Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
For those of you who saw the title of this story and immediately started to hum the Ben Folds Five song by the same name, good on you.But this story is about sportsmen and the wines they make. Recently, in search of good eastern Carolina barbecue, I went to Lexington, N.C., to feast at the altar of the pulled pig. While sipping sweet tea after a vinegar-sauced helping of said pig, I noticed a brochure for the Childress Vineyards Tasting Room. Intrigued, I asked where to find it. Right round the corner, was the reply. Wine in Lexington, North Carolina? As I am all about sports and wine, this was a must-see.It turns out that Richard Childress, the owner of Richard Childress Racing, had honed an affection for fine wines during his racing days, especially on trips to Sonoma County Raceway. After some background tinkering at his North Carolina home, he decided that the time was ripe to build a winery and tasting room. In 2005 he opened the doors of a Tuscan-style stone mansion what is, in wine terms, the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by acres of grapes in the flat, hot and very humid haze that floated atop the vineyard, the winery is like an apparition, an Italian fantasy in a North Carolina field. And I was more than a little skeptical about how the wine would taste. But after tasting a series of wines ranging from sparkling Blanc de Blancs that they call their Victory Cuvee to a 2004 Signature Meritage (yes, they belong to the Meritage Association and can use the trademarked name) I was mildly impressed. The wines were young and a little green but these are pioneering years and Im sure that winemaker Mark Friszolowski, who came from Long Islands respected Pindar Vineyards to oversee the winery, will improve the wines with each vintage. In the meantime the winery fills a role in introducing both North Carolinians and visitors (who flock to the region for Lexingtons justifiably famous barbecue) to wine tourism, and that can only be a good thing. Childress is certainly not the first sportsman to turn his attention to world of wine. In car racing alone, Mario Andretti, who is the only driver in history to win the Indy 500 (four times), the Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship, is the vice chairman of Andretti Winery in Napa Valley, which specializes in estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon.Also in Napa is Lewis Cellars, which was founded in 1992 by former Indy car driver Randy Lewis and his wife, Debbie. The relatively small production, high quality winery produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah. The 2005 Cali Syrah from Aspen locals Richard Betts and Dennis Scholl was made in conjunction with Lewis Cellars.Green Bay Packer defensive back Charles Woodson is involved with a winemaking project in California called Twentyfour (his jersey number) and Tom Seaver, the former Mets pitcher, grows grapes on Diamond Mountain and recently introduced his own label, GTS. Then there is Joe Montana, the former 49er quarterback, who has long maintained a home in Sonomas Knights Valley and has a project with Beringer called Montagia.But by far the greatest success story of athlete turned wine marketer belongs to golf pro Greg Norman. In 1998 he partnered with Beringer-Blas to launch Greg Norman Estates, which began to make wine along Australias Limestone coast outside of Melbourne, in a variety of vineyards. Thanks initially to Normans name recognition and, as time went on, the quality of the wines, they became huge sellers. In the ensuing years, the Greg Norman Estates label was established and they have expanded the empire.The connection between these sportsmen is money and fame and a desire to play a little in the vineyards. Like Ben Folds sang:Some men never grew upfortunate like youSome men never found out what it takes to be a dudeThats Sports and Wine.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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