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Blazers’ CJ McCollum: From big shot-taker to Black winemaker

‘We have to immerse ourselves in different things to give ourselves a chance’

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After the Portland Trail Blazers locked in the last spot in the NBA playoffs on Saturday, CJ McCollum was excited to celebrate with his teammates and another one of his passions:

Wine.

“This one is special man,” McCollum told The Undefeated after the Blazers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in game. “I think Melo [Carmelo Anthony] is going to get into his bag and get into some vintage. I’m going to get into my bag. Some bubbly. We’re going to enjoy this one.”

While McCollum has been hitting big shots — with a fractured back, no less — during the Blazers’ playoff push, he has also been making moves as one of the few Black winemakers in Oregon, which is world-renowned for its wine region featuring more than 700 wineries, 1,000 vineyards and 72 grape varieties.

During a limited release in September, the Blazers guard will debut his inaugural wine, McCollum Heritage 91, which was made in partnership with Adelsheim Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains. The wine was harvested Sept. 19-28, 2018, and bottled on Aug. 8, 2019.

CJ McCollum with his McCollum Heritage 91 wine.

Justin Tucker / Nine Eighty Four

“Seeing where we started to where it is at now, the process that it took, it’s crazy,” McCollum said. “From tasting the grapes to picking them off the vines to tasting five months in where it’s not ready to now. … It’s a testament to surrounding yourself with the right people. That is the biggest thing.

“Make unrealistic goals and then go after them. That is what I’ve always done in my life historically. To be in this position now to have my own pinot noir with a well-respected winery like Adelsheim, it shows how I continue to diversify and expand my portfolio and take advantage of my situation. It’s crazy how it all came full circle coming from not having my own wine at all to having my own blend.”

The wine’s name includes his last name, the name of the street he grew up on in Canton, Ohio, and the birth year of himself and his fiancée, Elise Esposito, who tried unsuccessfully to get McCollum into wine when they met at Lehigh University. After Portland drafted him with the 10th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, McCollum eventually fell in love with pinot noir, which is a staple of Oregon.

“Coming from where I come from, we didn’t drink wine,” McCollum, 28, said. “I didn’t see my parents drinking wine until I got older. And now I kind of understand and appreciate it. It’s shifted. Our class has shifted. Our understanding of life, our education has shifted. We have more knowledge and more power. I think we are starting to utilize it more. …

“Hopefully, we will continue to expand. I know there are a lot of great winemakers in the industry, minorities and others who would love to be a part of this process and we would love to get a chance.”

Oregon’s first recorded Black winemaker, Bertony Faustin, couldn’t be happier for McCollum.

Bertony Faustin, Oregon’s first Black winemaker

Bertony Faustin

“About six months ago I learned that CJ was joining with Adelsheim to start his own label. I thought it was amazing,” said Faustin, who has a small-batch winery called Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains, Oregon. “It is great for optics. We need more CJs, more Black celebrities. It changes the future.

“We’re traditionally told we can’t do these things in the wine industry. But that can change with CJ and others. I have people that come from all over the world to visit my winery because I’m the first Black winemaker here. It’s humbling.”

McCollum brought more than 80 bottles of wine with him to the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, where the Blazers will begin their first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. The sixth-year guard said he has passed out McCollum Heritage 91 bottles to other wine aficionados on-site, including teammates Anthony and Damian Lillard, Lakers forward LeBron James, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul and New Orleans Pelicans guards JJ Redick and Josh Hart.

Anthony, who has a weekly wine podcast called What’s In Your Glass, was impressed by McCollum’s wine.

“I think he has done a great job of taking his time,” Anthony said. “I know him, what he did and know his taste buds and his taste profile. Me knowing him on a personal level like that, that wine is his.”

McCollum isn’t the first NBA player to have his own wine. Former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming has run Yao Family Wine in Napa Valley since 2011. Former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade launched Napa Valley-based Wade Cellars in 2018. And Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry partnered with his wife, Ayesha, and sister, Sydel Curry-Lee, wife of Warriors guard Damion Lee, to create a cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc label called Domaine Curry in Napa Valley.

McCollum takes pride in being the latest NBA player to make a wine, especially knowing that he is one of the few African Americans with a wine label in Oregon.

“It kind of shows you what has happened historically and how we have to immerse ourselves in different things to give ourselves a chance,” McCollum said. “The other part of it is, as a culture and as a whole, we are expanding. We are continuing to build businesses that we have not been exposed to in the past.”

With the likes of Faustin and McCollum in Oregon, perhaps change is on the way in the wine industry.

Faustin, who has a bottle named after late rapper Notorious B.I.G. and tasting rooms called The Crick in Portland and North Plains that feature old-school hip-hop playing in the background to create a comfortable environment for African Americans, said he has received over 100 emails from Black people interested in the wine industry.

While Faustin has not met McCollum, he hopes they can soon enjoy some McCollum Heritage 91 and Abbey Creek Vineyard wine together and talk about the future of the industry.

“It’s great that I am the first Black winemaker in Oregon,” Faustin said. “But more importantly, it’s important that I’m not the last.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.