Fabulous wines from former football stars

Fall is upon us and along with the change in weather comes America’s favorite sports season. Flying pigskins, ballet-like behemoths clad in armor and friends gathered to root, root, root for their favorite team signal the heart of America’s six-month celebration of football.


Courtesy Charles Woodson Wines


Anticipating this brought to mind the recent phenomenon of top-tier wine projects with former football stars at the helm. I chose these particular wineries from among the many sports-celebrity-endorsed brands because these guys don’t just lease their names, they are passionate about wine and wine making — and it shows in the bottle.


“… these guys don’t just lease their names, they are passionate
about wine and wine making — and it shows in the bottle.”


Charles Woodson had a storybook career first as a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Michigan and then as one of the best cornerbacks ever to lace up NFL spikes. His new passions are philanthropy, golf and Charles Woodson Wines. The star of his wine lineup is a fittingly explosive Cabernet from Napa labeled, TwentyFour, his jersey number with the Oakland Raiders. There is also a vibrant Sauvignon Blanc and both are crafted by winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez, who was recruited from Robert Mondavi after years of leading their reserve wine program. The TwentyFour Cabernet Sauvignon was a touchdown right from the first snap with the 2010 version garnering a spot in Wine Spectator’s Top 100. Woodson’s Wine Lounge opened Oct. 1 in Napa.


Courtesy Bledsoe Family Wines

Drew Bledsoe is known to football fans as an all-pro who played 14 years in the NFL, most famously as the quarterback whose injury paved the way for Tom Brady with the New England Patriots. What most don’t know is that Bledsoe grew up in Walla Walla, Wash., and his neighbors were the Washington wine pioneer Figgins Family Wine Estates, most notably the Leonetti Cellar. His lifelong buddy, Chris Figgins, knew Bledsoe loved wine and had purchased a vineyard a few years before retiring. So when Bledsoe hung up the cleats, Figgins helped him pursue the winery business in his hometown. Several award-winning Cabernets later, Doubleback, an estate-focused winery, is established as one of Washington’s best.


Courtesy Vermeil Wine Group

In his first career, Coach Dick Vermeil led the 1999 St. Louis Rams to Super Bowl glory. He now leads Vermeil Wines. Buying grapes from the Luvisi and Frediani families vineyards in Calistoga keeps things familiar because these are not just renowned viticulturalists, they are also Vermeil’s cousins and friends. Vermeil Wines offers single varietal and blends from classic bold red grapes such as Cabernet, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and some rare-for-Napa Tinta Roriz and Charbono, and also Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay on the white side. They have tasting rooms in Calistoga and downtown Napa.

As in their sports careers, these guys are shooting for the top with wines from top-shelf vineyards and equally star-studded winemaking teams.


Lou Phillips is a Level 3 Advanced Sommelier and his consulting business wineprowest.com assists in the selling, buying and managing wine collections. He may be reached at (775) 544-3435 or [email protected] Visit TheTahoeWeekly.com for more wine columns.