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Aspen Times Weekly: Wine and the Big Game

by Kelly J. Hayes
The Vince Lombardi Trophy is displayed inside the NFL Experience Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in San Francisco. The Denver Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP | AP

UNDER THE INFLUENCE

2012 Ridge Monte Bello

When people think of great California vineyards in the Bay Area they usually turn to Napa. But Monte Bello, one of the best vineyards in all of California, is on a mountain top in the Santa Cruz Mountains less than 20 miles as the crow flies from the 50 yard line of Levi’s Stadium. You can actually see the stadium from the neighborhood where the original Ridge winery is located. Ah, but this more than just a location call. This Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc is a true California classic from an epic vintage. Deep red, full of plums and dark fruits, it may be too soon to play this rookie, but if you do, look out. It’s a winner.

When the clock strikes zero at the end of Super Bowl 50 this Sunday night you might expect the winning team to head to their locker room for a traditional Champagne celebration.

Ummmm, not exactly. You see, in the NFL, there is a strict edict that no alcohol be allowed in the clubhouse at any time. Win or lose. In fact, the NFL does not allow alcohol at any

club functions.

In 2007, Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to all 32 NFL teams, “Effective immediately, clubs are prohibited from providing alcoholic beverages, including beer, in any club setting, including in locker rooms, practice or office facilities, or while traveling, including on team buses or flights.”

That settles that.

We Are The Champions

The post-game scene you may be envisioning, with excited players in various states of dress, or undress, wearing goggles and spraying or pouring Champagne, is likely born from memories of the World Series. This year, the Kansas City Royals reveled in the bubbly excitement of the moment after defeating the New York Mets by opening magnums of Champagne and getting post-Series showers under the spray of the

yeasty liquid.

Following their victory in the NBA Championship last year, the Golden State Warriors repaired to their locker room for a soaking of Mumm’s Napa Valley sparkling wine that had been brought to Cleveland expressly for the celebration. And, after winging their way back to the Bay Area, the champions gathered at a club where a Nebuchadnezzar of Luc Belaire (a sparkler that has achieved respect in the worlds of some athletes and entertainers), was purchased, sprayed and poured into the wee hours. A Nebuchadnezzar holds 20 regular-size bottles of wine and there are 15 players allowed to be under contract on NBA teams. You do the math.

And players in the NHL have had a traditional use for the Stanley Cup for more than a century. Going back to 1896, when the Winnipeg Victorias won Lord Stanley’s silver chalice, drinking Champagne from the top bowl has been a shared novelty. In 2011, the Boston Bruins took the Cup to Las Vegas for an evening of debauchery that included the purchase of a 30-liter bottle of Ace of Spades, “Midas,” another bottling that is favored by the aforementioned athletes and entertainers. They ran up a tab of $156,697, of which $100,000 was for the Midas.

Nothing exceeds like excess.

NFL Winemakers

While there may be a rule for players and team personal, the 50th anniversary Super Bowl will be played scant miles from California wine country and you can bet that many of those who are in attendance, owners included, will be drinking their share of California cabernet. In fact, there is a tradition of NFL-ers in the wine trade.

Here are three with Super Bowl rings who are now making wines:

Dick Vermeil, who was born in the heart of wine country in Calistoga, California, coached the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs and has a Super Bowl ring from the St. Louis Rams victory in Super Bowl XXXIV over the Tennessee Titans. Following a coaching and broadcasting career, he returned to Napa and started the eponymous Vermeil Wine label with friends and locals in the wine business. Vermeil Wines makes about 2,000 cases annually, focusing on cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, many sourced from acclaimed single-vineyard sites in the Valley. He makes a red blend called “XXXIV,” which is an homage to his Super Bowl winning season. Even the NFL can’t trademark simple Roman numerals.

More recently, Charles Woodson, the man who won the Heisman Trophy in 1997 (beating out a University of Tennessee quarterback named Peyton Manning for the honor), has become a Napa Valley vintner. Twenty-Four is the name of his wines, again paying an homage to his playing career by using the number he wore during his tenure with the Oakland Raiders. Whether he can duplicate his success in the wine industry remains to be seen, but he is off to a great start. Producing Napa cab from fruit sourced in the Calistoga appellation on a vineyard owned by the Heitz family, Charles Woodson Wines is poised to be a player now that Woodson’s final NFL game, this year’s Pro Bowl, is behind him.

But perhaps the most promising current foray into wine by an ex-NFL player is a project called “Doubleback” produced in Walla Walla, Washington, by Drew Bledsoe and his winemaking partner, Chris Figgins of Leonetti fame. Yes, quarterbacks get all the glory and if initial releases of these Bordeaux-style beauties are any indication, Bledsoe will be once again be winning trophies.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.


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