Retired NFL stars Charles Woodson and Will Blackmon have gone pro with their wine games. But when it comes to active NFL defensive players, few are as enthusiastic about wine as Super Bowl champ and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Suh's professional career started in 2010, when he was picked second overall by the Detroit Lions following a stellar few years at the University of Nebraska. That same year, he won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Since then, he has played for the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he won Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Aside from football, Suh has developed an impressive business acumen as well, investing in real estate as well as in the hospitality industry as founder of Generals Restaurant Group, with venues in Lincoln, Detroit, Portland, Los Angeles and other cities across the country. He also took a stake in the Immortal Estate Sonoma Cabernet project from Hidden Ridge Vineyard in order to "get more exposure in the wine space and learn about winemaking." The 6'4" defensive powerhouse says he has become friends with legendary investor Warren Buffett, who has mentored him in investing strategy among other influential, real estate–savvy friends and family (though Suh says they share a Coke instead of wine when they meet annually).
Over the past decade, the NFL star and his wife, Katya, have developed a palate for the finest wines of Napa and Bordeaux. The couple met at the University of Nebraska in 2009, got married in 2020 and had twins last year. Both of them spend the offseason in Suh's hometown of Portland, Ore., where Katya designed a new wine cellar to store their growing collection of rarities.
Ndamukong and Katya Suh recently spoke to Wine Spectator's Shawn Zylberberg about finding their passion for wine, visiting Bordeaux's top châteaus and what's in their 3,500-bottle cellar.
Wine Spectator: When did your passion for wine start for both of you?
Ndamukong Suh: I began drinking [wine] around 2011, starting with Moscatos, Rieslings and all the sweet stuff early on in my NFL career. I would try other stuff but didn't have a sophisticated palate to understand what good wine was. In 2012, we had a rookie dinner in Detroit and we poured a bunch of wine. One of the bottles was Silver Oak and that was my first bottle where I thought, "Okay, I'm starting to get the hang of this."
When my mentors and friends Gary Shiffman [chairman and CEO of Sun Communities] and Jay Brown [Roc Nation co-founder] found out I drank wine, they taught me a few things and spoiled me in the wine industry. I started going to Napa Valley on an annual basis with Shiffman. We'd take trips and go wine tasting to four, five, six wineries a day. That's really how I got started into wine; being able to see the processes of how people create them and the viticulture that goes into it makes me have respect for wine.
Katya Suh: My beginning was similar to Ndamukong. I wanted the sweet wines. I tried sips from other people but didn't know enough about it, so we did a Napa trip with Shiffman, and I told myself, "I'm going to try every single wine whether I enjoy it or not." I needed to expand my palate. Three months later, we were at a dinner, and we had wine again and I loved it. Ever since then, I've been a Cab girl, and I love Bordeaux too. I enjoyed the journey and the story that comes with having great wine, which typically brings great people and relationships.
WS: Have you ventured outside Napa?
NS: In May of 2019, we flew to Bordeaux and got engaged at Le Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez. We visited Pétrus, Cheval-Blanc, Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild. It's an amazing experience you don't always get to have. It's different how they do it in Bordeaux compared to the U.S., where it's more commercialized. In Bordeaux, if you're fortunate to come in, they treat you as family rather than turn and burn. We've also been to wine country in Greece and South Africa, exposing us to different areas. I want to explore Burgundy and Italy more. Going on those trips is what I live for.
WS: How big is your cellar and what do you collect and like to drink?
NS: Our cellar holds 3,500 bottles, but we also have six wine fridges for more storage. Some of our special bottles are 1987 Harlan Estate, 1987 Pétrus and Screaming Eagle, which we visited a couple of times and enjoyed.
KS: Visiting Screaming Eagle was our first time having a Sauvignon Blanc that blew our minds. I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. I love red wines, but for that to be a white wine that caught my taste like that … I'd love to experience that again. It was amazing.
NS: We also collect [Left Bank] Bordeaux and Pomerols, and Mouton is one of our favorites. … We just opened a Caymus 40th Anniversary and it's still so amazing. I remember I could get Caymus in the store for $20!
WS: Do you feel that NFL players are more into wine these days?
NS: I would say a lot of guys in the locker room are into pure alcohol like tequila and d'Usse Cognac. There's been a select amount of guys that understand it but no real excitement. I would say I'm the biggest wine nerd on the Buccaneers and what I pride myself on is going to team dinners for our defensive line group and ordering wine. The older guys with six-plus years in the league get into it. But younger players are all about the liquor.
WS: Did you celebrate the 2021 Super Bowl win with any special bottle?
NS: We had Champagne in the locker room, but I just remember going up to the suite to have tequila with my wife, and when I got home I was so exhausted. It was only a few days after that we enjoyed wine and splurged on fast food.
WS: What changes do you want to see in the wine industry?
NS: I'd love to see more youth [learn about] the industry—show them the ropes of how things are created, the processes of winemaking and how the earth and ground and grapes can turn into a business. We don't learn those things until we get much older. If kids can get those exposures about what the wine industry has for them, it may be something they can get into.