Since becoming co-owner of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers in 1999, John York has achieved two of the goals he set for himself when he moved to the left coast: Get his team to the Super Bowl and take advantage of California wine county. Wine Enthusiast chats with York about wine collecting, the gridiron and the art of turning linebackers on to Barolo.
What triggered your interest in wine?
When I tried wine, I went straight to the “good stuff,” Mateus and Lambrusco. After we assumed ownership of the 49ers we started touring Napa Valley. We tasted wine with Margaret Duckhorn and enjoyed her Merlot. She is a big 49er fan, and offered to pour at the owner’s suite. Since then, my wife, Denise, and I have hosted over 70 wineries at home games.
What wines do you like to drink and collect?
At first, I didn’t like any white wines and called Pinot Noir my favorite “white.” Then I developed a taste for Sauvignon Blanc and unoaked Chardonnay. I love Barolo and Chianti, and wines from Ribera del Duero. We have a mix of wines in our 1,500-bottle cellar, many of which we donate to charity.
How do you combine your interests in wine and football?
Early on, our winemaker friends suggested we include wine at charity events. I contact wineries on behalf of our 49ers Foundation, which supports underserved youth. We’ve hosted wineries such as Robert Foley Vineyards, Reynolds Family Winery and Spring Mountain Vineyard at our annual Celebrity Winter Fest in Tahoe.
Where do you find new wines?
I think wine is terrific in itself, far better with food and the best with friends. When we dine with friends, we all share favorite wines. Along with reading articles and Web sites, I purchase wine at Auction Napa Valley and attend the Premiere Napa Valley event. When we played the Seahawks, I met Hillary Sjolund of Sonoris Wines and enjoy her Cabernet Sauvignon.
Do the 49er players show much interest in wine?
When players arrive in Northern California, they are young and more in the Mateus stage. They get exposure to winemakers at our charity events. About 20 percent seem to develop an interest in wine.
What comes to mind on wine and food pairing?
You need to trust your own palate when it comes to selecting wine. You are the only one you have to please. I like wine with good food, from hamburgers to gourmet Spanish. Denise is a great cook. I like Pinot Noir-based Schramsberg sparkling with her turkey dinners.
Many sports figures own wine brands. Any interest from the York family?
Our twins, Jenna and Mara, are pursuing careers in enology in Napa Valley, but we aren’t likely to become vintners.