Dwyane Wade on creating his own wine brand, Wade Cellars

When most people think of NBA veteran Dwyane Wade, viticulture probably isn’t high on the list of things that come to mind. And sure, he’s a basketball legend with three NBA championship rings and countless other accolades, but long before retiring from the game in 2019, Wade worked hard to establish his own presence in the world of basketball. wine. In 2014, the star teamed up with legendary Napa winemaker Pahlmeyer for his own label, called Wade Cellars, which has been praised by industry publications such as Passionate about wine for its range of wines, which includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Rosé.

By creating his own brand of wine, Wade immersed himself in learning everything he could about wine. He traveled to Burgundy and Piedmont to learn from winemakers and sommeliers, and even hired his own “champagne connoisseur” to help him learn to love French sparkling wines. Today, he is a growing voice on the California wine scene, serving on the UC Davis Executive Board of Trustees for the Department of Viticulture and Enology. This month, Wade also launched When We Gather, a dinner series in six cities across the country that showcases the work of black sommeliers and chefs.

Hot on the heels of the launch of When We Gather, Eater caught up with Wade to talk about how learning about wine has changed his palate over the years, how much he thinks it’s reasonable to spend on a good bottle of wine , and whether or not dropping $5,000 on a single bottle is Actually worth it.

Eater: Do you remember the first wine you ever tasted?

Dwyane Wade: The first one I remember trying was given to me by one of my teammates, Alonzo Mourning. It was a bottle of Flowers pinot noir, and that was something I really couldn’t appreciate at the time. I had just been drinking sugary stuff, lemonade and Kool-Aid. I was young, and tasting red wine at that time was so alien to my taste buds. I didn’t like that.

How did you begin to develop a taste for wine?

We would go to restaurants and keep trying things. Looking at the guys who played in the NBA, the veterans before me, they all drank wine. And growing up in it, I knew that one day I wanted it. I wasn’t really into alcohol, but I wanted to be able to enjoy a glass of wine. So I kept trying and finally found something that enchanted me. It was a Riesling, as it was closer to the sweet drinks I was used to.

Do you think your fellow NBA veterans have good or bad taste in wine?

It’s very competitive in the NBA, and most of the time it’s more about the name of the wine than what they’re drinking. I don’t know what their taste in wine is, but more than anything it’s “Oh look at this bottle I have access to.” Starting around 2014 there was this conversation about wine and its prevalence in the NBA, and I’d like to think that since that time a lot of people’s palates have matured and we’ve had a chance to really understand this that we drink.

What kind of wines appeal to you now, as a more educated wine drinker?

I feel like I’ve come to a point where I don’t use the word “like” anymore. If I drink a wine from a region that I don’t know, I just feel that my palate is not advanced enough to still be able to appreciate it. It takes time, certain things happen, for you to appreciate certain types of wine. I haven’t experienced everything yet, but I’m ready to do so.

I would say my go-tos are California wines. I love French wines, Italian wines, but the one thing I love about California wines is that I know I’ll get that consistency every time. There’s nothing in the world like the consistency of a California cab. If I have a day I want to drink a wine that I know, so I’ll go to Napa. I’ll choose a Cabernet Sauvignon from Wade Wines, or maybe Pahlmeyer or Harlan Estate.

Do you and your wife [superstar actress Gabrielle Union] have similar tastes in wine?

At one point, I don’t think we did. As for red wine, my wife was more likely to enjoy a merlot, and I just had my hands crossed as “no”. They were too aggressive for me. But now I’m starting to appreciate all the wines, and I think we both are. What’s cool is that she can introduce me to a wine, and then I can introduce her to one. We didn’t have that when I started drinking wine.

The man holds a glass of wine in a toast in one hand and speaks into a microphone.

Wade at a recent When We Gather dinner party.

Not really, and that’s only because my mindset has changed. It can be a bit difficult to find a good chardonnay, but I was able to taste some good chardonnay. Lots of people have trouble appreciating Champagne, and I was one of them. Now I can enjoy it. The same goes for Chenin Blanc. We have a Chenin Blanc in our range, and many people have a certain impression of it, and the first tasting of our wine may be a little different from what they expect. But I think ultimately you can come to appreciate any good wine.

It seems a bit ironic that you had so many opportunities to drink champagne [see: three NBA championships over a storied 16-year basketball career] and I didn’t even really like it!

I always have the impression that the champagne is offered to you. You just walked into a room, or it’s being used for a party time, and it’s never really anything good. You don’t really develop an appreciation for what you’re drinking until you start researching champagne and asking questions about the process. I went there not really liking champagne, then I went to France two years ago and spent time with a champagne connoisseur. They made me try champagnes every day, just trying to make myself understood. I finally landed on a bottle of Salon that I fell in love with.

It’s an absolutely curious question, but how much did you spend the most on a bottle of wine?

I don’t like to be very expensive. When it comes to my house, you go to these vineyards and buy in bulk, and it can get expensive. But going to a restaurant, I think $5,000 is probably the most I’ve ever spent, and I didn’t even know I was doing that. I was at this anniversary dinner with my wife and we saw a bottle we wanted. I got the bill back and it was like $5300, and I know we didn’t order that much food. At the end of the night we just plugged it up and took it back to our room to finish it.

Was it worth $5,000?

I don’t even remember which bottle it was! It was totally unexpected. This was at a time when I knew less about wine and wasn’t really ready to spend money on wine, and even now it just doesn’t seem necessary. You can get so many great wines at so many different prices. I’m not the one who needs to go to the top, I don’t want to go by the thousands to get good wine, because it’s not necessary. Money is not what makes a good wine.

How much do you think is reasonable to pay for a good bottle of wine? Not a daily drinker, but something for a special occasion?

Well, I guess it all depends on who you ask. But for me, I would say anything in the $60-$70 range is healthy. This is the best price I think. It’s not cheap, it’s not too expensive. That’s a good amount of money to spend on a bottle of wine.

Do you prefer to drink wine at home or in a restaurant?

Certainly in restaurants. I’m not a heavy drinker at home unless it’s a Friday or friends are coming over. Other than that it’s mostly water at home, I always try to make sure I’m hydrated. But I like going out, and for me, wine is not just a matter of taste. Wine is about community, conversations, stories, and it’s easier to find that outside of the home.

Do you have any favorite restaurants you like to post and drink wine at?

I don’t have a regular place like this. I moved to California during the pandemic so that made it difficult, but I really like going to LA and going to Wally’s. They carry Wade Cellars and they have a great assortment of wines. I will also contact my sommelier and meet wine collectors who have these wineries on site where you can go and drink wine. I do that more than I do anything else.

When you go to a restaurant, how do you know if their wine list is good?

I just like to browse and see what they have from areas I like – what they have from Oregon, Italy and California. I’m the person at dinner now where everyone gives me the menu to choose a wine. For some reason people think I know wine because I have a brand of wine. But I really like to sit down and ask for a sum, because if I order, I’m always going to go for what I know, and I want to experience things that I’ve never experienced before. I want to hear their recommendations, and sometimes I ask them to take me on a trip to Italy or France.

Luz W. German