The Grape & The Sportsman
They have been gifted by the Gods with talent and athleticism, building successful careers and inspiring plenty the world over. After hanging their boots, they embarked a journey in winemaking and hoped to achieve success in a different… field.
Whether them being from families with already rooted winemaking tradition and expertise, or having embraced the beauty of viticulture after being exposed to products, regions and stories during their years playing, these are few of the most successful sport celebrities that measured themselves on mastering grapes.
The family of the Spanish midfield magician Iniesta planted vineyards in La Manchuela in the 90s, when Andrés was just a teenager. Over the following years, the planted surface grew from the initial 10 hectares to the current 300. But it was only in the year 2010, curiously enough the same year Andrés scored the winning goal in the World Cup final, that Bodega Iniesta started trading their own wine labels. The estate makes wines from indigenous grapes from Spain such as Macabeo, Bobal and Graciano, as well as from international varieties like Chardonnay, Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc.
In the summer 2018, Iniesta left Barcelona to join Japanese club Vissel Kobe. Sources from the club confirmed the owners of the club bought stocks of the family winery, contributing financially to the expansion of the business in Japan. This has also been supported by Iniesta’s father, actually stating “Wine has always been a tradition for our family, but we didn’t have enough economic power to set up a winery until Andres entered the world of soccer”.
Talking about another glorious midfielder, in 2007 Andrea Pirlo had already achieved a Serie A title and two Champions Leagues with AC Milan, as well as a World Cup with the Italian national team the year before. However, that was the time he decided to purchase a small estate near his father’s birthplace in Brescia. With the help of his family, he founded Società Agricola Pratum Coller.
Pirlo’s family historically owned vineyards in the area, but Andrea’s project focus on four different labels: a red wine made from a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah, a light white made from Trebbiano, a rosè from Sangiovese and a sweet wine from Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. The estate produces about 30,000 bottles per year. After his retirement from football in 2017, Pirlo could dedicate more time to the development of the winery, trying to recreate the very same quality he once expressed on the pitch in the bottles he produces.
We remain in Italy, travelling further down to the South in the region of Abruzzo. Jarno Trulli made a name for himself in Formula 1 in 2004, when he won the Monaco Grand Prix at the wheel of his Renault. A talented driver, Trulli has never had the chance of running with top-tier teams which raised questions about how much he could have won in his career.
In 1999, Trulli was part of a business venture that acquired Podere Castorani, a historical estate in Abruzzo with earliest records dating back to the year 1793. The estate was purchased wit the aim of bringing back to life its history and restore its luster of yore. Podere Castorani sits on 75 acres of uncontaminated countryside, between the Majella national park and the nearby Adriatic sea. The wines are made mainly from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape for reds and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo for whites.
Moving to New World, Yao Family Wines is the wine project of the first pick at the 2002 NBA drafts, Chinese centre Yao Ming. Yao has been on of the most beloved basketball players of his generation, gaining respect of parquet legends such as Shaquille O’Neal and Dikembe Mutombo. It is believed the latter introduced Yao to the pleasure of steak and wine pairing during their time as team-mates in Houston.
In 2011, Yao established his Napa Valley winery. The signature wine of the estate is a classic Cabernet Sauvignon, reflecting the personal preference of the founder for smoothness and balance. In 2017, Yao Ming Napa Valley wine was included by James Suckling in his “Top 100 Napa and Sonoma Wines of the Year” list. Napa Crest was launched in 2013 and it’s more about every-day wines: a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot, as well as a white Sauvignon Blanc with a splash of Semillon for a rounder mouth-feel.
Dan Marino & Damon Huard
Passing Time is a Washington winery owned by Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and occasional actor, and his former team-mate Damon Huard. Marino is well known for having been a wine connoisseur for a long time, while Huard – despite actually being from Washington – was by his own admission “a rum-and-coke guy”.
Passing Time winemaking is directed by Chris Peterson, who has been crafting exceptional wines for Avennia since 2010. Alongside winemaking techniques, Dan and Damon also focused on sourcing high-quality grapes and selected some premium vineyards to get their fruit from. Currently the signature wines from Passing Time are high-end reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Among other former NFL players involved in winemaking in Napa Valley, quarterback Rick Mirer started his own Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay specialised venture in 2008, while former coach Dick Vermeil focused on both Napa and Sonoma grape varieties since 1999.
Different experiences, different drives, one fundamental element in common: the love for wine in all his aspects. We like to think they had the chance to taste and experience the most beautiful stories from some of the finest wines in the world.
Then, and perhaps most importantly, to invest part of their fortunes in building and telling their own.