After eight seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, shooting guard CJ McCollum has taken up the other Oregon passion of winemaking. Teaming up with one of the state’s founding wineries, Adelsheim, he launched his own label, McCollum Heritage 91, in the fall of 2020, with an initial release of a 2018 Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir. Now with his second release avaialble, a 2020 Willamette Valley Rosé, I spoke with McCollum about what motivated him to start his own wine project.
When do you first start drinking wine?
My first love was definitely spirits, even in college I didn’t drink beer. My wife, Elise, introduced me to wine. At the time I didn’t drink wine, then my palate adjusted to it and then it was like — what should I eat and pair with this. Fast forward to me going to Portland. There are so many vineyards with great Pinot Noir, and I dived deep into the wine world here, such as Walter Scott Wines and my first vineyard visit was at Stoller. I’m really grateful to have this partnership with Adelsheim. It’s a great product that exemplifies Oregon wine.
How did the partnership with Adelsheim come about?
It was a combination of a lot of things. The fact that they wanted to do a collaboration. I like to learn as much as possible, and they allowed this to be a true learning experience for me. Their LIVE certification played a big role for me, caring for the environment, solar panels, keeping things as natural possible. Gina Hennen, their winemaker, is great at what she does. Obviously, I don’t know as much as she does, but my voice is in the wine.
What did you enjoy learning most about winemaking?
Just the passion. Being here around so many great vineyards. Being a part of the whole process and seeing you own grapes go from rough samples to the finished product. Just think, seven years ago, I had no idea about how long you had to age a pinot vs a chardonnay, about fermentation or terroir. The impact weather has on the grapes. You drive past vineyards and you wonder why they’re planted a certain way, or at different elevations. It’s been a great education.
How did you choose the name McCollum Heritage 91?
My name is on it because I’m big on legacy. Heritage is on it because it’s important to know where you come from — and the kicker is I grew up on Heritage Avenue. Our symbol is the anthurium, Elise’s favorite flower, and 91 is the year we were both born.
Any special memories from your winery visits?
Elise and I have been to a lot of vineyards, and a lot our best moments were when we were in Italy. She’s Italian. Going back and forth we’ve seen so many differences between here and there. Not just the vineyards, but the process. But we try wines from everywhere, from South Africa to China.
Do you see a growing relationship between wine and basketball?
It’s continuing to grow, especially here in Oregon, where you’re close to so many great wineries. Looking at the fans, beer is prevalent, but what you see people drinking also depends on their age. A 22-year-old may be into spirits or beer, but as you get to your 30s, 40s and 50s fans are more inclined towards wine.