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Golfers Uncorked

Many world-renowned present and past tour professionals have invested heavily in the world of wine and are turning out top-quality wines
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Paul Giamatti, January/February 2011

(continued from page 1)

But now he’s retired from the competitive game and become like a decanted wine: He’s opened up nicely.

“I’m not a connoisseur of wine,” says Faldo, now a very full-time television commentator and an active golf course designer around the world. “I like fruity, velvety stuff. Stuff you can drink now.”

On a visit to Australia in 2002, he hooked up with winemaker Wayne Stehbens of the Katnook Estate, part of the Wingara Wine Group based in the Connawarra wine region.  They tried a few blends of various varietals, and eventually Faldo settled on his own label of wines, of Shiraz, Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc.

“I go by my Wine 101 taste buds,” says Faldo.  “Make about 20–30,000 cases. I thought the wine thing went well with the entertainment side of my golf course design business. You know, have it in the clubhouses of the courses I’ve designed.” And as for his personal tastes, Faldo says: “I drink a little more now that I don’t play on the tours. I like reds because they are less calories, have the antioxidants. Medicinal, you know.”

David Frost

David Frost has wine in his genes. “I am the third generation of my family in the wine business,” says Frost, another South African who is a winner on the PGA and European Tours, and now at age 50 a winner on the Champions Tour.

In 1994, he set about to find his own vineyard and ended up buying 300 acres in the Paarl wine region. But at first it wasn’t about the wine.

“My brother [Michel] looked around, found a vineyard that had both table grapes and wine grapes,” says Frost. “I was originally interested in the table grapes, but moved it more into wine grapes. I bought the vineyard just before Mandela was elected. I was trying to be optimistic about the future of South Africa.”

By 1997, with Michel supervising the operation, Frost gave wine-making a shot. He produced 2,000 cases of Cabernet from grapes in his own vineyard.  Excited about the prospects, in 1998 he brought in a winemaker from the Napa Valley, Jason Fisher.  “I wanted a wine that more acceptable to the American palate,” says Frost. “French-style wines, like a lot that were produced in South Africa, are earthier. American wines are more fruit forward.”

He is most proud of a blend that was first created in 2002, his Par Excellence, from grapes on his estate. All his wines are currently made from his own grapes and he turns out 8–9,000 cases annually. But there is a chance he will expand if a deal with the noted American grocery-store-cum-wine-merchant Trader Joe’s is fully realized. “I have a deal with Trader Joe’s for less expensive wine, from 5,000 cases to maybe 30,000,” says Frost. “We’ll see how that works out. The way to make money on this is in quantity.”

And if this all works out, Frost, who lives in Dallas, is open to taking in a partner. “I’m trying to find a partner in South Africa,” says Frost. “Someone who might takeover supervising the business. It’s tough for me living in America.”

Retief Goosen

South African Retief Goosen, like so many other players, gained an appreciation of wine during his world travels. The two-time U.S. Open champion has partaken of the finest of vintages on every golf-playing continent, so when a friend suggested a wine company partnership, Goosen was ready for it.

But how is this for a delicious coincidence. Goosen’s partner is Morné Jonker, owner of a vineyard in the Upper Langkloof Valley in the Garden Route region of South Africa. The name on the title deed for the property is Ganzerkraal, which means “goose closure” or  “goose enclave,” so called because of the flocks of geese that often gathered there.  From his The Goose Winery, Goosen has released three wines, the 2005 The Goose Expression, the 2009 Gander Shiraz and the 2009 Gander Sauvignon Blanc.  “I’m quite fussy with my wine,” says Goosen. “I like a good aftertaste. I don’t like a dry mouth. I like the New World–style, I guess you would say. Our wine isn’t cheap or expensive. Around $25 a bottle.”

Goosen says his farm is harvesting about 100 tons of grapes annually and making about 100,000 bottles.

“It takes time to get your feet on the ground, getting your wine accepted,” says Goosen.  “We are in the Wentworth Golf Club restaurant, in the Old Course Hotel at St Andrews, in the Turnberry Hotel.  We have gotten our wine on South African Airways. We have won medals.”

Like golf, the wine business can be demanding. “Unfortunately because of my playing schedule I can’t always be at the farm when I would like to be,” says Goosen. “I’m pretty much paying the bills. But I want people to enjoy my wine. That’s the bottom line.”

Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus likes to tell this story on himself: “I used to get also sorts of great wines given to me. Cliff Roberts [legendary ruler of the Augusta National Golf Club] gave me great French Bordeaux, cases of it. I had all sorts of good stuff, but I really wasn’t a drinker and Barbara didn’t drink much either . . . It used to give me headaches. We served it at dinner parties at home, that’s about it. Anyway, I didn’t have a proper wine cellar then. One day I discovered it had all gone bad. That was shame.”

Jack Nicklaus, golfers uncorked.
Nicklaus told this story during the launch of his two labels this spring, a 2007 Cabernet and 2007 Private Reserve. It occurred to Nicklaus a few years ago that a wine label could serve him well in the golf course business, getting it into the clubhouses of the courses he designed, and he’s designed more than 300 courses worldwide. “It just made sense to have a wine in the business I’m in,” says Nicklaus. “It’s a very nice thing to have a quality wine with your name on it. I’m not expert on it, but I do know what I like.”

It appears that Jack’s wine will be a success.

“The 2007 vintage, which was a small production, was basically sold out in Ohio and Florida and a few other places,” says Bill Terlato, whose company produces the wines.  “The 2008 vintage, which will be released in January of 2011, we will make about 15,000 cases. We already have a firm order for 6,000 cases from China and are about 70 percent sold in advance.”

Greg Norman

You might guess that Greg Norman is the giant among golfers with their own wine labels. He’s been involved in wine since the mid ’90s, and his Greg Norman Estates produces more than 200,000 cases annually of wine from Australia and California that span a broad range. Shiraz, of course. Cabernet, of course. Several other varietals, and a sparkling wine. The two-time British Open champion has had an outsized business career under the umbrella of Great White Shark Enterprises. Golf course design, real estate, turf development, golf event management, clothing, Wagyu beef purveying are part of his empire, and his wine is part of an across-the-board branding effort, as well as fulfilling a passion.

“I’ve always had a deep passion for wine as I was introduced to it early in my career traveling on the European Tour,” says Norman. “I saw there was an opportunity for me to venture into my own wine. I knew I had a great partnership with Fosters which I felt confident would result in a strong business. I’m very proud to say that not only has Greg Norman Wine Estates grown into a strong wine company, it has also been a strong business venture.”

From the outset, Norman was often involved in the winemaking, approving the blends and the vintages. But most of that is now done by his daughter Morgan-Leigh, who oversees the business.

“I’m my father’s eyes, ears and taste buds. I’m a trained chef and I do winemaker dinners,” says Morgan. “I’m involved from the grapes on the vines to the retail purchase. Three years ago my dad asked me to take over this part of his business. But he’s still involved in all the major decisions.”

As for the wine experience itself, Norman says he prefers to keep it simple. “I truly think that any memory where I am sharing a bottle of wine I love with family and friends is truly one of the best,” says Norman. “That is what wine is all about, the simple moments when you can sit back, relax and spend time with those you love while enjoying a glass of wine.”

Arnold Palmer

When Arnold Palmer played in a tournament in France in the 1960s, it wasn’t unusual for him to stop at a restaurant along the way and have wine with dinner. It was something that made the trip extra special. “I gained an appreciation of wine back then, not that I could drink very much of it,” says Palmer.

That appreciation of wine, and his friendship with Mike Moone, founder of Luna Vineyards in the Napa Valley, led to Palmer’s producing his own label in 2003. Currently Palmer’s wines include Cabernet, Reserve Cabernet and Chardonnay.

Arnold Palmer, golfers uncorked.
“He comes out about every other year to taste the blends at the winery, but we bring him wine to his home in The Tradition [La Quinta, California] where I have a home,” says Moone.  “He does like to taste the wine and if he doesn’t like it he’ll tell you, believe me.” Currently the winery puts out about 25,000 cases a year with the Cabernet and Chardonnay priced at a modest $15 a bottle. The Reserve Cabernet is $100. “We made 200 cases and it’s very good stuff,” says Moone.


The wines are featured at the Arnold Palmer Restaurant in La Quinta and his Bay Hill Club outside of Orlando, Florida, as well as the clubhouses of courses he has designed.  “It just made sense to have my own label there,” says Palmer. “It’s nice to have your name on something that brings enjoyment.”

Gary Player

Gary Player, nine times a major champion and for 50 years the golf world’s champion of physical fitness, now has a wine label, and that may come as a surprise. Player has hardly had a drink of anything alcoholic in his life.


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