A 12-time NBA All-Star, an NBA Finals MVP and one of the 50 greatest players in the history of the men’s professional basketball league, who imbibed in many celebratory bottles of champagne during his illustrious career, recently embarked on creating his own brand of superb sparklers.
Trading the basketball court for Champagne vineyards, he already has won numerous awards at many international wine competitions with his Cheurlin Champagne, including 2017 Champagne Producer of the Year at the prestigious New York International Wine Competition.
His Cheurlin Thomas Black Label Collection, Blanc de Blanc Celebrite and Le Champion Blanc de Noir, along with the Rose de Saignee and the flagship Cheurlin Brut Speciale, are all exquisite in subtle elegance, pure fruit balance, and, of course, delicate tiny beads of bubbles that dance and dazzle in the glass and on the palate.
CLASS was able to catch up with this remarkable NBA legend, and speak with him about his new venture and surprising success off the court.
Tell us about your new venture.
The Champagne is named Cheurlin, and the brand comes from a family of growers with 200 acres in Champagne (France), near the Seine (river), who has been making Champagne since the late 1700s. They pride themselves on Champagne-making.
We have the best soil, water and weather conditions for Champagne. Being in this format, we are very conscious on what we eat and drink, and sometimes when you do drink some products, you end up with a headache.
I used to think the headache came from the alcohol, but now I realize it actually comes from the sugar. The thing that I love is that there is very little sugar added to our product.
We are very excited to introduce this product to the MGM (Resorts International) properties.
What motivated you to venture into the Champagne-making process; have you always had an interest in fine wines?
No, I was always an athlete first, and I did not drink, smoke or anything of that nature. I was as pure as the driven snow, so to speak, in some respects (laughs). The time I was around Champagne was for celebratory reasons, usually after a big win.
As time went on, and I got involved in this space, I realized that Champagne can be a beverage for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The more I got into it, the more I understood how Champagne was made and the vineyards from which it came.
Our Champagne is from one vineyard; all the grapes come from the same place, and the Champagne makers are from one family. That makes this product extremely special; it has a 90-plus-pointed portfolio here in the United States. I believe we are one of two producers with a 90-plus-pointed rating.
It seems that launching Cheurlin was more about enhancing the intimate setting of meals with friends and family versus the club scene for you; is that correct?
The more I learned about Champagne, the more I realized that it is about the pairing with the meals that you eat. So often, we think of a certain red or white wine to go with a meal; but Champagne is the perfect beverage, which is why it is such a luxurious drink.
I have heard that Champagne is the drink of the gods, since they can enjoy it anytime of the day or night. If you look at how we came into the business, we did not go to the nightclubs.
Instead, we are going into the hotels, restaurants and big sporting arenas where people sit, gather to talk, and enjoy a meal and conversation. The best part of this job is that I can actually say that I am working doing this.
How are you engaging the 21 crowd that may want to try Champagne for the first time?
I have found that the younger crowd is no different than we were when we started drinking, in that they may start with a sweeter beverage, but then they may want to try something more upscale — or they meet someone who introduces them to a better product.
The millennials are very inquisitive, ask a lot of questions; they do want to know what they are drinking, and they do want to know the story behind the beverage.
I was one of those guys. When someone asked me what kind of wine I wanted to drink — red or white, or even Champagne — I really did not know what I was being poured; I was not educated.
Now there is more education out there, including more information about food, and now the spirits business is doing the same. People are more conscious of what they are drinking and what they are ordering, and that is why we will have a leg up on the competition.
How are you getting others interested in learning about Cheurlin?
We use some social media, but we have only been in the U.S. six months with this product, and I go back to what my economic teacher told me to invest in; things you like, and love, and the good products sell themselves through word-of-mouth.
Most of the good stuff that we wear, eat or drink sells itself through word-of-mouth. I happen to be here today in Las Vegas by word-of-mouth through the MGM properties.
It is the juice in the bottle that speaks for itself, not the bottle or the packaging — which I designed myself — but the Champagne.