There aren’t many “off days” for Portland Trail Blazer CJ McCollum. Aside from being one of the NBA’s top shooting guards, the Ohio native has been getting into the wine game on his home court in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In Spetember, McCollum released his first wine, the McCollum Heritage 91 Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains 2018, which he says is an ode to his childhood, his wife and his state’s signature grape. In the latest episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, McCollum brought out a bottle and spoke with senior editor MayAnn Worobiec about discovering wine, his new Pinot partnership with Adelsheim and exchanging favorite sips with fellow teammate and What’s in Your Glass? star Carmelo Anthony.
McCollum wasn’t big on wine in his younger days. He gives his wife credit for introducing him to wine when they were in college. One of his first tastes was a cheap Merlot that didn’t make a great first impression, but his wife continued to suggest new grapes, and he eventually developed a passion for Pinot Noir.
McCollum believes people intimidated by the complexities of wine might have a misconception that it’s only for “high society.” But, he added, “I think as I’ve continued to learn more about wine, I’ve tried to explain in layman’s terms that there’s no classes associated with wine; you either like it or you don’t.”
After being drafted by the Blazers, McCollum took advantage of the proximity to Willamette Valley and its Pinot Noir producers. He’s become a Pinot apostle, in fact. He believes the grape offers an approachable flavor profile for newcomers and that the alcohol levels are ideal for athletes.
McCollum’s presence in Portland since being drafted in 2013 has helped foster close relationships with local wineries, including Adelsheim, which he chose as his partner for his wine label, McCollum Heritage 91 (“Heritage” is the name of the avenue he grew up on in Canton, Ohio, and “91” represents his birth year). He says he chose Adelsheim because of the winery’s focus on education and sustainability, with the winery’s Low Input Viticulture and Enology certification being a big factor in the decision process. He says he’s been able to learn about the business of wine, the process of making wine and also how to run a business while hopefully creating a legacy.
“The name comes from me understanding the importance of my heritage, where I come from, and the legacy I want to leave behind,” he said. “I felt like it was right to put my name on it so that it’s something I can pass down to the next generation.”
Once he started developing his wine, he found that making wine and winning on the court weren’t all too different. “There’s a lot of similarities between basketball and wine from a teamwork, execution and preparation standpoint. Trying to figure out the label, the design, the price point, when you release it, how you release it—so there’s a lot of things that go into that,” he said. “I don’t know a lot about wine, but I’ve continued to learn more and more about it, and being able to empower other people and trust people takes you to the next level and that’s the same thing that goes for sport.”
McCollum isn’t the only wine guy on the Blazers, and he credits teammate Carmelo Anthony for reminding him there’s more to learn. “Melo has introduced me to some white Burgundies that I was never exposed to before,” McCollum said. “He’s got a very advanced palate and can blind taste and tell you the type of soil and year. He’s not a snob, but he’s sophisticated and educated on his wines.”
Watch the full episode with McCollum on Wine Spectator’s IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator every Tuesday and Thursday. On Nov. 19, associate tasting coordinator Aleks Zecevic will chat with South African winemaker Ken Forrester, and on Nov. 24, executive editor Thomas Matthews will talk to Eric Ripert, chef and owner of Le Bernardin.