Forget about football and beer. Everyone needs to be all in on wine for game day. Know who agrees with me? Rick Mirer, ex quarterback for the Seahawks. He’s been making wine in Napa for the past five years. Love football, love wine, love anyone who can bring the two together! Here’s what he told me about his love of the grape.
What’s your involvement in the whole process?
I do a lot of the promoting, marketing, and introducing it to people. Rob Lawson is the winemaker. We started with Cabernet and then added a Sauvignon Blanc – a Muscat clone, unique to Napa, tropical, floral. We’ve done three vintages of that and we just started a third wine, a Howell Mountain Cab – it’s small, just 100 cases. That’s more tannic, has a heavier structure. Now we can do a vertical. We host dinners where we can pour more than one wine now, and it’s fun to have different stages of the wines. We even do a lot of charity things where we can use the wines and experiences to raise money for our own foundations, like scholarships and kids from Indiana where we’re from.
I also provided the money for our two vineyards in St. Helena. They’re across from each other, so that’s how the name Mirror came to be. And then we make the wine at a Napa custom crush place in Oakville.
Do you have a favorite?
It’s like picking out of your kids. Our ’05 Cab was our baby. Cab was our focus from day one. When it all went live it was really cool, like firstborn emotion. There’s very little left, so I’m gonna be trying to find people who have bottles soon!
Then the Howell Mountain ’09, there was something spectacular about that wine. It was a beefed up bottle, the wood box package was gorgeous, every single detail was tight.
Rob talked me into the Sauvignon Blanc. It’s an awesome early wine, not a huge commitment. You drink it at a different time of day in warmer weather. It’s great to have that.
How’d you get it off the ground?
In the beginning I was raw, I didn’t know the business part but I knew wine. I called friends and restaurants where we spent time. People were happy with the wine and thought it was priced fairly [$75 for the Cab, $90 for the Howell Mountain Cab, $24 for the Sav Blanc]. We sell from the website and mailing list primarily. When we launched in 2008 it was a horrible economy but we had no problem moving the wine. We have some loyal followers who share it with their neighbors and friends.
It’s nice to be small and now we’re in growth mode. We have a lot of flexibility in size but I don’t want it to be so big where we can’t follow up with emails or have people come see us. I like paying attention to the little details.
I spent enough time in northern California and I got to know the people who got their hands dirty making the wine. My wife and I were in San Diego and then Seattle during my football years, up and down the west coast. I was just collecting wine and interested as a consumer.
When I was on the Raiders we had our training camp right in Napa and that pushed me over the top. I spent four years around Napa and the Bay Area, where everyone’s fairly wine savvy. In San Diego you hang out at restaurants and try different things, I drank Cab and then went through a Pinot and Syrah phase. First you just wanna understand a wine list. Then it’s like, How do we want to stock our cellar? It’s been an education.
But my time at the Napa Valley Marriott got us hooked, and the relationships we made in those weeks just made it possible to call on guys for advice later about how it worked. After I retired I was home with young kids and needed to do something. Getting into wine wasn’t massive overhead or a huge undertaking to move the family.
So a lot of ex players and coaches are into wine and even making it. Do you talk about it with them?
Drew Bledsoe’s a great friend [he makes Doubleback in Walla Walla, Washington], we almost did something together. And Charles Woodson [who plays for the Packers and also makes a wine called Twenty-Four] was with me at the Raiders training camp. We had an older team and bought nice wine, it’s a more civilized way to go about that trip back home. Terry Hoage’s a Georgia guy and he’s into the farming aspect, he’s doing everything. And tons of football guys are collectors. The common thread running through it is the pride in discovering.
Some guys are really into it, but some people are just putting their name on the thing, some of these celebrity vanity labels in all kinds of sports, race car guys. We’re not that kind of wine; we’re high-end and very detailed, very craft, not on the grocery store shelf. I’m not gonna say those other wines are goofy but they’re just playing on tailgate mentality. We’re more at the restaurant after the game.
So why do you think football fans usually go for beer?
It’s funny. From the fans’ perspective it’s a beer thing, it’s just easier. Guys in the locker room aren’t drinking at all. Some big guys were drinking at meals at a steak place and I’d pick the wine. It was like, “Let me feed you so you can protect me!”
What is it about wine that you just love?
On the plane after a game, sometimes it was a celebration and it was a little different than a beer, more sophisticated and relaxing. We were tied to a schedule for so long and once we got free time we went to Napa or went to our favorite restaurant and wine was a part of that. That can happen anywhere we are in the world. I can fly back home and see friends and open wine – you’re just together. The comeraderie, the sharing of the meals, sitting down with friends, whether we talk about wine or not. It’s just something that ties the meal together and when you walk around and splash the first round of Sauvignon Blanc, that’s the beginning of your conversation.
Check out Mirror wines here. And tomorrow, we’re putting these ex footballers’ wines on the field in the Super Bowl of Grapes championship!