CJ McCollum Loves Wine So Much That He Created His Own
The Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard recently released his first pinot noir, and he’s just getting started.
CJ McCollum never expected his wine, McCollum Heritage 91, to sell out in less than an hour, but that’s exactly what happened when his Oregon pinot noir launched in mid-September. “To be honest, I don’t think it could’ve gone much better,” he said.
With the launch, McCollum officially joined a group of NBA players who have their own wine labels, a list that includes Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade, and Yao Ming. But McCollum’s passion for wine has been years in the making, and it blossomed over the summer, when McCollum was living in the “NBA Bubble.” He turned his entire hotel room into a refrigerator in order to keep his collection of 84 wines at the correct temperature.
Wine wasn’t always a part of McCollum’s life. “Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to what goes into making wine, or what goes into drinking wine,” he said. “As a Black man who is now in the wine world, I would encourage more Black men and women, and minorities in general, to learn more about wine and be open to exploring it.”
McCollum was first introduced to wine in college by his now-fiancé, Elise Esposito. He wasn’t a big fan at first, calling himself “more of a lemonade guy.” But when he was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2013, he started hearing about the Willamette Valley, the Chehalem Mountains, and the many wineries in the area, and he became curious.
“I had my first Oregon pinot noir from Walter Scott Wines, and I fell in love with it," he said. "And then I found out that it was from Bryan Creek and that it was made from grapes grown in volcanic soil, and I had no idea what either of those things meant, so that’s when the rabbit hole started for me.”
From there, McCollum visited a vineyard for the first time, Stoller Family Estate, and signed up for memberships at all kinds of wineries just so he could go and taste their wines. “I’ve continued to learn and study and watch and taste and try to educate myself and have those conversations so that I’m better equipped in the wine world, and able to reach some of my own goals,” he said.
One of those goals? Creating a wine of his own.
McCollum partnered with Adelsheim Vineyard in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains to dive even deeper into the winemaking process, from understanding the business side to getting a better sense of his own taste preferences. “I think one of my biggest strengths is that I know what I don’t know, and being able to listen, being able to take advice from people who are experts, is crucial.”
McCollum knew that he liked wines made from grapes grown in volcanic soil, so he did a blind taste test of different varietals that all came from vineyards planted on volcanic soil. The Adelsheim winemaking team then worked to produce a new wine incorporating McCollom’s three favorites from the blind taste test, and the end result is McCollum Heritage 91.
McCollum hasn’t announced concrete plans for additional wines, but he alluded to a 2019 vintage that’s in the works, as well as venturing beyond pinot noir. In the meantime, McCollum plans to keep doing what he’s been doing. “I know a lot more about wine than I did seven years ago, and even two years ago, but I’m still continuing to learn and grow.”