Long before Tony Parker became an NBA champion, he fell in love with wine.
The basketball star was a teenager when he first tasted Bordeaux. Even though he was only treated to a sip, he was instantly intrigued.
“My ex-girlfriend’s dad was the one who introduced me to great red wine, like the good vintage ones that were at really nice restaurants,” Parker says. “It was the first time I remember tasting a nice red wine and thinking, ‘Oh, wow, this is really an experience.'”
Sharing the love of wine
Parker, born and raised in France, was used to seeing wine on the dinner table. And as he got older, he began to truly appreciate how wine seemed to bring people together over a meal.
“I always liked that wine was something you can share with others. It’s all about being social and sharing a moment with others,” says Parker.
A skilled basketball player since his youth, Parker caught the attention of the San Antonio Spurs and was drafted by the Texas-based team in 2001 and made the big move to the U.S. He was 19 years old at the time, so he had to wait a few years to drink wine again legally. But that didn’t stop his interest in wine from growing.
Parker’s coach, Greg Popovich, was a significant influence in his wine journey. Throughout his career, Parker often shared bottles with Popovich, a dedicated wine enthusiast. In time, Parker extended his love and appreciation of wine to his teammates. He hosted intimate dinners at his home once a month, during which winemakers from some of France’s most esteemed domaines would come and speak about wine.
“They had all these unbelievable stories about their families and how the wineries started. We all loved getting to learn about the wine, and of course, drinking it,” says Parker, adding that hearing winemakers talk about the wine only fueled his interest. “Those moments made me think there was more I could do with wine one day.”
Learning the business of wine
Now retired, perhaps it’s no surprise that Parker has turned his attention back to wine. He recently teamed up with Michael Reybier, entrepreneur and owner of Domaines Reybier, to help grow the distribution and presence of three of Reybier’s brands, starting with Château La Mascaronne in Provence, where Parker will oversee all things rosé. Parker will also work with Reybier on Champagne Jeeper and Michel Reybier Champagne.
Parker’s role as an investor in a wine company is a dream come true.
“My French heritage and culture definitely influenced my interest and appreciation of wine, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to share with others,” says Parker. “I’ve always thought it’d be great to retire and be back in France learning how they make the wine, work a harvest, and understand all the processes that go into running a winery and creating something people can enjoy,” says Parker.
Now Parker feels as if he is back in a learning phase of his life. He spends much of his time in France, learning the distribution process, how it works and how the wine will get to the U.S. He’s also getting first-hand experience of what it takes to make the wine.
“I feel like I’m learning something new every day,” says Parker.
A lot of this new venture reminds Parker of the early days of his career as a basketball player. Some of those critical lessons on the court are certainly impacting his approach to the wine business.
“Basketball taught me patience, and that’s an important part of the wine business. You need patience to be a great athlete. You need patience to work as a team and win championships. The same thing applies to wine. It takes time to make a very high-quality product,” says Parker.
As the former NBA All-Star’s wine journey takes him in a new direction professionally, he still thinks fondly of the stellar wines that turned on his appreciation for the glass. He shares the five wines that have impacted him the most along the way.
2021 Château Cos d'Estournel Bordeaux Les Pagodes de Cos Blanc
Parker has long been a fan of the wines under Reybier’s portfolio. However, the guidance he’s received from Reybier over the years has had the greatest effect on him. Noting that Reybier encouraged him to leap into wine, Parker says he wasn’t expecting to “have an opportunity like this to work with a legacy winery at this level.” Still, in doing so, his perspective and appreciation of wine and all it takes to make it has enhanced tremendously. “It’s been a really rewarding experience getting to learn from Michel,” says Parker.
Current vintage (~$68)
1982 Château Angélus St-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé "A"
Château Angélus’ strikingly complex Bordeaux is yet another great red wine that struck a chord in Parker early on in his career when he finally got the chance to visit the appellation. Though he loves the wine, the people at the winery keep him coming back. “Saint-Émilion is so beautiful with such a rich history, but it’s really the people that make it so special,” says Parker. “They are so nice and welcoming, and they really love and care about Saint-Émilion and preserving their culture.”
Current vintage (~$590)
1982 Château Margaux
If it’s up to Parker to choose the wine, always expect him to pick a bottle of ruby red and delicious Bordeaux. He’s particularly fond of wines from the appellation from 1982 — the year he was born, which also happened to be an excellent vintage for many winemakers in the area. However, Château Margaux’s big red blend has been a standout wine for Parker since he had his first sip at a team dinner many years ago.
“I like wine from a lot of different countries, and there are even wines across France that I love,” he says. “But if I’m on an island solo and can only take one bottle, it’s going to be a 1982 Château Margaux.”
Current vintage (~$1,700)
2010 Château Cheval Blanc Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classe'
The Maldives will forever hold a special place in Parker’s heart. It’s an island where he’s spent plenty of family vacations, relaxing and indulging in quality time with his loved ones and the sea. And it’s also the place that got him hooked on wines from Château Cheval Blanc. “One of my favorite spots in the world is the Cheval Blanc Randheli hotel in the Maldives. I have many memories of being there with family and friends, and we would always like to drink plenty of Cheval Blanc there,” says Parker.
Current vintage (~$4,754)
1982 Château Pétrus Pomerol Gran Vin Merlot
“You can never go wrong with a bottle of 1982 Petrus,” says Parker. That’s something he had the luxury of learning early on in his NBA career, and it was one of the first wines he thought to drink after signing on with the Spurs. “I was becoming more and more interested in wine when I came to the U.S. And even though back at home in France we had good wines with dinner all the time, I always wanted to drink the bottles from the famous estates. When I signed my contract, suddenly I could afford all those kinds of wines. So I had to try them,” says Parker.
Current vintage (~$5,670)