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Speaking to Rolling Stone at the 2022 South Beach Wine & Food Festival, where the former Miami Heat star hosted the Foodventure event at Citizens Miami Central Culinary Market, Wade says his journey into oenophilia was borne from a desire to make good wine accessible to everyone, regardless of location, socio-economic status or wine drinking experience.
That drive has led to a well-received (and well-respected) line of wines, that run the gamut from a velvety Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, to a bright and vibrant rosé from Sonoma. Since the first vintage in 2012, the production range has expanded to a diverse collection of wines that are grown in and inspired by Napa Valley and the surrounding wine-growing regions.
Rolling Stone caught up with Wade in Miami just before he led a tasting at the Wine & Food Festival for fans and VIP guests. The festival, which just celebrated its 21st year, continues to be a platform for both noted chefs and celebrities to showcase their food and drink offerings, and Wade was introducing his 2020 Three by Wade Cabernet Sauvignon, along with his popular red and white wine blends.
The basketball star-turned-entrepreneur talked to Rolling Stone about developing his palate for wine, his favorite ways to drink it and why Wade Cellars isn’t about building a brand, but rather about building tradition.
How did you get into the wine business and what made you want to get involved?
Well, this started eight years ago for me, and at the time, it was all about being an athlete but I was thinking of retiring and thinking about what to do next. I was like, ‘What room do I want to be in? What conversations do I want to have with people? What looks like me and feels like me?” I was trying to find myself and for me, wine was the thing that spoke to me right at that time.
Were you always a wine drinker?
I remember as a kid, always seeing adults pull out a bottle of wine whenever there was a celebratory moment and it always just seemed cool. It didn’t matter where it was — when I saw people with a bottle of wine I just knew, even at a young age, that it was something special. And then as I got into the league, I would see my teammates with suits on when we went out to eat and they would order wine at dinner and I was like, ‘Oh you ordering wine?’ and ‘Oh, so that goes with steak?’ It was important for me to see that.
So wine is now your preferred drink of choice?
Yes. I’m not saying I won’t one day get into that other ‘good alcohol,’ but I’m not a ‘turn up’ guy; I’m a chill, calm, legs crossed-drinking-a-glass-of-wine-with-you guy.
How did you develop the Wade Cellars brand?
I started going to Napa Valley, so I got a chance to start experiencing a little bit of the wine world and like, really loving what I was learning about, especially about how to make wine. I’m a nerd when it comes to things like that but I’m also interested in what makes people great, you know? Like, what makes a winemaker so great? So I just wanted to know more information. And that information led to what we’re here drinking — a wine with my name [on it].
Do you remember what the first release was?
Yes, a 2012 Cabernet. I remember I sat down with my winemaker John Keyes at the time, and we just talked about my passion. He was like, ‘Hey, what wines are you drinking?’ And so I was telling him the wines I was drinking. And then I went up to Napa Valley and we would taste wines and we knew we wanted to start with something that I had a connection to, but also something we could grow with.
You know, the whole purpose of this [brand] is that we want this to grow as you grow. You experience amazing wines, your palate grows. My palate is still growing and I’m going to grow. I’m going to learn more about wine and I want to get better at it. I’m coming into wines through the back door, but I’m coming in through a passion and love for it and luckily enough, the door has been open for me to be able to walk in.
Some people might be skeptical that an athlete could also create an award-winning wine brand.
I want people to taste my wine and understand like, ‘Okay, this is not just a celebrity brand.’ Sometimes people see your name and it seems like a celebrity brand and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, this is a quick buck.’ But there is no quick buck in this (laughs). I mean, in certain industries you do go in like, ‘Maybe it’s an investment.’ So maybe you get into it because it’s a quick exit, and you see an opportunity. But this is not one of those industries — it’s been nine years of hard work.
You talk a lot about ‘breaking into’ the wine industry – has that been a difficult process?
Wine has had a bad PR team. It is definitely not an industry that has been accessible to a lot of people. And we know there are a lot of industries like that, where we’re trying to break through those industries as minorities, and we’re all trying to break through those doors. It’s all about representation right? But it’s a great industry once you get in there.
What’s your preferred soundtrack for drinking Wade Cellars wine?
Right now I’m in a space where I listen to a lot of Saint Jhn and Sir — I love that kind of music. But for me it depends on who you’re drinking wine with. If I’m drinking wine with my wife at home you know there’s gonna be some O’Jays, some Earth, Wind and Fire; the soundtrack to me depends on where you’re going and where you want the conversation going. Are you on vacation? Are you at home in your backyard? That’s why our whole ethos is to make everyday wine. We want to make wine that people could drink every day.
Why do I get the sense that this is about more than wine for you?
Yeah. When I think about wine, I think about tradition; I think about families in Burgundy, France, and they have houses that they’ve been living in for hundreds of years. The grandfather and great-grandfather were winemakers and now the kids want to make their wine. So I think about the tradition of wine. With this brand, I’m like ‘Okay, this is something that hopefully my daughters and my sons and my family can grow and continue.’