Last year, Cam Ward, longtime goaltender for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, retired after 14 seasons on ice. With the game no longer his central focus, he’s had time to bring a cool new perspective to his second passion: Vineyard 36, the Napa Valley Cab-focused wine brand he cofounded with former teammate Tim Gleason and wine industry veteran Jason Earnest.
This fall marks the release of the label’s 2017 vintage. Highly anticipated, the bottles bring together a decade of high-end grape sourcing and the skills of acclaimed winemaker Keith Emerson. Ward thinks this is the brand’s best work yet.
Here, he chats about his wine journey.
What about wine first got you interested?
I enjoyed how a bottle of wine had the ability to create a memory, how you can connect a bottle to a story. After big games, my teammates and I would often go to nice restaurants and steak houses and try lots of different wines. People and wine just go better together. Mix in a great meal with your friends, and the meal becomes more flavorful, the conversations more animated and the evening more memorable.
Do you remember a specific vintage that inspired you back then?
The Continuum Estate was a big inspiration to me when I was introduced to [its] inaugural 2005 Vintage. On display in my wine cellar, I have a used 2009 barrel signed by Tim Mondavi.
What did you consider when choosing your partners for Vineyard 36?
Camaraderie is at the center of this project, where everyone involved with Vineyard 36 is motivated to succeed so as not to let the other down. We motivate each other to pursue perfection, committing to go all-in with top-of-the-line viticulture and winemaking considerations at every turn.
We’ve already achieved so much. From accumulating high-end sourcing contracts with the likes of Michael Wolf to courting acclaimed Vineyard 29 winemaker Keith Emerson, Vineyard 36 is built on the adages of hard work and commitment.
Why did you choose Napa?
I’ve spent years seriously collecting the valley’s most coveted bottles. It’s been an awesome challenge and inspiration to try and understand what goes into crafting the world’s best wines. We draw from our experience on NHL teams to cultivate a mindset. If we take the best blocks from the best vineyards and put them together, we have a better wine. We’ve spent almost a decade refining our scope, accumulating the best sourcing contracts we could, bit by bit.
And why home in on Cabernet Sauvignon, specifically?
To me, Cabernet Sauvignon is always satisfying: Big, rich, velvety tannins. It is also a great complement to food, specifically to meats and cheeses.
I’ve heard hockey players have been known to drink wine out of the Stanley Cup. Would you say that there’s a strong wine culture in the NHL?
Yes, but I think athletes appreciate other disciplines that require tremendous focus and years of fine-tuning. There is also the lifestyle factor. As athletes, we work hard, and indulging in an exquisite bottle of wine with teammates is a special part of that.
What’s next for Vineyard 36?
Tim [Gleason] and I have spent our lives honing our craft, pursuing perfection. Vineyard 36 has always been about channeling that work ethic into wine. For 10 years, we’ve been fine-tuning our winemaking game, along with help from our partner, Jason Earnest. We’ve assembled top of the line viticulture and winemaking components and, now that I’m retired, I can push the envelope even further to achieve the very best that Napa Valley can offer.