Soil and water

From court to vineyard: CJ McCollum talks about wine


You probably already know basketball star CJ McCollum. Drafted in 2013 for the Portland Trail Blazers, he has become a league leader, both on and off the field. Not only is he averaging over 20 points per game for the Blazers, but last year McCollum was elected president of the National Basketball Players Association, tasked with leading the union in negotiations with the NBA.

But you may be less familiar with CJ McCollum, the winemaker.

OPB host Paul Marshall spoke to McCollum about the similarities between wine and basketball, bringing bottles into the NBA COVID bubble last year, and how winemakers from different backgrounds can help diversify the wine industry.

CJ McCollum looks at a vat of grapes in Adelsheim Vineyard. He collaborates with the Willamette Valley winery to produce his McCollum Heritage 91.

Justin Tucker / @ nine80four

Paul Marshall: How did you go from wine drinker to winemaker?

CJ McCollum: This is an excellent question. I started off not liking wine. Back in college my wife introduced me to Merlot and we weren’t big fans of it, but we thought it was something we had to try as we grow up. Get out of the stuff you used to drink in college and become a more sophisticated person. And as I pursued her, I began to continue to follow the wine. And once I got recruited by the Portland Trail Blazers here in Oregon, I was exposed to Willamette Valley, Chehalem Mountains, I was exposed to AVA Carlton … and that to me. has attracted. I had Walter Scott as my first Oregon pinot – it was the volcanic soil of Bryan Creek – and then I started going to wine tasting at Stoller and Soter, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, and Mon Frère and Antica Terra… and ordering wines from all these different places where I was just starting to fall in love with her.

And then I met people in Adelsheim and we ended up forming a partnership together, where I got to really immerse myself in the wine and learn more about its process. And like you said before, go from wine drinker to my own label. Using Gina [Hennen], using some of the different winemakers in the valley to educate myself and put me in a position to feel comfortable talking about wine, but also introducing wine to people based on my taste preferences.

Marshall: You and your wife bought a vineyard in the Willamette Valley this year, [making you] the first active NBA player to own a vineyard. What does this mean to you?

McCollum: It means a lot to me to be in this conversation as a pioneer, so to speak. Growing up in Canton, Ohio, not really liking wine and not really being exposed to that sort of thing, making my own label, owning and running my own land and being able to control the making process. deciding what to plant, when to plant it, who plants it and what it looks like – it’s a blessing and a privilege that I don’t take for granted. I think as a black man who grew up in America I think there are a lot of kids who grew up in situations similar to me who will be more likely to gravitate towards this area, will be more likely to gravitate. towards wine in general, and I think the industry will improve because of it.

CJ McCollum and his wife, Elise, followed the launch of their wine label with the purchase of a 300 acre vineyard in the Willamette Valley.

CJ McCollum and his wife, Elise, followed the launch of their wine label with the purchase of a 300 acre vineyard in the Willamette Valley.

Justin Tucker / @ nine80four

Marshall: In 2020, the NBA suspended its season, but because of COVID, they then decided to restart it and end it in the bubble. I heard that the bubble was big on the wine. Is it true that you have shipped more than 100 bottles there?

McCollum: It’s true. In fact, I donated almost 300 bottles, so I sent over 200 bottles to the bubble. Some to distribute, others to drink by myself, my teammates, the staff across the league. There were lots and lots of boxes …. I don’t think they understood what they signed up for when they said we could get mail sent. Guys started going crazy, not just on the wine, but wine refrigerators were shipped in, coolers, whatever you can think of were shipped in the bubble.

It was a great opportunity for us to bond, get to know each other better and be able to present different wines from different regions with not only current teammates, former teammates, [but] with other teams who were staying at some of the hotels next door to us.

Marshall: What kind of feedback do you have?

McCollum: It was a great experience for me to introduce a lot of ‘snobbish wines’ not only into Oregon pinot, but in particular McCollum Heritage 91. I brought out my 2018 varietal pinot noir around the time. we were in the bubble. So it was really cool to have comments from people who drink wine regularly and it was cool to showcase some of the different wineries in Oregon that I really like and where I brought wine from. . You know, JJ Reddick was there, Mellow of course, Rudy Gay, Pop – there were a lot of people drinking wine in a bubble that were there and I got to share wine with them.

I got to drink white Burgundy, I got to drink Super Tuscans, you know a lot of people put out some of their best stuff and some of the stuff that they really like and I thought it made a great environment .

Portland Trail Blazers goaltender CJ McCollum reacts after hitting a shot late in the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Portland, Ore. On Wednesday, November 17, 2021. The Blazers have won 112-107.

Portland Trail Blazers goaltender CJ McCollum reacts after hitting a shot late in the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Portland, Ore. On Wednesday, November 17, 2021. The Blazers have won 112-107.

Steve Dykes / AP

Marshall: Is there any off-field competition between you and other NBA winemakers?

McCollum: No [laughing]. No, I think it’s a great community where you respect everyone, understanding where they’re from, where they’re from. And me being in Oregon, it’s unique. You know we have some great pinot noir, chardonnay grapes, we have a lot of different grapes that are starting to get the recognition that they really deserve. And I think people are starting to really respect the wine that comes from Oregon. I think for me having an Oregon wine sets me apart from Napas and those other areas because it’s unique. It’s different

Marshall: Similarities between playing ball and making wine?

McCollum: Discipline. I think you have to be disciplined, it takes a lot of sacrifice, it takes a lot of time, and you can do everything right and sometimes fail. And I think the same can be said for basketball, you can do all the preparation in the world and you can have foul issues or you can get injured or you can just miss shots, bad break here or there and the game can be wrong. The same goes for the wine industry, you can’t control the climate, you can’t control the temperatures, the sun exposure, the rainfall, the amount of water that’s going to come in each year, and you can’t not control the result of the grapes. One row can taste a little different than the next row and I think what’s good about wineries in general is that each block gives you something different, something unique.

Marshall: What does winemaking do for you that you wouldn’t find on the court?

McCollum: It brings a unique balance of peace. Basketball has always been my escape. Obviously, it’s a different type of escape because you have to be well conditioned, you practice a high pressure sport in front of people, but the wine is more festive. I think it’s relaxing. It is a kind of relaxation where you break bread with the family. You associate that with storytelling, you associate that with quality time, and it’s just something that you share. I can taste wine with my grandmother, I can taste wine with my mother, father, wife, in-laws, brother. We can celebrate with bubbles, we can celebrate with rosé, we can celebrate with Chardonnay… I think its unique character allows [wine] be transparently acceptable to all ages, groups and genders. Whereas for basketball, it’s just me who plays and watches people.

Basketball star turned winemaker CJ McCollum collaborates with Adelsheim Vineyard in Oregon for his McCollum Heritage 91.

Basketball star turned winemaker CJ McCollum collaborates with Adelsheim Vineyard in Oregon for his McCollum Heritage 91.

Justin Tucker / @ nine80four

Marshall: Do you see your role in the wine industry as helping to make it a more inclusive space?

McCollum: Absoutely. I think it’s part of my job not only to provide a great product to people, but also to get more people who come from places like me to take an interest in wine. So that they are exposed to it and more comfortable with it. And not just making wine, but the whole process; the wine trade, what it contains, the agricultural aspects of it. I think all of these things are extremely important and the more people we have from diverse backgrounds, the more diverse the wine will become. And that will create a great product that’s even more diverse than anything we’ve ever seen before.