Professional basketball player CJ McCollum talks about wine, basketball and how they’ve come together for him in Oregon.
After winning the NBA title for Most Improved Player for the 2015–2016 season, his third in the league, it’s no surprise CJ McCollum is drawn to wine: The shooting guard for the Portland Trail Blazers has an appreciation for things that start great and get even better with time. He channeled that passion into Heritage 91, a wine made with Adelsheim Vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The 2018 vintage, his first, was released in September. We caught up with McCollum who told us where his love of wine began and how it fits into his holiday gifting plans.
You’ve said before that your fiancée introduced you to wine. Was it a specific bottle that really blew your mind?
I actually don’t even remember the bottle. It was a while ago, we were in college. On the record, we were 21. Of course. I didn’t really love it at the time. It kind of grew on me as I began to drink, and as I began to, obviously, learn more about the wine—learn more about Pinots versus Cabs. I kind of fell in love with it… Then the other part of it was that she liked it. So, I was like, I should probably figure out, you know, how to come to terms with drinking wine. And I think that’s kind of how I began to really dive deep into it.
When you first moved here, did you know you were going to be near such an incredible wine region?
I had no idea. I really didn’t know until I moved out here. I didn’t know how to say Willamette Valley. For about a year and a half, I was saying it wrong. And then I began to explore and started going to different wineries, I think Stoller [Family Estate] was one of the first wineries I went to out here. And then I began to go to other wineries and check out different places and have tastings. That’s when I realized I was living amongst a gold mine. And, obviously, Kevin Love [basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers], he was born here. He was telling me more about Oregon specifically. [Former Trail Blazer] Channing Frye was out here in the summertime. There are a lot of guys who already had a great appreciation for wine. I was just kind of tapping into their knowledge, asking around, checking in with friends.
How did you end up working with the folks at Adelsheim?
They offered me a great opportunity, obviously, which focused on education and sustainability. I understand that they’re LIVE [Low Input Viticulture and Enology] certified and really believe in not using chemicals, they believe in sustainability.
They believe in making great wines the right way. That’s what really caught my attention. I felt like they would give me an opportunity to learn while producing a great product and the winemaker, Gina [Hennen], has done a tremendous job of educating me, the rest of the team has done a tremendous job of making this a collaborative partnership.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you love wines made from grapes grown in volcanic soils. What are other characteristics that really speak to you?
I love a smooth wine. I think that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with Oregon, because there’s so many different varieties that are smooth, that have that cedar taste and have that cherry taste. With Adelsheim Winery, we were obviously picking the best fruit from different parts of the vineyard that me the opportunity to combine those things… And there’s always something about the volcanic soil. Even when I’ve done blind tastings at different wineries, I’m usually able to tell the difference between volcanic or the sedimentary soils.
Do your teammates share your love of wine?
Yeah, a lot of my friends enjoy wine, especially this team. In previous years, Evan Turner [former Trail Blazer, currently on the Minnesota Timberwolves] and I would drink wine. Our head of security, Rick, is a big wine fan. And Melo [Carmelo Anthony, on the Trail Blazers] loves wine now, we’ve actually been to some wineries out here. So, I have a pretty good collection of people surrounding me that even work on staff. Our head athletic trainer, Geoff Clark, is a big, big wine lover.
He’s taken me to his favorite winery out here in Oregon, so we’ve been able to really, you know, just coexist, share different wines, appreciate wine. I usually get staff wine on the holidays, especially Christmas, because I know everybody loves a good red or a good white, I kind of figure out what everyone likes. It’s been cool to have so many teammates that enjoy different varieties, and that allows me to be exposed to so many different things.