Often considered to be one of the greatest defensive players in the history of American football, former cornerback and safety Charles Woodson spends more time these days thinking about Cabs and cuvées than picking off quarterbacks and thwarting touchdowns. Almost two decades after launching his eponymous, premium Napa Valley brand, Woodson is releasing a more affordable line from California’s Central Coast. Called Charles Woodson’s Intercept, the wine is being produced in partnership with O’Neill Vintners & Distillers. The brand’s aim is to score with an even greater segment of Woodson’s fan base, which extends from the University of Michigan, where he was the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy, to his professional days with the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers.
What started your interest in wine?
Growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t know anything about wine. I was worlds away from wine country. I didn’t get introduced to wine until I got to the Oakland Raiders in 1998. The Raiders’ training camp was in the Napa Valley. It was pretty eye-opening for me to see this beautiful part of the country that I had never heard of and [to be] around people who drink wine for lunch and for dinner.
What were some of your early experiences?
I just remember the first time when I tried Merlot. I don’t know who made it, but that was all I would drink was Merlot. Robert Mondavi was the first winery that I had ever gone to. I was very impressed. Then I finally tried Cabernet. I was hooked.
Why start Intercept?
My Napa wine is considered high-end, retailing for $85 a bottle. I just ran into a lot of fans who don’t mind spending $85 occasionally, but they don’t want to spend $85 every time they’re trying to drink a little bit of wine. So it was important to have something that people felt good about purchasing on a daily basis.
How’d you pick the name?
Intercept is something that’s quickly associated with [me]. If you’re a fan of football, that’s something I was pretty good at throughout my career.
Why did you decide to put a lion on the label?
The lion is my favorite animal. If I am watching one of those nature shows and a lion comes across the screen, I’m stuck to the screen. It’s the king of the jungle. It represents strength, but lions are all about family, all about the pride. I’m all about my family as well. That was a big part for me. The creative team was able to come up with a few different labels, but that was the one that jumped out at me.
Is wine popular within the NFL and professional sports in general?
The more people see myself or Dwyane Wade drinking wine and enjoying the experience, I think more and more people’s minds are open to it. You see more and more tailgates now where they don’t just have beer in their cooler. Depending on the weather, they have wine sitting on the tailgate too.
And among the players?
There are a lot of guys who were just like me. They didn’t really know anything about wine. I was one of the guys who was a pioneer, if you will… A lot of guys, after they saw what I was doing, started being interested in going out and purchasing a bottle of wine at dinner. I would say that I brought a few people along.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to love wine?
It was different for me. When you’re a college kid and you drink, you didn’t necessarily take your time with whatever you were drinking. You drank to party and have a great time.
But with wine, it wasn’t just one of those things you poured in a glass and tried to down it fast. People would take the time, they would swirl and sniff, and it was a whole experience. I thought that was pretty cool. Wine is something you really care for and kind of nurture as you’re having a bottle.