PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum remembers the first time he visited a vineyard in Oregon. The Cascade foothills laid out in the distance, grapevines growing on the lush hills of Stoller Vineyard in front of him, the wine swirling in his glass, and most importantly, the family and friends there to share the experience with him.
“Being able to sit down, to break bread with family,” McCollum remembers as a highlight of that first visit to a vineyard. Those early tastes of Oregon wine opened a curiosity in McCollum that previously laid dormant.
He remembers his first Oregon wine, Walter Scott, and that first trip to Stoller Vineyard, which led to a trip to Domaine Serene with then-teammate Evan Turner and finally, his partnership with Adelsheim to create his own wine, McCollum Heritage 91.
All of that, led McCollum, and his wife Elise, to this moment: purchasing a 318-acre vineyard property in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.
“I always envisioned something bigger,” said McCollum. “I always envisioned owning my own vineyard, I always envisioned it and it was just a matter of location, timing, opportunity, knowledge, comfortability, having the right team around you, having the right advisors to kind of guide you through the process and beyond.”
The McCollums are expecting their first child, the two going public with the news following their attendance at fellow Trail Blazer Damian Lillard’s wedding in August. And legacy is something McCollum has thought about a lot, knowing he wants his impact to go far beyond the stats he puts up as a basketball player.
“It’s a part of how I was raised,” McCollum said of why he thinks about the legacy he leaves so thoroughly. “You want to be remembered for things outside of your sport, you want to be remembered for things outside of what you do.”
“People remember how you treat them, how you made them feel and for me it’s just about doing things the right way, empowering your community and just really leaving a mark.”
McCollum becomes the first active NBA player to own his own vineyard. As he begins the long process of building a vineyard, it’s not just great wine he wants to create, he wants to create a more inclusive space in the wine industry.
“Being a part of the wine industry these last few years, I’ve got a better idea of how I would like it to be viewed, how diverse I would like it to become.” says McCollum.
“From an inspiration standpoint there’s a lot of people I looked up to and had to rely upon to get to this point. Going forward, I think kids and people from different walks of life will see this business and this sector as more approachable because they’ll see faces that look more like them. They’ll see people that come from places like them maneuvering and navigating this space and I think it’ll be empowering.”
It’s a reality McCollum has already seen play out in his world. When the NBA resumed action last summer amid the pandemic in the bubble in Orlando, McCollum brought around 100 bottles of wine with him. He shipped even more of his first vintage of McCollum Heritage 91, the Pinot Noir. It led to conversations with players like Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Miami’s Jimmy Butler, the Lakers’ LeBron James and general managers from other teams.
“The conversations I’m having with players from different walks of life has changed.”
And it’s not just fellow NBA players, it’s friends and family that feel empowered in the space because of McCollum’s involvement in it.
“Having put out a few wines I see how my family reacts now, how my friends act, how comfortable they are now ordering wine off menus. Being able to be in that space comfortably is what I’ve always wanted and I think it’s so much more approachable now because I’ve done it.”
Doing it doesn’t mean knowing everything. McCollum was quick to shoot down the idea his knowledge is anywhere close to that of a sommelier.
“I don’t know everything there is to know about wine and I never will. Even [sommeliers] will tell you, we know a lot but we don’t know everything, it’s impossible. So it’s just that curiosity that continues to push me forward.”
McCollum has seen his interest in wine empower his friends, family and community. It’s his hope the vineyard he and Elise will build will do that for generations to come.
“I’m trying to build something that will last forever. This maneuver, this move in the Willamette Valley, here in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA signifies and shows that we’re looking to build a world-class vineyard, and a world-class wine, forever.