NEW YORK – On a hot day in France’s Provence region in September 2023, former National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Tony Parker was picking grapes at Chateau La Mascaronne intended for its rose. Then he sat down with the vineyard crew for the regular harvest lunch.
“I felt like a rookie. I’m hands-on, and I love to be part of that tradition,” he said of the experience, while sipping the chateau’s just-released Grande Reserve rose 2022 at the New York City restaurant Benoit, adding that he “worked hard enough to realise my back was hurting”.
Parker is better known for his lightning-fast skills on the basketball court. He helped the San Antonio Spurs win four NBA titles and was a six-time All Star. In August, he became the first French player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
He has long been a wine aficionado and, after retiring in 2019, finally found time to indulge his other passion seriously.
“Since age 20,” the 41-year-old said, “I’ve dreamed of being in the wine business.”
In May, he will release his first wine, a rose from the historic estate Chateau Saint Laurent–near Avignon, in the Rhone Valley, which he purchased in 2021.
“When I saw the castle, I just fell in love,” he said.
Over lunch, the modest and laid-back star was dressed in Adidas, sweatpants and a hoodie and discussed how he became a serious wine drinker and maker. On his right hand, holding a glass, Parker sports a tattoo of a “9,” the number he wore on his Spurs jersey.
He has been learning the ropes as a partner in La Mascaronne and Champagne Jeeper. They are both owned by French businessman Michel Reybier, who offers Parker an interesting entrepreneurial model as the sole proprietor of several other important wine estates, including Bordeaux’s Chateau Cos d’Estournel and Hetszolo in Hungary. He also owns the Michel Reybier Hospitality Group with about 15 hotels and spas under its umbrella.
So far, though, Parker is only involved in the Provence estate and Jeeper. Naturally, he toasted his Hall of Fame induction with that blanc de blancs.
Parker sees clear parallels between being a sports star and making wine: “For both you have to be passionate, have a strong work ethic, and you have to do it because you love it.”
“Basketball was my first love,” Parker said. Born in Belgium, in the great wine vintage 1982, to a basketball-playing American father and a Dutch model mother, he grew up in France.
“I love cider,” he said. “I grew up in Normandy, which is famous for it.”
Parker saw his basketball idol, Michael Jordan, play when he was nine years old.
“Back then, I was too small and skinny,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I’d never make it, but you have to dream big.”
At 17, he first tasted wine, and at 19, after joining the Spurs, he had the money to buy “the good stuff,” he said. At the time, his teammates were heavily into spirits and cocktails, which did not interest him.
On one of their first road trips, however, Parker noticed head coach Gregg Popovich reading a wine magazine, and the two bonded over a shared passion. When Popovich invited him for dinner at his home, he pulled out a Bordeaux from 1982, Parker’s birth year. “What a great vintage,” he said, smiling at the memory. Popovich, who sports a serious wine collection, became a mentor.
Among his teammates, Parker always stood out for his determination to learn about wine but, a few years later, they were also getting into fine vino. Parker is convinced the shift had something to do with the dress code the NBA introduced in 2005. “We had to wear sport coats,” he said. “Fashion became important. No more jerseys. And French chefs started coming to the US.”
Parker surely helped by organising wine dinners in San Antonio, inviting representatives of Bordeaux chateaux to share bottles with interested teammates and friends.