Updated Jan. 31, 2020
Football season is finally here again, and the match-up we're most excited about is wine and the NFL. With the 2019 season, more teams than ever have announced official wine partnerships, bringing fall-friendly Cabernets and victory sparklers to stadiums and living rooms. Players across the league are discovering wine and flaunting their bona fides, from Panthers QB Cam Newton's sommelier stylings to Vikings rookie linebacker Cam Smith, who interned at Melville Winery in Lompoc, Calif., between summer workouts when he was at USC.
And then there are veterans: QBs Dan Marino and Drew Bledsoe, coach Dick Vermeil and late owner Lamar Hunt, who started the American Football League and coined the term "Super Bowl," are just a few of the gridiron pros who founded wineries that have been making increasingly ambitious and respected wines.
Players, Coaches, Owners
Drew Bledsoe, former New England Patriots QB
Wine: Doubleback Cellars, Bledsoe Family Wines, Bledsoe-McDaniels
Partner winemaker: Josh McDaniels
First season: 2007 vintage
Extra point: Bledsoe has been making wine in his native eastern Washington for nearly as long as his NFL career, but the veteran has been having breakout season: His Doubleback wines got a new home in his state-of-the-art Walla Walla winery for the 2018 vintage. August 2019 brought word that Bledsoe had opened a new tasting room in his adopted home of Bend, Ore., and that he'd be launching a new label for site-specific Willamette Pinot and Washington Syrah. "Having a winery specifically focused on Pinot Noir and Syrah will be clarifying for our customers and will give the wines a greater sense of purpose and authenticity that they deserve," Bledsoe told Unfiltered via email.
John Kent Cooke, former part-owner and president of the Washington Redskins
Wine: Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Va., specializing in Bordeaux-style blends
Partner winemaker: Consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt
First season: Planted in 2004
Extra point: Under Jack Kent Cooke’s ownership, the Washington Redskins won three of the four Super Bowls they appeared in; his son, John, served as team president during those '80s and '90s glory years. Shortly after Jack's death, the team was sold and John decided to try a new field, purchasing a historic farm in Middleburg, Va., and planting Bordeaux varieties. He had been introduced to French wine in the 1950’s, fortunate enough to taste the legends like Lafite, Margaux and Haut-Brion back when they were cheap enough to enjoy. Cooke was among those who petitioned for the creation of the Middleburg AVA and today, Boxwood has 27 acres under vine. Cooke continues to follow his old team, and the winery recently made a limited-edition Redskins label for season-ticket holders. “The similarities between owning a winery and a football team are that they're both very difficult to produce year after year,” Cooke told Unfiltered. “Making a superb wine is just as difficult as winning the Super Bowl every year.”
John Elway, former Denver Broncos QB and current president and GM
Wine: 7Cellars, a Rutherford, Calif., project specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
Partner winemakers: Robert Mondavi Jr. and Mari Wells Coyle
First season: 2015
Extra point: “I’ve applied the lessons that I’ve learned in football to every aspect of my personal and professional life,” Elway told Unfiltered via email, “so when we launched our 7Cellars wine company, we wanted to surround ourselves with the greatest components we could to ensure success.” Proceeds from 7Cellars benefit Team Rubicon, an organization that helps veterans use their training to assist fellow citizens in times of natural disaster.
Terry Hoage, former NFL safety
Wine: TH Estate Wines, focusing on Rhône styles in Paso Robles
Partner winemaker: Wife Jennifer Hoage
First season: 2002
Extra point: Terry and Jennifer Hoage purchased a vineyard in 2002 in what is now the Willow Creek AVA of Paso Robles and planted more vines themselves; it now encompasses 26 acres of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and a few white Rhône varieties. Justin Smith of Saxum was an early mentor, though Jennifer is the primary winemaker now. “Wine is a very forgiving medium,” Hoage told Unfiltered—at least compared with scrambling in front of tens of thousands of fired-up fans. “If you screw up coverage, people know. But if you did something in a wine that was slightly different, people don’t necessarily know, or they might like it." The Hoages joined other area winemakers in founding Must! Charities to fund community education, health and economic initiatives, and in 2016, they added a Pinot Noir–focused label, Decroux.
Lamar and Norma Hunt, founder of the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs
Wine: Perfect Season, Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Partner winemaker: Philippe Melka
First season: 2002
Extra point: Norma Hunt fell in love with wine on trips to Tuscany and Napa Valley. She named Perfect Season in honor of her late husband, Lamar, who was skeptical about entering the wine business at first. “When I asked Lamar about buying a small vineyard, he rolled his eyes,” Norma told Unfiltered. “He was a very good businessman and he knew it was a difficult business.” After Lamar’s death in 2006, Norma continued to seek out vinous excellence, culminating in a newly released Chiefs-themed Arrowhead Red & Gold Reserve Knights Valley Cabernet. “Each season provides opportunity for perfection,” Hunt said. “This is true in both the football and wine worlds where both businesses are extremely competitive.”
Dan Marino and Damon Huard, former NFL quarterbacks
Wine: Passing Time, a Washington Cabernet-focused winery
Partner winemaker: Chris Peterson of Avennia Wine
First season: 2012
Extra point: The game plan started back in the '90’s, when Marino introduced Huard to Washington wines. “I fell in love with them immediately,” Huard told Unfiltered. “We always talked about one day when I was done and retired, to do this thing.” Marino reflected on the days when his partner was yet a rookie both on in the field and in the cellar. “I was starting to collect wines and, basically, [Damon] was a beer drinker," Marino told us. "And I said 'Damon, you gotta taste some of the wines that are right in your backyard!'"
Years later, Passing Time was born, and the roster has since expanded to include appellation-specific Cabernets from Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and Walla Walla, in addition to the flagship Columbia Valley Bordeaux blend. “I think it's about the mentality of working together to create something special," Marino said, "I think that overflows into the wine business and understanding how you get across what you're trying to produce."
Rick Mirer, former NFL QB
Wine: Mirror Napa Valley, specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay
Partner winemaker: Kirk Venge
First season: 2008
Extra point: Rick Mirer’s passion for wine started while he was still in the league and training in Napa Valley with the 49ers and Raiders. After gaining some entrepreneurial know-how from the NFL’s Business Management Program, Mirer brought his playbook to wine country and found the exercise of running a winery strikingly similar to quarterbacking. “This is a very competitive industry,” Mirer told Unfiltered via email. “My role every day requires leadership, communication and decision making.” Mirror wines can be found at the stadium of Mirer's alma mater, Notre Dame, as well as Chase Center in San Francisco (where the Golden State Warriors play) and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (home to the Niners). “Wine has become more popular to fans across the country, and it’s fun to see the evolution,” said Mirer. He also founded the Mirer Family Foundation, which gives financial assistance to children's health and education charities, and some promotions of Mirror benefit the cause.
Tony Moll, Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, former NFL guards
Wine: Three Fat Guys, specializing in Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
Partner winemaker: Jim McMahon
First season: 2007
Extra point: These three dudes weighed a combined nearly 1,000 pounds back in their NFL days. All drafted in 2006 to the Green Bay Packers, the big three traveled all over the country together, bonding over fine wine along the way. As their on-field days wound down, they took their passion for wine and built a brand in Sonoma with the help of former NFL cornerback and wine maven Charles Woodson. “Having a brand called Three Fat Guys, everybody thinks it’s some comical wine. But it’s my desire to turn the industry on its head,” Moll told Unfiltered. “In the wine industry you have one chance, and you have to be completely prepared, set up and ready to roll. You have to be dedicated to it.” Three Fat Guys plans to release a premium label called TFG next year and continues to offer discounts for veterans, first responders and teachers.
Carmen Policy, former president of the San Francisco 49ers
Wine: Casa Piena, a Napa project specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon
Partner winemaker: Thomas Brown
First season: 2003
Extra point: San Francisco's culinary hot spots introduced Policy to Napa wines, and eventually he'd march up to the valley after each of the 49ers' many '80s and '90s Super Bowl parades. “That started my interest in wine and collecting, and the passion stayed every bit as strong when I went back,” Policy told Unfiltered. Soon after leaving a stint in Cleveland, he began Casa Piena, which means “full house” in Italian.
Dick Vermeil, Super Bowl–winning former NFL coach
Wine: Vermeil Wines, specializing in Napa and Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and more
Partner winemakers: Thomas Brown and Andy Jones
First season: 1999
Extra point: What started as a hobby, turned into a full-fledged wine business for Vermeil. The same grapes his grandfather picked from the Frediani vineyard are still used today to make Vermeil’s flagship Cabs, but he sources fruit from other esteemed spots like Dutton Ranch as well. “It’s just like having a great football team,” Vermeil told Unfiltered. “You'd better have a quarterback, and Thomas Brown is the Tom Brady of Napa Valley!”
Charles Woodson, former Oakland Raiders cornerback
Wine: TwentyFour by Charles Woodson; Intercept
Partner winemakers: Robert Mondavi alumni Gustavo Gonzalez and Rick Ruiz on TwentyFour; O'Neill Vintners & Distillers on Intercept
First season: 2001 vintage
Extra point: TwentyFour is a higher-end, Cab-focused lineup from Woodson's home terroir, Napa, where Woodson trained with the Raiders. Intercept, launched in August 2019, is a more accessible line of Paso Robles Cabernet, red blend and Chardonnay, plus a Monterey Pinot Noir. "[With] this price point, I can reach a lot more of my fans. And that's what's going to be most exciting about it," explained Woodson at the launch.
League and Teams
Wine: Canned sparkling rosé, red and Pinot Grigio
Partner winery: Babe Wines
First season: 2019
Extra point: How did a brand started by an Instagram comedian as a kinda-goof just a few years ago beat out a competitive field of football wines? Pretty easily, since Anheuser-Busch acquired the brand last year! "Babe tapped into Anheuser-Busch’s existing relationship with the NFL to establish the partnership," an A-B rep explained to Unfiltered via email. "The intention was that this canned wine would be the perfect fit for concerts and sporting events, because at the time there were really no wine or spirits options that made sense." Now Babe Wine cans are available in the bleachers at home games for the Ravens, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Redskins, Falcons, Panthers, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Raiders and 49ers.
Los Angeles Rams
New York Giants
Wine: California Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Partner winery: Woodbridge, by Robert Mondavi
First season: 2019
Extra point: Woodbridge is launching 375ml cans of its Cabernet sporting gridiron-themed uniforms in the Chicago, L.A. and New York markets. "Woodbridge wine drinkers have expressed a love for football and, looking deeper into their interests, we saw a strong overlap with football fandom," Jaymie Schoenberg, vice president of marketing for Woodbridge, told Unfiltered.
Wine: California Cabernet Sauvignon marking 25 years of the team's existence in the NFL
Partner winery: Wine by Design
First season: 2019
Extra point: For wine-loving fans of all levels, this is available around the Carolinas, at wine retailers, supermarkets and for game-day toasting at Bank of America Stadium. “We are looking for more ways to bring together wine and sports,” CEO of Wine by Design Diane Karle explained of the partnership in a press release.
For his part, Panthers QB Cam Newton had a prolific 2018 vintage, soothing losses with Sauvignon Blanc and cigars, watching the Somm documentaries and musing about his own possible post-football career working the floor, and finishing out his vinous vintage in a pair of "Vineyards of N.C. #1 Reserve" wine cleats.
New York Jets
Wine: "Jets Uncorked" Sonoma/Napa blend of primarily Zinfandel, plus Merlot, Syrah and Petite Sirah, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl III win
Partner winemaker: Copper Cane founder Joe Wagner
First season: 2018
Extra point: The logo pays homage to the game-winning play, “19 Straight,” which got the Jets their 1968 Super Bowl win, and the label reflects the vintage jersey design. Vintner Joe Wagner of Copper Cane, which includes Belle Glos and Böen, created the blend; the longtime Napan once played for the St. Helena Saints. "I am always looking to redefine the wine category, so it is great to see NFL teams such as the New York Jets redefine the category of the typical football beverage by creating special-edition wines," Wagner told Unfiltered.
Wine: California red blend celebrating the team's 20th anniversary in Nashville
Partner winemaker: Chris Cameron of Paso Robles' Broken Earth Winery and Wine by Design
First season: 2018
Extra point: Move over, Tennessee whiskey. The Music City is in good hands with Paso winemaker Chris Cameron, whose bottling is now available in Nashville-area retailers as well as at Nissan Stadium. "It was a natural fit for both partners," Cameron explained to Unfiltered via email. "Our heritage and sustainable farming practices matched [the Titans'] heritage and corporate responsibility initiatives. It is our intention to continue the partnership."
Wine: California Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Partner winery: Josh Cellars
First season: 2019
Extra point: Two powerhouses have joined forces to produce a special-edition Cabernet Sauvignon, introduced this season. The wine and label were created by Cowboys executive vice president Charlotte Jones (daughter of owner Jerry) and Josh Cellars founder Joseph Carr (son of winery inspiration Josh). The wine will be available in AT&T Stadium and retailers throughout Texas and Oklahoma.
Wine: Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, one celebrating 35 seasons, another in honor of Peyton Manning's retirement; California Cabernet 2015 commemorating 10 years since 2006 Super Bowl victory
Partner winemaker: Oregon winemaker André Hueston Mack of Maison Noir
Extra point: The bottling signed by Manning was unveiled along with the QB's statue at Lucas Oil Stadium, and at $400, may be the most elite of the NFL wines yet, or at least the most collectible.
Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
San Francisco 49ers
Wine: Most of the red wines for these teams are blends of California Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged 15 months in French and American oak, and each team has a different set of designs etched into its bottles to commemorate championships and anniversary years; there are also California sparkling wines
Partner winery: Mano's Wine in Kansas City, Mo.
Extra point: "We are always in discussion with several teams in the league—some approach us, we approach others, dependent on the market and what is going on with that franchise in the current or upcoming years," Mano's executive vice president Chelsea Mura explained to Unfiltered via email. So far, the bottles are intended as keepsakes or for armchair consumption, but "we have some products in the works for the 2020 season that will be seen in and around the stadiums for fans to drink."
One known wine aficionado among these teams is Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who notoriously gifted rival Panthers QB Cam Newton a consolation bottle of Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet after his team swept the Panthers, and later befriended vintner John Jordan. Another is Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who rode a Super Bowl duck boat into the sunset, supping from a bottle of Hundred Acre Napa Valley Cab.
Unofficial wine: Washington reds and whites
Winemaker: Northwest Cellars Winery
Extra point: Formerly, the winery offered a Seahawks "12" label—a hat tip to Seahawks fans, who call themselves the "12th man" at Seattle games, "but their legal team put a stop to that," Northwest owner Bob Delf told Unfiltered. Now, fans can get any Northwest bottle labeled with an "I'm In!" Seahawks-hued design in a nod to another team mantra—but this one trademarked by Delf.
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