If you follow basketball, you know CJ McCollum. The dynamic Portland Trailblazers guard has one of the silkiest playing styles in all of the NBA. Turns out, when he’s not breaking ankles with his lightning-fast crossover, McCollum is making wine under his Heritage 91 label.
The wine project is way more than a hobby. McCollum launched the label in 2018, an outstanding vintage in Willamette Valley wine country, just a short drive from his Portland home base. He makes his Pinot Noir and Rosé at storied Adelsheim Vineyard alongside vintner Gina Hennen. And while it’s not unusual for NBA players and other pro athletes and celebrities to dabble in an alcohol brand or develop a taste for collecting the good stuff, Legacy ’91 is a full-on passion project — one that will almost certainly outlive McCollum’s hoops career. “As much as possible, I want to be involved in every component of the winemaking process,” he says. And that’s quite a spectrum, from picking and pressing and barreling to bottling, marketing, even selling.
“First and foremost, I have been truly humbled by the incredible response we’ve received from fans, friends, and wine-lovers alike,” McCollum says. “I feel like they have joined my on this journey that, while announced just a year ago, has been in the works for years.” McCollum says one of the most recent evolutions amid the project is a genuine commitment to the Willamette Valley. “While I’ve always been passionate about the region, spending time at Adelsheim — in the winery and the vineyards — has strengthened my desire to take additional ownership and expand my position with wine,” he adds.
McCollum and his wife, Elise, just purchased 318 acres of land near Carlton in the heart of the Willamette Valley. The land is to be mainly converted to vineyard over the next year and is yet another tale of significant interest in what is arguably America’s most exciting viticultural area. It’s set up with several microclimates, a nursery, a pond, and some breathtaking views. The McCollum’s will be working closely with viticultural experts on how best to plant the just-acquired site. The move adds an NBA star to a growing list of public figures investing in Oregon wine, from former IRS Records founder Jay Boberg to iconic French wine family Louis Jadot.
Elise sparked McCollum’s early interest in wine and it’s only grow since. He’s gone from a casual sipper to a guy who loves to deep dive into wine regions, history, and techniques. For example, he says he’s currently enjoying Super Tuscans and White Burgundy at home, enjoying not just what’s in the glass but the context — the land, the tradition, the many details that make the wine.
McCollum drops a few names of fellow wine admirers who suit up in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, and Josh Hart, to name a few. McCollum says they go all-in when it comes to wine passion, in terms of education but also identity. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have surrounded myself with people who walk the talk and truly show up to deliver on their promises, both on the court and in the community,” McCollum says.
Wine and basketball seem like distant relatives until you hear McCollum talk about it. “In launching McCollum Heritage 91, I approach it very much like the basketball court,” he says. “Both passions require a great deal of study, dissecting the complexities, learning the various strategies, understanding the competition, and investing time to master the ins-and-outs. And, of course, I practiced by tasting through some of my favorite wines from the Willamette Valley and beyond.”
There’s more to it all, of course. “The most incredible thing about wine is not the varietal, terroir, or tannin, but the way it brings people together,” he says. While he was playing in the bubble during the 2019-2020 NBA season, his own wine, along with some other favorite selections, brought scores of players together. His debut wine turned a lot of heads, even among the so-called winos of the league. McCollum jokes about the flack he got for keeping his room chilled in order to provide optimal cellaring conditions for his supply.
McCollum also knows wine isn’t for everybody. He talks about his deep respect for teammate and All-Star guard Damian Lillard, especially within the music realm. “He’s curated such important conversations, philanthropy and artistry, it’s something I’m proud to support,” he says of Dame. “More important to me than wine or the game is being a fixture that promotes a healthy community. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with numerous nonprofit organizations, in Portland as well as in my hometown of Canton, and Bethlehem, where I played in college. Being involved in the NBA, I have a platform to not only create awareness but also change. I’m proud that my fellow players have made a similar commitment.”
What’s next? Presently, McCollum is about to drop a 2019 Pinot from the Chehalem Mountains, a sub-appellation set in the northern Willamette Valley. He just tried it out on attendees of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, to warm reviews. And, with fall in the air, McCollum finds himself in the midst of another harvest, which ought to wrap up just in time for the start of the next NBA season. And, after a deep playoff run (fingers crossed), there will be more to do on the wine front. After all, he has more than 300 acres that need tending to.
“It’s a huge site with a great deal of potential,” says McCollum of the new site. “And as we immerse ourselves in the land and terroir, I’m excited to see how we can expand upon the vision. It’s been incredible to have Elise join me on this journey — with her having served as the initial catalyst for my passion. It will be one more venture we share.”