NBA legend Carmelo Anthony is a little older and wiser than when he embarked on his VII(N) The Seventh Estate wine project four years ago. His just-debuted inaugural release, the 2017 Oath of Fidelity Châteauneuf-du-Pape, made in collaboration with third-generation Rhône Valley winemaker Stéphane Usseglio, has evolved as well.
“When I spent time at Usseglio in 2018, we walked the vineyards, tasted barrel samples and made this incredible blend, but we wanted to take a step back and think about how we could bring something very different and creative to the wine industry,” Anthony told me via video chat from the basketball gym at the New York headquarters of the National Basketball Players Association, where the 10-time NBA All-Star and had just wrapped a workout.
“It was important for me to find the right way to bring my community along—and to take my time to learn about this business and this region,” he said. Then, the pandemic hit, causing more delays and difficulties getting the wine to market, so the launch of VII(N) The Seventh Estate’s flagship bottling was pushed back.
It turns out, the passage of time has served his wine well. I’ve just finished tasting through hundreds of Châteauneufs for my upcoming tasting report on France’s Rhône Valley—almost all of them from the 2020 vintage. Tasting Anthony’s late-release 2017 Oath of Fidelity was a welcome change.
Out of the gate, Oath of Fidelity would have been all about a concentrated stream of black cherries and velvety concentration. But now, at age 5, the wine has taken a decidedly savory turn, layering on wet earth, sage and bay leaf. There’s still plenty of fruit and a vibrant, white pepper–laced freshness, but it shows more nuance and complexity, as the wine has settled into itself. It’s a reminder of how well Châteauneuf can age, and a testament to the rewards of patience.
“It’s fascinating to see the evolution of the blend since we started,” Anthony said. “Every time I taste it, I taste something different.”
Patience and the art of listening are skills Anthony honed during the pandemic. To pass the time, he launched a wine-themed podcast, What’s in Your Glass?, where he shared wine and conversations with celebrities including Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg and Marlon Wayans about music, wine, the world and social justice.
“I started the podcast as something to do during quarantine, but so much was happening in our world and in our country, so conversations naturally went to what was going on,” Anthony said. “We say conversations get better with the second glass and it’s true. Bringing people from different walks of life together for a discussion over wine really worked, and this is what we want to build on. The podcast was the beginning of that; really listening to people, not talking at them.”
Anthony refers to Oath of Fidelity as his “tentpole wine,” but says fans can expect to see an international slate of releases from VII(N) The Seventh Estate, which he founded with his business partner, Asani Swann. “My experience as a wine drinker is not staying in one lane, but drinking lots of different regions and styles,” Anthony explained. Each bottling will be a small-production release, like the 2017 Oath of Fidelity Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($95), of which only about 200 cases were made.
So why start with Châteauneuf? He knew very little about the Southern Rhône region when he began developing his passion for wine more than 15 years ago, he admits, but fell in love with the style. Usseglio and Pégaü were his Châteauneuf benchmark wines. “I want to create a CdP community; you already have your Burgundy and your Cabernet communities, but we don’t have that for CdP yet.”
Named in honor of François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, the revolutionary military leader who led Haiti’s fight for freedom from French rule in the 18th century, Oath of Fidelity is the promise that Louverture asked his soldiers to make—to risk their lives in the fight for independence.
“We want to invite people into worlds where they are not seen as often, and show other possibilities for creating a business,” said Swann. “You don’t have to be a farmer to start a wine brand and be part of that community. We don’t have to change who we are, we just need to make more room at the table.” And what does Anthony recommend serving at that table? “Anything roasted or barbecued,” he said. “Roast chicken and vegetables [are] phenomenal with this wine.”