Wayne Gretzky, 48, is known for his hockey career. Yet in 2007 he entered the wine arena when he unveiled No. 99 Estates Winery, a Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario estate winery producing icewine, Merlot and Chardonnay. No. 99 is of course an ode to his jersey number, which he retired in 1999 after 20 years in the NHL, playing for the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. His accomplishments include nine Hart Trophies for Most Valuable Player, being the only NHL player to total over 200 points in a season (which he achieved four times) and being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Today the Brantford, Ontario, native is also part-owner, head of hockey operations and head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Wine Enthusiast: How did you discover wine?
Wayne Gretzky: I discovered wine for the first time as a teenager. My grandfather used to make it. I didnÂ’t really know what it was all about but I do remember my grandfather having a real passion for making it and storing it in his basement. He had bottles lined up in the basement full of homemade wine.
WE: You grew up in Ontario. How has the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region changed since then, in terms of tourism and people’s familiarity with the wines?
WG: The Niagara-on-the-Lake region has changed drastically. I am very proud to be associated with this region and look forward to continued growth. People used to always ask "Where is Niagara and how do they make wine up there?" Now it seems like everyone knows about this area and respects it for producing quality wines.
WE: Are there any shared philosophies between a great hockey game and a great glass of wine?
WG: I’m not sure if there are many overlap philosophies between a great game and a glass of wine, but I do know that when you have both you are in for a great night!
WE: What’s the best way to enjoy your wines? Any food pairings you can suggest?
WG: I don’t have any strong feelings towards what particular foods go with which wine, but I do enjoy my reds with a good steak, and always enjoy my icewine after a big meal.
WE: You’ve had an amazing career playing hockey and the Gretzky Foundation, which you started in 2002, tries to provide this same dream to disadvantaged youths. How does it feel to give back in this way?
WG: Giving back with my Foundation is the ultimate reward. My father used to always say, "Giving back to the kids and keeping them involved in sports keeps them out of trouble." I am a firm believer in that. Whether the child is good or bad at sports it doesn’t matter. Participation is the key. I am very pleased that my foundation helps kids achieve this goal.
WE: How does the winery partner in this effort?
WG: My wine, much like my golf tournament, provides funds to my foundation. A portion of sales from my wine goes back to my foundation. As my wine business grows, so does my foundation.