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It’s probably less than you think
When most people think of NBA veteran Dwyane Wade, viniculture probably isn’t at the top of the list of things that come to mind. And sure, he’s a basketball legend with three NBA championship rings and countless other accolades, but well before he retired from the game in 2019, Wade’s been hard at work establishing his own presence in the world of wine. In 2014, the star teamed up with legendary Napa winemaker Pahlmeyer for his own label, called Wade Cellars, which has earned accolades from industry publications like Wine Enthusiast for its wine line-up, which includes cabernet sauvignon, chenin blanc, and rosé.
In creating his own wine brand, Wade immersed himself in learning everything he could about wine. He traveled to Burgundy and Piedmont to learn from winemakers and sommeliers, and even hired his own “Champagne connoisseur” to help him learn how to love fizzy French wines. Now, he’s a growing voice in California’s winemaker scene, serving on UC Davis’s Executive Leadership Board for the Department of Viticulture and Enology. This month, Wade also launched When We Gather, a dinner series in six cities across the country that highlights the work of Black sommeliers and chefs. “This world of wine wasn’t something that was presented to me growing up as a kid in the inner city, it wasn’t an option” Wade says. “But now I’m getting the opportunity to not only drink wine and enjoy wine, now I’m learning about wine and seeing how wine brings people together from all over the world. This is what When We Gather is all about.”
On the heels of When We Gather’s launch, Eater caught up with Wade to talk about the ways that learning about wine have changed his palate over the years, how much he thinks is reasonable to spend on a good bottle of wine, and whether or not dropping $5,000 on a single bottle is actually worth it.
Do you have a memory of the first wine you ever tried?
Dwyane Wade: The first one that I can remember that I’ve tried was given to me by a teammate of mine, Alonzo Mourning. It was a bottle of Flowers pinot noir, and it was something I definitely couldn’t appreciate at that time. I was coming off of drinking sweet stuff, lemonade and Kool-Aid. I was young, and tasting red wine at that time, it was so foreign to my taste buds. I didn’t like it.
How did you start to develop a taste for wine?We’d go to restaurants and just keep trying things. Looking at the guys who played in the NBA, the veterans before me, they would all drink wine. And growing up in that, I knew that one day I wanted to. I wasn’t really into alcohol, but I wanted to be able to enjoy a glass of wine. So I just kept trying and finally found something that kind of spoke to my palate. That was a riesling, because it was closer to the sweet drinks that I was used to.
Do you think that your fellow NBA veterans have good or bad taste in wine?
It’s very competitive in the NBA, and a lot of the time it’s more about the name of the wine than what they’re drinking. I don’t know what their taste in wine is, but as much as anything, it’s, “Oh look at this bottle that I have access to.” Starting in around 2014, there was this conversation about wine and its prevalence in the NBA, and I would like to think since that time, a lot of people’s palates have matured and we’ve gotten the chance to really understand what we’re drinking.
What kind of wines appeal to you now, as a more educated wine drinker?
I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t use the word “like” anymore. If I drink a wine from a region that I’m not familiar with, I just feel like my palate isn’t advanced enough to where I can appreciate it yet. It takes time, certain things to happen, for you to be able to appreciate certain types of wine. I haven’t experienced everything yet, but I’m willing to.
I would say my go-tos are California wines. I love French wines, Italian wines, but the one thing I love about California wines is that I know I’m going to get that consistency every time. There’s nothing in the world like the consistency of a California cab. If I’m having a day, I want to drink a wine that I know, so I’m going to go to Napa. I’m going to pick out a cabernet sauvignon from Wade Wines, or maybe Pahlmeyer or Harlan Estate.
Do you and your wife [superstar actress Gabrielle Union] have similar tastes in wine?
At one point, I don’t think we did. When it came to red wine, my wife was more likely to enjoy a merlot, and I just had my hands crossed like “no.” They were too aggressive for me. But now I’m starting to appreciate all wines, and I think we both are. The cool thing about it is that she can introduce me to a wine, and then I can introduce her to one. We didn’t have that when I first started drinking wine.
Are there any types of wine that are still a hard no for you?
Not really, and that’s only because my mindset has changed. It can be a little hard to find a great chardonnay, but I’ve been able to experience some good chardonnay. A lot of people have a hard time appreciating Champagne, and I was one of those people. Now, I can appreciate it. The same could be said for chenin blanc. We have a chenin blanc in our line, and a lot of people have a certain impression of that, and the first taste of our wine may be a little different than what they’re expecting. But I think eventually, you can come to appreciate any good wine.
It seems kind of ironic that you’ve had so many opportunities to drink Champagne [see: three NBA championships over a storied 16-year basketball career] and didn’t even really like it!
I always feel like Champagne is just given to you. You just walk in a room, or it’s used for a celebratory moment, and it’s never really anything good. You don’t really develop an appreciation for what you’re drinking until you start to do some research on Champagne and asking questions about the process. I went into it not really liking Champagne, and then I went to France two years ago, and spent some time with a Champagne connoisseur. They had me trying Champagnes every day, just trying to get me to understand. I finally landed on a bottle from Salon that I just fell in love with.
This is absolutely a nosy question, but what’s the most you’ve ever spent on a bottle of wine?
I don’t like to get very expensive. When it comes to my house, you go to these vineyards and you buy in bulk, and that can get pricey. But going out to a restaurant, I think probably like $5,000 is the most I’ve ever spent, and I didn’t even know I was doing that. I was on this anniversary dinner with my wife and we saw a bottle we wanted. I got the bill back and it was like $5,300, and I know we didn’t order that much food. At the end of the night, we just corked it up and took it back on up to our room to finish.
Did it feel worth $5,000?
I don’t even remember what bottle it was! It was totally unplanned. That was at a time when I knew less about wine, and when I really wasn’t into spending money on wine, and even now it just doesn’t seem necessary. You can get so many great wines at so many different price points. I’m not the one who needs to go to the top, I don’t want to go into the thousands to get great wine, because it’s not necessary. The money isn’t what makes great wine.
What is an amount that you think is actually reasonable to pay for a nice bottle of wine? Not a daily drinker, but something for a special occasion?
Well, I guess that all depends on who you ask the question to. But for me, I would say something in the $60 to $70 range is healthy. That’s the best price point I think. It’s not cheap, it’s not overly expensive. It’s a good amount of money to spend on a bottle of wine.
Do you prefer to drink wine at home or in restaurants?
Definitely in restaurants. I’m not a big at-home drinker unless it’s a Friday or friends are coming over. Outside of that it’s mostly water at home, I’m always trying to make sure that I’m hydrated. But I like to go out, and for me, wine is not just about the taste. Wine is about the community, the conversations, the stories, and it’s easier to find that outside of the home.
Do you have favorite restaurants that you like to just post up at and drink wine?
I don’t have a regular place like that. I moved out to California during the pandemic and so that made it hard, but I definitely like to go to L.A. and go to Wally’s. They carry Wade Cellars and they have a great assortment of wines. I’ll also reach out to my sommelier and meet with wine collectors who have these on-site cellars where you can go and drink wine. I do that more than I do anything else.
When you go to a restaurant, how do you know if their wine list is any good?
I just like to go through and see what they have from the regions I like — what they have from Oregon, Italy, and California. I’m the person at dinner now where everyone just gives me the menu to pick a wine. For some reason people think I know about wine because I have a wine brand. But I really like to sit down and ask a somm, because if I’m ordering, I’m always gonna go to what I know, and I want to experience things that I haven’t experienced before. I want to hear their recommendations, and sometimes I’ll ask them to take me on a journey through Italy or through France.
Fred Franzia dies; vintner changed the wine industry with “Two Buck Chuck”
Fred Franzia once said that if you get a group of consumers together and have a blind tasting between his $2 wine and a $10 wine, most wouldn’t be able to taste the difference.
“If you can’t tell the difference or taste the difference, then why spend the money?” he said.
It’s a question he posed and acted on in a blind move of his own in the middle of the grape surplus of the early 2000s, creating his Charles Shaw line of wines priced at a mere $1.99 at Trader Joe’s stores.
The move was seen, mostly by the Napa elite Franzia so despised, as a fad that would quickly fade once the surplus ended. Instead, Franzia and his line of wine, which buyers affectionately knew as “Two Buck Chuck,” revolutionized the way wine was seen and sold across California and in the U.S.
“I don’t make wine to put in a closet,” Franzia told ABC News in a 2009 interview after selling more than 500 million bottles of his discount wine. “We sell wine to drink.”
Forever a champion of inexpensive wine, Franzia died early Tuesday morning at his home in Denair, Calif. He was 79. He is survived by his five children, Renata, Roma, Joseph, Carlo and Giovanna; 14 grandchildren; a brother, Joseph; and two sisters, Joellen D’Ercole and Catherine McFadden.
Though noted for his counterculture moves as a businessman, Franzia came from California wine royalty. He was the nephew of Ernest Gallo, founder of E&J Gallo Winery, which today is the largest producer of California wine. For decades, his father and uncle ran Franzia Brothers Winery based in the Central Valley city of Ripon, where Franzia grew up working in the family’s vineyards, he told the New Yorker.
But in 1973, the family sold their company to Coca-Cola, which used the brand to popularize boxed wines. Franzia, along with his brother Joseph and cousin John Franzia, decided to start their own wine company, founding Bronco Wine Co.
Over the decades, Bronco acquired large swaths of land for its vineyards, becoming the fourth-largest wine producer in the state. With more than 30,000 acres of vineyards, Franzia relied on the company’s massive scale, along with aggressive efficiency, to keep the cost of his wine low.
“We have vineyards where you drive three miles before you have to turn the tractor around,” Franzia told The Los Angeles Times in 2003. “Everything is done on a mass scale, correctly and efficiently.”
The company’s bold business tactics were not without controversy. Bronco’s license was suspended briefly by state agriculture officials in 1985, a rare punishment, after other growers complained that the company was misrepresenting its grapes and wine.
The company was found to have repeatedly used improper tactics to lower the prices it paid growers for their grapes, typically by refusing to take deliveries until the fruit’s quality had deteriorated.
In 1994, Franzia and other Bronco executives were indicted on federal fraud charges for falsely claiming that their wine came from premium grapes, such as zinfandel, chardonnay or cabernet. Consumers were found to have paid about $55 million for the falsely advertised wine over a five-year period.
Although five others were imprisoned, Franzia avoided incarceration by pleading guilty, paying $500,000 in fines and stepping down as Bronco’s president.
Even so, the scandal hardly slowed Bronco’s growth. That next year, Franzia snapped up the Charles Shaw wine label when its owner, Charles F. Shaw, filed for bankruptcy. Over the next decade, Franzia turned the label into a stunning success.
When his 2002 Charles Shaw Shiraz beat out 2,300 other wines to a win a prestigious double gold medal at the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition, Franzia proved that it was possible to give consumers an affordable wine that didn’t sacrifice quality.
Although consumers grew enamored with Bronco’s affordable wine, Franzia acknowledged that the attainable price was less a sign of benevolence and more a marketing strategy that he believed would prompt more consumers to buy more wine.
At a California wine industry gathering in Sacramento in 2016, Franzia continued to push for more affordable wine at restaurants, urging the industry to bring the price of wine down from the typical $40 bottle to $10, according to a report by the Modesto Bee.
He said the move would ultimately attract more drinkers.
“Give the consumer the chance to make the choice,” Franzia said.
Entrepreneur-slash-sommelier Kristin Olszewski discusses the importance of sustainability, her favorite places to drink in LA, and more
Kristin Olszewski is the wine director at Gigi’s in Hollywood, founder and CEO of canned wine company Nomadica, and host of this month’s Eater Wine Club. The wine aficionado majored in sustainable agriculture in college before embarking on pre-med studies at Harvard; during her time in Cambridge, she met the owner of a wine bar who sparked her passion for the drink. She dropped out of school to earn a Level 3 sommelier certification and hasn’t looked back since.
Over the past decade, Olszewski has worked for and run wine programs at a number of esteemed restaurants including Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles and Husk in Nashville. These days, she’s balancing the growth of Nomadica, along with curating environmentally conscious wines at Gigi’s. Eater LA sits down with this Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 pick to hear why she’s feeling optimistic about the environment, the economy, and the Central Coast — and why the wine industry is overdue for a renaissance.
On the importance of holistic sustainability within the wine industry: I think the biggest thing no one is talking about is the actual sustainability behind wine. We talk a lot about organic farming, biodynamic farming, and natural wine, but I don’t think enough people are asking meaningful questions around holistic sustainability. Like, is your packaging sustainable? I cannot even tell you how much of an uphill battle it is to start a sustainable packaging company. People think just because it’s not in a bottle that it’s not as good as bottled wine, which is totally incorrect. But even beyond that, are the employees of the winery being paid fair wages? Good working conditions? Do they have health insurance? What are we supporting here with our dollars when we’re talking about sustainability?
I was up the coast a few months ago on a trip to west Sonoma when the region got certified as its own AVA (American Viticulture Area), and was just blown away by the stewardship and environmentalism that these vendors were exhibiting. I feel like that dialogue is often lost in the natural wine conversation.
On why the future of wine is in the Central Coast and Sonoma: I’m excited by all the young people who’ve been coming to the Central Coast. We’re really pushing the envelope on what California wine is. Holus Bolus, Amplify, Natural Action Wine Coalition, Scotty Boy (not that young but doing cool stuff), Sol Miner — oh my god, it’s so good. The Central Coast became known for trying to be Napa for a while, especially Paso Robles, and I think the area has developed this tight-knit community farming the right way and making low-intervention wines.
In terms of ecological stewardship, the West Sonoma ADA, Hirsch Vineyards, Ted Lemon, Ceritas, Occidental, all of these really incredible legacy vintners, are thinking about winemaking in a way that is so meaningful and exciting. I was up there a month ago [and] this trip invigorated me and reminded me why I got into wine. Now, we’re not just talking about making great wine and selling it, we’re talking about returning nutrients to the earth, having a reduced carbon footprint, veterans being paid fair wages and being taken care of. And I think it’s just really inspiring to know that I’m working alongside people like that.
On how consumers can be more mindful about sustainability and their carbon footprint: A little bit of a hot take – I think that change needs to happen within the wine community on the buyer’s side. One of the problems with wine is there is so much of it and it’s insane to navigate. Educating consumers is important and more buyers need to do that.
On the next decade of wine: I have a unique perspective because I have Nomadica, and we’re investor-backed and fundraised, but then I also run the program at Gigi’s where I buy from really small producers and small distributors. I have a holistic view of the wine industry.
I think the wine industry is very scared. The investment community is really down on wine as a category — they think it’s dying, they think young consumers are switching to spirits. But I am optimistic that wine is here to stay, and is having a resurgence with millennials and Gen Z. We are trending toward knowing what is in our food and there’s no better beverage for that than wine. It’s grapes, water, yeast, and time. Do you want lower ABV than that cocktail? Great, drink wine. Something that pairs really well with food? Great, drink wine. Something with a story behind it? Wine. It’s a living beverage. As the palate skews more bright, acid-driven with the rise in popularity of things like kombucha, wine will have a big resurgence in the larger market.
On where she drinks in Los Angeles, and thinks you should too: Evelyn Goreshnik, who runs the program for Last Word Hospitality (Red Dog Saloon, Found Oyster) — I think her lists are incredible. She really walks that line of focusing on small producers farming the right way, but who still make classic wines, with good moral ethics behind them. I’d be remiss not to mention Cristie Norman, as she’s one of the most impressive people in the Los Angeles wine community. She started the United Sommeliers Foundation and created the LA Wine Community, with weekly tastings and a job board. She’s young, she cares so much, I can’t say enough good things about her.
One of the most secret, underrated programs is Rachel Grisafi at Antico Nuovo. It’s the best Italian wine list in town. And, of course, Sarah Clark who runs the program for Republique and Bicyclette; she was my mentor at Mozza. A famous Napa winemaker told me they thought Sarah is the best sommelier working the floor in America. She’s best-in-class and best-in-the-city.
The Best of Beverly Hills is an exclusive guide of the Beverly Hills Wine Club. Our membership vote their favorite wine-centric people and places in Beverly Hills California creating a tastemaker’s guide to the very best our world renowned city has to offer with respect to the greater wine loving community. We encourage all members to take a few moments and submit their choices for The Best of Beverly Hills.
The city of Beverly Hills has a global reputation for its ultra luxury hotels, shopping, restaurants, homes and celebrity residents. The focus of the Beverly Hills Wine Club is to offer its members a luxury lifestyle experience through exclusive wine-centric events that celebrate wine and the city itself. Our community thrives upon exploration, education, and sharing their experience with like minded, curious, passionate wine lovers. We affectionately refer to our members as 902-wine-0’s…a clever word play on our world famous zip code 90210.