when I've been on a plane with bottles of wine and my teammates are like, "What are you doing?" And I'm like, "I'm trying out my wine!"

A lot of it is trust. I've built a great relationship with the Pahlmeyer family, and one thing I know about them is that they're not going to put anything in the bottle just to have it in the bottle.

WS: Why is wine so popular among NBA players right now?
DW: When I first got into the NBA, the cool thing was Patrón [Tequila]—everybody did Patrón. Right now, you've got the older guys—myself, the Carmelos, the LeBrons—who have gravitated toward wine. So it's our job to now educate the next generation on things, just like with fashion, and that's where it's at right now. It's definitely taken over the NBA.

I remember one picture that was posted with me, Carmelo [Anthony], LeBron [James] and Chris Paul. We were on a boat and we were toasting. And people talk about that all the time. That was the moment when people looked at us and said, "Oh, they like wine."

WS: Do you remember what you guys were drinking in that photo?
DW: In that exact photo? I don't remember. But I do know that that was the first time that I brought my wine—because they didn't know that I had my own wine. We all had to bring wine on the trip, and I brought Pahlmeyer wine and I brought my Wade wine. That photo wasn't Wade wine, but that was the first time that I threw it on them like, "Yeah, this is my wine."

WS: As an athlete in particular, do you see wine's potential health benefits as an added bonus?
DW: Uh, yes! (laughs) That's like one of the main things, as an athlete, you're like, "Oh, wine is healthy for you? Sign me up!" I think the biggest thing is just trying to educate yourself and understand that if you drink, obviously drink what your body can allow you to, but if you're drinking one or two bottles a night, that might not be the healthiest version of wine [consumption]. There are certain kinds of health benefits that you read about that you want to believe, so I'm into it.

WS: What do you like to drink when you're with fellow wine-loving NBA players?
DW: We all gravitate toward what we're comfortable with. So if I go to restaurant and they bring me a big wine book, I'm not going to look through that whole wine book, right? I'm going to stick to the areas or the wines that I know.

But what I like to do on a night that it's all of us together, we'll say, "Hey, tonight you pick the wine. Hey, tomorrow you pick the wine." So that's when you go through the book and see what you can come up with, and we talk to the restaurant, because we're still learning.

But it's cool to sit across the table and say like, "Hey, you got the wine tonight." And just seeing what someone comes up with. It's some stuff you can't even pronounce.

WS: Would you and your wife ever collaborate on a wine together?
DW: That's a great question. I don't know, I never thought about it. It's definitely been cool to have my own wine, and she has the Vanilla Puddin' Chardonnay that she has done. It's the Wade wine; it's the Wade family name. I always love doing things with my wife, so it could be something cool. Nothing is off the table, you know?

WS: What are your plans for the future of Wade Cellars?
DW: As a basketball player, I'm looked at as a basketball player. So when someone hears, "Oh, Dwyane Wade is doing wine," they don't take it as, it's going to be great wine, they just take it as an athlete doing something. Right now, we're trying to educate people on our brand. We're new, so we're taking it slow; we’re not rushing into it. For me, this was a long play. This was something I wanted to get into after basketball, so I'm actually doing it before I even thought I would.

I think my wine grows as I grow. As I go through life and my palate changes and I experience more things, my wine will grow with me.

WS: Do you plan on getting even more involved in the wine industry after you retire from the NBA?
DW: A lot more. Because I'll be drinking a lot more! (laughs)

A version of this interview appears in the Sept. 30, 2018, issue of Wine Spectator, "The New Las Vegas," on newsstands Aug. 14. See what else is new!

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