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WineInk: Stan Kroenke’s World of Sports and Wine

Kelly J. Hayes
Wine Ink
SoFi Stadium is the site of Super Bowl LVI scheduled to be played on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Ain’t it great when a plan comes together? Just Ask Stan Kroenke.

An astounding example of a dream come true will be on display this Sunday, when well-known Aspen regular Stan Kroenke’s Los Angeles Rams take the field to play the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI in Kroenke’s own SoFi Stadium. Over the last eight years Kroenke has not only built a stadium for the ages, he has also simultaneously shepherded the development of a championship-caliber football team. The plan and the dream was to bring both of these entities together for one historic Super Bowl Sunday.

It is very hard to get to the Super Bowl. Only two teams make it to the big game every year and this is only the second time since the first game in 1967 (also played in Los Angeles) that a team has played the Super Bowl in its home stadium. The first instance was last year when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted the game in Tampa. And yes, building a $5 billion stadium is also very hard. Other NFL dreamers in Los Angeles had been trying to do so for over 20 years to no avail. But Kroenke is one step away from the ultimate goal of raising the Lombardi Trophy in his own house.



Ironically, the locations of the Tampa Bay and Los Angles Super Bowls were switched in 2017 after it became clear that the L.A. stadium would need more time for completion. Had that not happened, then this case of “Kroenke Kismet” would likely not have ever seen the light of day.

THE TROPHIES

So, what does all that have to do with wine?




Well, in addition to myriad sports interests (he counts the currently red-hot Colorado Avalanche, the Denver Nuggets and the Arsenal Football Club amongst his many assets) Kroenke is also the owner of a collection of vineyards and wine labels that are of championship caliber. In fact, Lombardi Trophy worthy.

Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke holds the George Halas trophy after the NFC Championship NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Oh, and his own wines will be poured in SoFi on Super Bowl Sunday.

The jewel in his collection is the Napa Valley-based Screaming Eagle, one of the most collectable wines on the planet and one with bottles so pricy that even the highest-paid athletes would think twice before buying – much less opening – one. Screaming Eagle produces limited quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oakville appellation as well as a smidgen of Sauvignon Blanc.

In early February, Sotheby’s conducted the “Napa Valley Library Wine Auction | Direct from the Cellar” in association with Napa Valley Vintners to raise funds for a number of local charitable organizations. There were 53 lots of wines donated by the most prestigious and collectable wineries in Napa, with almost all including magnums that were historic and one-of-a-kind offerings.

Kroenke’s donated Screaming Eagle lot included three magnums: one 1.5-liter each of the only three wines produced at the estate: Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Screaming Eagle The Flight and Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc. Neither The Flight nor the Sauvignon Blanc had ever been sold in large format bottles, making this one of the rarest offerings ever assembled from the estate. The lot sold for $48,600, or about $15,000 per magnum, easily the highest amount generated from any of the auction items.

(Kelly J. Hayes)

Interestingly, the three wines were products of the 2016 Napa vintage, which happens to coincide with the year that Kroenke moved the Rams from St. Louis back to Los Angeles, where the team played its games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum while awaiting completion of their new home. That fall, while Screaming Eagle harvested, the Rams struggled through a 4-12 season, showing few signs of what was to come. At the end of that year, Kroenke hired a 30-year-old head coach, Sean McVay, and the “replanting” of the Rams that has resulted in this year’s Super Bowl appearance began.

In addition to Screaming Eagle, Kroenke has another “trophy” wine property, Burgundy’s Domaine Bonneau du Martray, which is touted as the “only estate in Burgundy to exclusively produce wine from Grand Cru vineyards.” It has a history that goes back two centuries and features a Grand Cru parcel on the historic hill of Corton. Location, location, location.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING

My favorite Kroenke wine projects are a bit more modest in profile, though, to my way of wine drinking, they’re equally enticing. On the Central California Coast, winemaker Matt Dees oversees The Hilt, Jonata and The Paring labels that make some of the most interesting wines in the state. The Hilt Estate is focused on producing spectacular Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from their own vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Meanwhile, Jonata grows a number of different grapes including Rhône and Italian varieties like Syrah and Sangiovese in its vineyards in Ballard Canyon in Santa Ynez, about 20 miles east of The Hilt Estate in Santa Barbara County.

This past summer, The Hilt opened a new tasting room and winemaking facility on their vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills designed by architect Howard Backen. The Barn at The Hilt Estate features a state of the art 50,000 square foot gravity fed winemaking facility that will serve as the production hub for both labels. A SoFi Stadium for the wine team to play in if you will.

Grapes sourced from the vineyard blocks at Jonata and The Hilt that are either too young or don’t fit into the vintage style of the those wines are used in The Paring releases, named for the paring knife used by chefs in food preparation. About 15,000 cases of these wines are produced and sell in the $20-$25 range.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE

Jonata “TODOS ” 2018 Red Wine

The name says it all. “Todos” means “all” and this wine is a combination of all of the grapes grown at Jonata including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot Petite sirah and “others.” I’m not sure I have ever had a wine led by Syrah with that assemblage of grapes, but it comes together as delicious. Savory and a touch firm, it is the kind of wine that would work as well with something off the taco truck, like a carne asada or carnitas plate, as it would a petite filet. The wine is a single entity that is a product of its multiple parts. Just like a winning team.

While the Paring wines are bottled and sold nationally, special edition cans of some of those wines have been produced for sale in SoFi Stadium. On Super Bowl Sunday, fans who will be in the stadium for the game will be able to purchase Pinot Noir, Rosé and Chardonnay from The Paring in 250 ml cans. In addition to being the first person to have his team play in his own stadium for the Super Bowl, it will be the first time a wine has been sold in a stadium that was produced by the same owner. Good planning.

SPORTS AND WINE

So what is the reason for Kroenke’s success in sport and wine?

Well, the obvious answer is money. But there are 29 other billionaire NFL owners who won’t see their teams play in this year’s game. Much less in stadiums that they funded and built. And many a millionaire owns a Napa winery that would love to have the demand and reputation that Screaming Eagle enjoys.

Rather, the answer (in addition to money) are people, place, and patience.

Kroenke has put his faith in young winemakers, Nick Gislason at Screaming Eagle and Matt Dees at The Hilt, just as he has in Rams Head Coach Sean McVay. He has allowed them to establish a plan for building their vineyards and supplied the resources to make them work. Much as he supplied the resources for McVay to get players like Matthew Stafford, Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. so the Rams could make a run at this year’s Lombardi Trophy. He has opted to use the tried-and-true axiom that location is the most important component of any venture. Los Angles for his stadium and team, Napa and Burgundy for his top tiers and Sta. Rita Hills and Ballard Canyon for his future projects. And he has given all of them the time needed to come to fruition.

On Sunday we shall see if the Rams can close the plan out with a win. If they do, I wonder what wine Stan Kroenke will pour to toast the victory.

SUPER BOWL FUN FACTS

1. To build SoFi Stadium a hole had to be dug 100 feet below ground so that the stadium would not intrude on the navigational airspace of the nearby Los Angeles International Airport.

2. Despite playing in their home stadium the Los Angeles Rams are actually the visiting team for Super Bowl LVI. Each year the AFC and NFC alternate as home teams and this year it is the AFC Bengals turn.

3. Both the Bengals and the Rams scored the exact same number of points this year – 460 – in the 17 game regular season.

4. The Rams last won the Super Bowl in the 1999 season beating the Tennessee Titans. The Bengals have never won the Super Bowl and have lost twice to the San Francisco 49ers.

5. The city of Cincinnati lies in the heart of the Ohio River Valley AVA and wine has been produced in the region since 1823.


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