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Basketball Legend Jerry West

Former NBA player and coach is a collector with two cellars

Mark Morrison
Posted: January 26, 2010

At 71, Jerry West is as poised and proper as he was through 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. One of the greatest shooting guards in basketball history—his silhouette serves as the model for the NBA logo—West made the NBA All-Star team each season of his career. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980 and his No. 44 jersey was retired in 1983. West rejoined the Lakers as head coach and then general manager, where among his legacies, he led the team to seven championships. Still active as a consultant and businessman, West splits his time between homes in Bel-Air, Calif., and his native West Virginia, and divides his 4,000-bottle wine collection between cellars in each. He recently discussed his passion for classic reds with Wine Spectator.

Wine Spectator: How did a guy from rural Chelyan, W.V., get into wine?

Jerry West: Coming from a town of 500 people, I wouldn't have imagined I'd develop an interest in wine. My father was an electrician for the mines. I was one of six kids. And I had no concept of what wine was. If you were a miner, you'd either drink beer or go buy a bottle—whether moonshine or something from the state-owned liquor store. But there was no drinking in our house.

WS: What's your earliest memory of wine then?

JW: Frankly, it wasn't until I got into the NBA. As I got older and more aware, I started to read books on wine. I like history and about 10 years ago I read Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure [by Donald Kladstrup]. It made me realize how important wine was to Europe.

WS: So do you prefer French wine?

JW: If someone asked, "Are you a sophisticated wine drinker?" I'd say, "Absolutely not." But I know what I like—aged French Burgundy and Bordeaux. They're so smooth and subtle. I don't like tannins. If I'm going to drink white, the Montrachets are terrific. I like some dessert wines—Château d'Yquem is my favorite. I also like Caymus, Opus and Silver Oak; Colgin is very good, and I love Pahlmeyer. Then I also love Gaja and Sassicaia. So I'm kind of an eclectic wine drinker.

WS: When did you start your wine cellar?

JW: About 12, 15 years ago. It's hard to give me anything for Christmas, but I started getting these bottles of wine and I thought it might be fun to collect. We had a storage closet where we put a cellar that got crowded, so I built one that holds about 2,500 bottles. I also have one in my house in West Virginia that has maybe 1,500 bottles. My wife and I will get a bottle, listen to music and have quiet moments. If I feel like opening a really good bottle—Château Monbousquet or DRC Grands Echezeaux—I'll open it. I love sharing my wine.

WS: How often are you in West Virginia?

JW: About three months a year. But I may have to go back more now. A friend of mine bought the Greenbrier Resort there and opened a restaurant in my name [Prime 44 West Steakhouse]. There are 100 pieces of memorabilia from my career. They have a 44-ounce porterhouse—since 44 was my number. And they're talking about a Jerry West wine. To be honest, I'm almost embarrassed. But for the restaurant, it would be cool to have a signature wine. And if they got it right, I'd drink it all the time!

Ed Chin
Bay Area —  January 26, 2010 6:38pm ET
I really disliked West since I am a Warriors fan, but you sure had to respect his skills as a player and executive. Wished the Warriors had a player like him.
Cynthia Pello
Garden State —  January 27, 2010 6:48pm ET
There must be more interesting topics than AIG execs and sports legends' appreciation of DRC and Montrachets. Aspirational marketing - sure. Like a kid reading Road & Track stories about the latest Ferrari. True, perhaps, meaningful, no and relevant, no.

By the way, I think poor choice of aspiration - Mr. Benmosche owes me (and you) a REAL good bottle.
Christian Janssen
Lawrenceburg, TN —  January 28, 2010 10:14pm ET
"An eclectic wine drinker"?? Wine Spectator should change their policy with regards to this segment- we, for the most part, could care less about what the rich, the richer, and the richest of today's population are drinking and love to collect. I love it how most of the people who make this column go on about how they believe that "Colgin is very good". Come on- I would love to drink the D.R.C's, Gaja's, and the Sassica's of the world but - oh yeah, I live in the other world, the "real" world. I love finding a true value in the $15-20 range. Wine Spectator is doing a disservice to their readership by promoting those that have these exorbitant cellars- not because they are unworthy, but because they aren't in line with the vast majority of your readership. I'm not against those that are, when eating fish of course, forced into the Montrachet catagory of white wine for their drinking pleasure and the fact that Chateau d'Yquem is one of JW's favorite dessert wines is definitely news worthy and unique to most of your readership (unique because we don't pay $100+ for a half bottle of dessert wine!). How about interviewing Joe Shmoe and spotlighting his collection of under 100 bottles, maybe one of which costs over $100. That I'd love to read about, and would find inspiriation in. Spectator- you're losing your grip with the general populace.
Sewickley, PA —  March 5, 2010 10:08am ET
Jerry West (and Sandy Koufax) were my boyhood idols on the transistor radio in the 60's as I was growing up in a California Central Valley small farm town, so reading about him finally getting to relax with some very nice wines was, for me, a wine lover, wonderful to know. A reader might note that this supremely accomplished athlete didn't really get into wine according to the interview until long past his most famous years when he could have also easily afforded any wine available. I think that says much about the focus that is attendant to unique professional greatness. Fully appreciating wine takes time and attention, and it is good to know that Jerry can savor it now.

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