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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 7)

He wasn’t really drinking this day, either. He was tasting blends of what would become his own wine label. “I had to spit it all out or I would have been looped,” says Nicklaus.

Bill Terlato, the Golden Bear’s partner in the venture and the Terlato Wine Group’s president and CEO, insisted that Nicklaus be involved in the winemaking from the outset. “It was Jack, [sons Jackie and Gary], me, my father, Tony, and brother John,” says Terlato. “We did the tasting of the blends. There was a great photograph taken where there is like 50 wine glasses in front of each of us, hundreds of glasses on the table. Somebody took a picture and sent it to [Jack’s wife] Barbara, who couldn’t believe it.” It was only a matter of time before Nicklaus jumped into the vats with both feet. He did just that in 2010 after the wines created that day were finally ready for the market.

From rolling vineyards to rolling fairways, from restaurant to clubhouse, from the first tee to the first sip, wine and golf are a natural pairing with their common links to the earth, or terroir. Golf and wine each depend on land, and the people who shape it and take sustenance from it. A natural association. And over the last two decades, those golfers with wine affiliations now take up more than one tee time, or even two.

Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player—the greatest threesome in history—each has his own wine label. Greg Norman has long had his own label as part of his vast Great White Shark business empire. David Frost was born to the vineyards in South Africa. Fellow South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen have their own wines, and like Frost, their own vineyards.

Six-time major champion Nick Faldo has a wine from Australia. The greatest player in the history of women’s golf, Annika Sorenstam, is producing wine at the boutique level. So is Luke Donald as is Fred Couples. And Mike Weir, Canada’s best player, is turning out wines from the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario.

More than a few have ended up with the family-owned Terlato Wine Group. Bill Terlato is a good player himself, and really got started by working as an advisor to Donald whose wines are produced by his company. Terlato’s company also imports Ernie Els’ wine to the United States.

“Certainly in the brand recognition area they had lots of offers flying around out there, but they all wanted their names attached to a quality wine,” says Terlato. “They think that having a high-quality wine fits with who they are as persons, and fits their brand.” For Nicklaus, who introduced his wines in June, it was about capitalizing on his name while also realizing that there was a great deal of joy in the process. It didn’t hurt that Bill Terlato was a member of Nicklaus’ The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida.

“When we first came together I sort of tried to talk him out of it,” says Terlato. “I told him that it wouldn’t be a case of just finding a commercial wine to slap his label on because we aren’t the right sort of people for that. I said you need to be involved, need to know about the wine, participate in the tasting and blending, understand where it came from, the vineyards and the lots. He was all okay with that.”

The wine business isn’t just for fun. For legends such as Nicklaus, Palmer and Player, wine offers them an opportunity to expand their profile, both from a business angle and a personal angle. They can put their own labels in the clubhouses of courses they design and on the corporate tables of companies they represent.

But for some of the golfers, their efforts in the wine world include a pure joy about creating something they can be proud of, something that fits in with the casually sophisticated lifestyle of the game and the life they lead.

“It was never really a business for me,” says Ernie Els. “It was my friendship with Jean Englebrecht [the winemaker and his original partner]. Jean talked me into buying this beautiful piece of land. It started as a hobby, really. Maybe not ever looking at it as a business, but just what it was like to be involved with the winemaking, the growing.”

In finding out what was involved in the growing and the winemaking, Els found out something else, something the others have discovered to various degrees.  “After a while I realized the connection between wine and the land, and between golf and the land,” says Els. “They are very much related.”

So here are the players, in alphabetical order, and their wines, their reasons and their expectations.

Fred Couples

When Fred Couples’ people were looking for a winemaker to produce a quality wine under Couples’ name, they were told that Mitch Cosentino of Cosentino Vineyards in Napa was their man.

“I told them I make high-quality, small-quantity production,” says Cosentino, a pretty fair golfer himself. “They said Fred wants everything high quality. They flew out in November of 2008 and tasted a bunch of wine. That’s when I met Fred . . . He said he wasn’t real knowledgeable about wine, but that it was part of his lifestyle. We did some barrel tastings.  He and I meeting was very important. We got along right away.”

The ultimate product of that meeting was wines bottled under the label of Couples & Co (for Cosentino). Cabernet, Sangiovese and Chardonnay are being offered. There was a soft release of his Cabernet at the Presidents Cup at Harding Park last year, where he was the captain of the U.S. team. He gave a magnum of the Cabernet to each of the International team players.
According to Jim Nylen, a partner in the Purecru wine company which is producing Couples’ label, 520 cases of 2006 Cabernet, 1,050 cases of 2006 Sangiovese and 622 cases of 2009 Chardonnay have been produced. 

Luke Donald

The fates conspired to bring Luke Donald into the wine world. Growing up in England, Donald often watched his parents enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. As a blossoming junior player, Donald chose to attend Northwestern University in Chicago, where as a three-time NCAA All-American player he met Bill Terlato of Terlato Wine Group.

“I started playing golf with Bill in about 1999 and I became interested in his work,” says Donald, twice a winner on the PGA Tour, three times a winner on the European Tour and a member of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team this past October. “We became good enough friends to try doing a wine together.”

The friendship turned into a partnership for a Luke Donald wine label, the initial offerings being a 2008 Claret-style wine sourced from the Rutherford and Stags Leap appellations of the Napa Valley, and a 2009 Carneros Chardonnay. Both are limited releases of about 1,000 cases.

“I have always liked the Bordeaux style of wine, they are earthier than most American style wines,” says Donald. “I like the blended style. My Claret is 44 percent Cabernet, 43 percent Merlot, 12 percent Cabernet Franc and one percent Petit Verdot. It’s marketed a little toward the younger generation. It has my initials on the label, not a picture of a vineyard.  I think younger successful people are into wine.”

Donald has about 800 bottles of wine in the cellar of his Chicago home. A renaissance man of a sorts, Donald is also a fine artist and a world traveler.

“I play a sport where I’m free to compete as long as I want,” says Donald. “Wine is a hobby now and I have a lot to learn. In my late life I would love to shift gears more toward making wine.”

Ernie Els

By 1999, Ernie Els had twice won the U.S. Open championship and had been traveling the world, embracing its joys. Among them was a good glass of wine.

“I always enjoyed a nice glass of wine, had a lot of good wine in my travels,” says Els. “I know the wines I like.”

Fortunately and coincidentally, Els is a South African, from a country that produces high-quality wines and high-quality golfers. Among the friends Els gathered along the way was Jean Englebrecht, a renowned South African winemaker. It was through that friendship that Els came to form his own wine label in 1999. By 2004 Els had bought his own vineyard on the slopes of Helderberg Mountain in the vineyard-rich Stellenbosch region of South Africa. There Englebrecht and Els established a winery and produced well-rated wines under Els’ label and that of Englebrecht Els.

As a world-class golfer, Els knew what he wanted from the game. When he came into the wine business, he knew what he wanted from the wine, a Bordeaux style with a certain velvet quality.

“I have a free-flowing swing, but I’m quite tough on myself. Personally I’m relaxed, laid back, but on the golf course I’m quite intense,” says Els. “That’s sort of how I look at the wine. There’s a certain style in my wine that matches my personality. It’s smooth tasting but strong. It’s not for the fainthearted.”

Under the supervision of winemaker Louis Strydom,  Els’ wines have won gold medals in South African competition and his 2005 Signature Blend was tasted at the recent Wine Spectator’s New World Wine Experience in Las Vegas. The Signature Blend is comprised primarily of Cabernet and Merlot, with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Though he’s had the opportunity to taste the best of wines in the best of circumstances, Els says his favorite wine experience is being on his farm and watching how it all comes together.

“I try to be at the farm when we do the picking in March,” says Els. “End of summer is the most beautiful time there, when the farm really comes alive, everything there is buzzing. I just love it.”

Nick Faldo

Wine is a bit of fun for Nick Faldo. The six-time major champion wore what he called an Iron Chest when he was a player, putting forth a tough- as-steel persona that seemed unapproachable.

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


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