Wine Making

NBA star CJ McCollum on his booming wine project

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If you follow basketball you know CJ McCollum. The dynamic guard of the Portland Trailblazers has one of the silkiest styles of play in all of the NBA. Turns out, when he doesn’t break his ankles with his lightning-fast crossover, McCollum is making wine under his Heritage 91 label.

The wine project is more than a hobby. McCollum launched the label in 2018, an exceptional vintage in the Willamette Valley wine country, a short drive from its home port of Portland. He produces his Pinot Noir and Rosé in the legendary Adelsheim vineyard alongside winegrower Gina Hennen. And while it’s not unusual for NBA players and other professional and celebrity athletes to branch out into an alcohol brand or develop a taste for collecting the good stuff, Legacy ’91 is a project of passion in its own right – a project that will almost certainly outlive McCollum’s career. . “As much as possible, I want to be involved in every component of the winemaking process,” he says. And it’s a whole spectrum, from picking and pressing and barreling to bottling, marketing and even selling.

CJ McCollum checking the grapes in a basket at the vineyard site.
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“First and foremost, I was truly touched by the incredible response we received from fans, friends and wine lovers,” said McCollum. “I feel like they have joined me on this journey which, although announced just over a year ago, has been in the works for years.” McCollum says one of the more recent developments in the project is a real commitment to the Willamette Valley. “While I have always been passionate about the region, spending time in Adelsheim – in the cellar and the vineyards – has reinforced my desire to own and expand my position with wine,” he adds.

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McCollum and his wife, Elise, have just purchased 318 acres of land near Carlton, in the heart of the Willamette Valley. The land is to be primarily converted to vineyard over the next year or so, and is another story of considerable interest in what is arguably America’s most exciting wine region. It is landscaped with several microclimates, a nursery, a pond and breathtaking views. The McCollums will work closely with wine experts on how best to plant the newly acquired site. The move adds an NBA star to a growing list of public figures investing in Oregon wine, from former IRS Records founder Jay Boberg to iconic French wine family Louis Jadot.

CJ McCollum sipping wine at the vineyard.
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Elise sparked McCollum’s early interest in wine and it’s been growing ever since. He’s grown from a laid back drinker to a guy who enjoys immersing himself in wine regions, history and techniques. For example, he says he’s currently savoring super Tuscan and white burgundy at home, appreciating not only what’s in the glass, but also the context – the land, the tradition, the many details that go into it. wine.

McCollum is dropping a few names of other wine admirers who are adjusting to the NBA. Carmelo Anthony, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler and Josh Hart, to name a few. McCollum says they go all-in when it comes to passion for wine, in terms of education but also identity. “I feel incredibly lucky to have surrounded myself with people who preach and who really come forward to keep their promises, both in the field and in the community,” said McCollum.

CJ McCollum Vineyard in Carlton, Oregon.
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Wine and basketball seem like distant relatives until you hear McCollum talk about them. “In launching McCollum Heritage 91, I approach it a lot like the basketball court,” he says. “Both passions require a lot of study, dissecting the complexities, learning the different strategies, understanding the competition and investing the time to master the ins and outs. And, of course, I practiced by tasting some of my favorite wines from the Willamette Valley and beyond.

There is more to it, of course. “What is most incredible about wine is not the grape variety, the terroir or the tannin, but the way it brings people together,” he says. While playing in the bubble during the 2019-20 NBA season, his own wine, along with other favorite selections, brought together dozens of players. His debut wine turned a lot of heads, even among the so-called league winos. McCollum jokes about the criticism he got for keeping his room cool in order to provide optimal cellar conditions for his supply.

CJ McCollum smiling while holding a bottle of wine and a glass in the vineyard.
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McCollum also knows that wine isn’t for everyone. He speaks of his deep respect for teammate and All-Star goalkeeper Damian Lillard, especially in the music arena. “He’s put on such important conversations, philanthropy and art, it’s something I’m proud to support,” he says of Dame. “More important to me than wine or gambling is to be something that fosters a healthy community. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with many non-profit organizations, in Portland as well as in my hometown of Canton, and in Bethlehem, where I played in college. Being involved in the NBA, I have a platform to not only create awareness, but also change. I am proud that my teammates have made a similar commitment.

And after? Currently, McCollum is set to release a 2019 Pinot from the Chehalem Mountains, a sub-appellation located in the northern Willamette Valley. He just tried it on the Food & Wine Classic attendees in Aspen, to heat up the critics. And, with the fall in the air, McCollum finds himself in the middle of yet another crop, which should end just in time for the start of the next NBA season. And, after a deep playoff run (fingers crossed), there will be more to do on the wine front. After all, he has over 300 acres to maintain.

“This is a huge site with a lot of potential,” McCollum says of the new site. “And as we immerse ourselves in the land and the terroir, I am delighted to see how we can develop this vision. It was amazing that Elise joined me on this journey – she was the initial catalyst for my passion. It will be one more business that we will share.

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