When Rich Gannon isn't traveling America's biggest football cities, he can be found taking a break with a glass of California Cabernet. The sports commentator and former quarterback for the then-Oakland Raiders (now of Las Vegas) is one of several wine-loving NFL superstars.
Gannon was drafted in 1987 and spent time with Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City before being traded to the Raiders in 1999. There he helped lead his team to the Super Bowl in 2003 and won the NFL's MVP award during that record-setting season. Gannon says he started taking wine seriously during those years in Oakland, when he would spend bye weeks and off seasons in Napa Valley with his wife, Shelley, visiting local wineries and bringing cases back home. He eventually had enough wine to fill a 1,500-bottle cellar.
After 16 years on CBS Sports, Gannon stepped back after the 2020 season. He recently spoke with assistant editor Shawn Zylberberg about his early wine adventures in Napa, falling in love with California Cabernet and the biggest lesson he learned as an avid wine collector.
Wine Spectator: When did your passion for wine start?
Rich Gannon: It really started when I went to the Raiders in 1999 because we had training camp in Napa Valley. Prior to that time I wasn't a big wine drinker. I would have a glass of wine with my wife but I had no idea what I was ordering. When I was in Napa, I met Steve Harden, the executive vice president of Southern Glazer's California. We struck up a friendship and he would get me these tastings at Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Quintessa and Mondavi. So we went to all these places and met winemakers and got introduced to learning about the whole winemaking process. We started to buy wines and it developed into a big deal.
WS: How has your palate expanded since your NFL days?
RG:I have a much better palate and I'm better educated. It doesn't matter what I am eating, when I am eating it, or what time of year it is, I just really love California reds. I don't know a lot about Bordeaux, but really just California wines have been phenomenal. It's what I know and what I like.
WS: Do younger NFL players reach out to you for wine tips?
RG: Once you're away from the league you lose touch with current players. But I think more younger players are getting into wine. Some guys have good wine collections. I think players are getting exposed to it and there's more opportunities since they're making a lot of money and they are going to nice restaurants and drinking good wine, all things I wasn't exposed to early on in my career.
WS: What's your wine cellar like?
RG: We built a house in Minneapolis in 2007 with a big cellar. It holds 1,500 bottles, but now it's down to 500 bottles of mostly California Cabs, Pinots and Petite Sirahs. I bought lots of wine during my time with the Raiders, when I'd stay at the Sonoma Mission Inn every bye week and drive the wine home after the season. It's not unusual for us to open up a bottle of wine most nights. There's nothing better than having people over and opening up a really nice bottle with family and friends.
WS: What is your biggest learning experience from collecting wine?
RG: We had a lot of good stuff from the early '90s in our cellar. We had cases of Beringer, St. Jean, Quintessa and Opus One, and we just missed the boat.
The room was at the right temperature and everything was stable. I wasn't paying attention—we were drinking the current stuff and some of those old wines flatlined. I opened bottles from '94 or '95 and all of a sudden, the color and nose was a little off. We had that experience with quite a few bottles.
I was playing and traveling and wasn't paying attention. I lost a couple hundred bottles and that was too bad. But we still drank a lot of it! The whole point of buying wine is to drink it and enjoy it. There's something to be said for putting it up on the shelf, but at the same time don't wait too long. That's the lesson we learned.