No one in Rip City was surprised when Portland Trail Blazers’ guard CJ McCollum bought 318 acres of land in the Willamette Valley with the eventual goal of opening a winery. McCollum is rapidly becoming the face of a movement in not just the NBA but the entire wine industry as it diversifies, reports Curtis Bunn of NBC News. While other players certainly have played a role, few have been as vocal as McCollum about their love for wine.
“I’m fortunate that basketball brought me to Oregon, just a short drive from one of the top wine regions in the country, taking my existing passion for, and knowledge of, wine to new heights,” McCollum, 30, said. “Playing in Portland has given me the opportunity to immerse myself in the Willamette Valley, and pinot noir has earned a special place in my heart.”
Gary Mortensen of Stoller Wine Group recognized McCollum’s contributions to the industry.
“This is a different approach by NBA players now,” said Gary Mortensen, president of the Stoller Wine Group in Oregon. He consulted with McCollum and Anthony on wine and McCollum’s vineyard purchase. “It really signifies a leadership role for CJ, by going out and carefully finding that right piece of property. Purchasing it now, he gets to plan exactly what he wants, and that’s really exciting. And so this is going to be his process all the way through. He bought the piece of prime land that is ideal for pinot noir. It was a very shrewd purchase.”
Beyond that, Mortensen said, “What I love about what I’m seeing from people like CJ is they understand their leadership role, and what they can bring to the wine industry in terms of bringing opportunity and visibility for people of color, and the underprivileged in general. They’re making an industry that hasn’t been that accessible in the past, accessible, and that’s really, really important.”
One key effort in diversifying the wine industry is the One Barrel Challenge, which is meant to “[make] Oregon’s wine industry more accessible and inclusive, regardless of color, class or creed.” Funds raised from the initiative go to the Maurice Lucas Foundation in order to increase educational opportunities in marginalized communities. Former Blazer Channing Frye’s Chosen Family wine label is also a participant.
“Since announcing my label a year ago, I’ve learned more and more about the lack of representation in the wine industry,” McCollum said. “I want to ensure wine is more approachable for everyone, particularly those who may not see people who look like them leading the profession.”
Frye said the intention of the challenge is “to incite change and increase diversity amongst those seeking careers in our beloved craft, and our commonality in giving back is wine.”
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