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Wine Talk: Lute Olson

The head coach of the University of Arizona's men's basketball team has a winning formula: Drink at least two glasses of wine a day

Bruce Schoenfeld
Posted: March 13, 2006

Robert Luther (Lute) Olson, head basketball coach at the University of Arizona, has more than 700 career victories, 26 trips to the NCAA Tournament (including four to the semifinals and the 1997 championship), two national Coach of the Year awards and a 10-year vertical of Château Mouton-Rothschild in his Tucson home. Born in Mayville, N.D., he began his college coaching career in Long Beach, Calif, then spent nine seasons at the University of Iowa. He has coached at Arizona since 1983.

Wine Spectator: When did you start drinking wine?
Lute Olson: Growing up in North Dakota, we didn't know what wine was. I didn't drink any until I got to California when I was 28, and then only Chardonnay. I really began to appreciate red wine once I got here. I remember a Duckhorn Merlot about 20 years ago that opened my eyes.

WS: You keep your wine in a 100-bottle storage unit. Aside from the Mouton vertical, which includes all those great vintages of the 1980s, what's in there?
LO: There are certain Eastern Washington red wines that I really enjoy, like Leonetti. But mostly I drink California wines. We love Robert Craig Affinity, a wine that isn't all that well-known. We get a case every year. Joseph Phelps Insignia is my favorite. They do a great job year after year. My wife, Christine, enjoys Italian wine. She has Tignanello, Solaia, Biondi-Santi. My best friend, Paul Weitman, keeps some of my best bottles in his cellar. When I was at his house last week, we opened a Heitz Martha's Vineyard '84 that I'd bought a few years back. It was beyond belief.

WS: Coaches' workdays are famously long. How often do you drink wine?
LO: The French recommendation is to drink two glasses of wine a day, but the Swedes recommend six. I'm Norwegian, which is a lot closer to Swedish, so I follow the Swedish recommendation. When I come home after practice, I'll usually have a glass. Then I'll have wine with dinner. And always when we go out in Tucson. On the road, it's harder, because we usually have the team with us. But we have made some trips. The Weitmans and my wife and I traveled to France and did barrel tastings. And when we took the team to Australia, we sought out wineries there. In Alsace, we had a tasting with one of the Hugels. This was 15 years ago, and at that time he was 80-something years old. He taught us what he said was the proper way to smell wine, holding the glass tight against your chest. And it was amazing, doing it just the way he said, the bouquets we got.

WS: Has basketball ever led to a wine connection?
LO: It happens all the time. We went to Joseph Phelps after we made the Final Four in 1988, which was the first time any Arizona team had ever been rated No. 1. The fellow who met us was a U-of-A grad, and a big fan. He looked at my Final Four watch and said, "Would you consider trading it for a case of '84 Insignia?" I had about a dozen of those watches in the drawer at home, so I agreed. He sent us a case of '84 Insignia, signed by the winemaker. My wife and I went out of town the weekend the wine came. We arrived home Sunday night, and as we were walking by the trashcan on the way into the house, we saw bottle after bottle of Insignia. One of our sons had had a party at the house. And they could have been drinking Boone's Farm, for all it mattered to them. Easy come, easy go.

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