It was while drinking a Flowers Pinot Noir that the three-time NBA champion and Olympic gold medallist Dwyane Wade had his lightbulb moment: “Up to that point I’d never been exposed that much to people drinking wine,” says the former Miami Heat shooting guard. “I remember thinking I really love the energy in this room and the way the wine is bringing people together. It just seemed different to the rooms where tequila’s being poured, or vodka. It felt like a room I wanted to be in and wanted to know about.”
Spurred on by his wine-loving teammates Chris Bosh and LeBron James, Wade started amassing a cellar. In 2014, he launched a Napa wine label, Wade Cellars, in partnership with the Californian winemaker Jayson Pahlmeyer. But he hasn’t forgotten what it feels like to be an outsider. So when the world’s top-rated research institute for viticulture and oenology, UC Davis, asked him to join the board in a bid to boost minority enrolments, it didn’t take him long to say yes.
“When I got into the wine space I didn’t just do it to drink wine and make great wine. I got into it to make sure that wine could be accessible to the community that I come from,” he says. “I got into it to be a voice for the black winemakers and vineyard owners; to show how wine can be a gateway to careers that have never been presented as a real option in the community of colour.”
Less than one per cent of wineries in the US are currently black-owned – a shortfall that’s been highlighted by the work of diversity campaigners including wine writer Julia Coney, founder of Black Wine Professionals, and Mexico-born Miguel Luna – both of whom now also sit on the UC Davis board. With his 18.1m Instagram followers, Wade has a bigger platform than most. But it’s not necessary to be a high-profile figure, he insists, to bring about meaningful change. “You can give money or time to a cause, but the most important thing to give is the respect that’s due to [the issue one is addressing] – educate yourself about what it is you’re trying to make change about.”
Wade retired from basketball in 2019, but remains a busy man, with a portfolio of business interests and a charitable foundation, The Wade Family Foundation, to run. His photo-memoir Dwyane was published last month. And when we speak he’s just returned from Napa where he was assessing his latest release, the top-end Wade Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($115) – there’s an entry-level range, Three by Wade (from $15), as well. He also spent time earlier this year in Europe, visiting some of his favourite domaines in Burgundy. “This is just the beginning,” he says. “So far it’s been a dope ride, but we still have so much more to learn.”