Last summer, Portland Trail Blazers’ shooting guard CJ McCollum was presented with an incredible opportunity: using the NBA Bubble in Orlando as a means to promote his new wine venture, CJ McCollum Heritage 91 pinot noir. Jeremy Repanich of Robb Report details how McCollum brought over 100 bottles of his special vintage to Orlando to share with other players as a kind of sneak preview. Even Kawhi Leonard had high praise.
“Hey, that wine you gave me was good,” McCollum recalls Leonard telling him. “A lot of people don’t know I drink wine, and I don’t know a lot about it, but I know that sh— was good.”
Given that the league is full of wine aficionados, including McCollum’s teammate Carmelo Anthony, it comes as no surprise that players swapped bottles in the Bubble, or that wine played a key role at team dinners.
“If it was my off day, I’d get the ice bucket and the bubbly by the pool, and I’d send some to other players and they’d send something back,” McCollum says. “We had some elite grapes there. One night, Dame [Damian Lillard], Melo [Carmelo Anthony], Terry [Stotts, the Blazers’ head coach] and our trainer Geoff Clark had some heavy hitters over dinner, including a 2014 Screaming Eagle.”
But wine didn’t always come so easily for McCollum, who worked to develop his palate after turning 21.
“I didn’t really like the taste of it,” McCollum says. “My palate wasn’t developed yet.” After they turned 21, Elise’s parents gave the two a bottle of Merlot, and a seed was planted. During their senior year, it grew a little, primarily at Elise’s behest. “We’d go out to dinner and I’d order a glass and he’d go, ‘Okay, I’ll have what she’s having,’ ” Elise says.
Now, though, McCollum has collaborated with Adelsheim Vineyards to debut not only the pinot noir, but a rose of pinot noir as well. McCollum compares the work with wine to playing basketball at a high level.
“Meeting some of the somms, winemakers and people who love wine the way I love basketball, it was this whole new world that I was exposed to,” he says with a reverent laugh. “There’s a lot of parallels between sports and people in the wine industry because you want to perfect your sport, but it never truly happens. You get really good at it, but there’s still some things that you may not know. Wine is a similar thing, where you can learn a lot and still not know anything.”
McCollum appreciates the proximity he has to the Willamette Valley and its wines.
“One of the things I like the most about being here is that when family comes, we can take them to our favorite spots, and I can get my mom, who is more into whites, to drink reds, and my dad to try wine instead of beer. It’s a challenge to me,” McCollum says. “Wine can be confusing and overwhelming sometimes—it took me years of watching documentaries and harassing somms and winemakers to get where I am now—but if you embrace it, you allow yourself to try new things.”
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