Tony Parker collects a lot of things. For instance, through 18 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Parker amassed four NBA championships, six appointments to the All Star roster, one turn as the NBA finals MVP, and — after his induction into pro basketball’s most exclusive club this weekend — one iconic orange blazer signifying his place in the NBA Hall of Fame. But as for wine?
“I don’t collect,” he tells VinePair when asked about the contents of his cellar. “I buy wine to drink.”
Parker learned to drink wine from one of the best. The Belgian-born, French-raised basketball phenom arrived in San Antonio in 2001 at just 19 years old and quickly came under the tutelage of legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. A renowned oenophile and collector, Popovich’s team-building tactics include lengthy off-court dinners for the team built around some of the world’s most serious wines. Parker, who had only just begun to explore wine in his native France when he relocated to San Antonio, soaked up all he could.
Two decades later, Parker has retired from professional basketball but he’s only just launched his career in wine. Last year, Parker partnered with Cos d’Estournel owner Michael Reybier, investing alongside the entrepreneur in Château La Mascaronne in Provence and Champagne Jeeper. He also purchased his own Rhône estate near Avignon, Château St.-Laurent, where he’s converting the 100 acres of vines — some as much as 80 years old — to organic viticulture.
VinePair caught up with the very busy retiree to discuss his path from wine novice to wine producer and what to drink when you’ve just been inducted into the NBA hall of fame.
1. When you entered the NBA in 2001, wine wasn’t really popular among NBA players, or at least it wasn’t very visible. Now the NBA is awash in wine culture. What’s changed in the past two decades?
Back then, it was more the hard alcohols. Everyone was drinking Hennessy, vodka, that kind of thing. Music and basketball are very close, and the hard alcohols were dominating at the beginning of the 2000s.
But in the U.S. during those years, the restaurants were getting better and better and the food got better and better. And when that happened, the wine got better and people became more educated about wine. Towards the end of my career I was seeing a lot of different guys — like Dwayne Wade or Curry or LeBron — everybody was drinking wine and even promoting it and being proud of it on social media.
2. Coach [Gregg] Popovich is famously passionate about wine, and his reputation for including his players in that passion is well documented. How did your relationship with him shape your wine journey when you arrived in San Antonio?
It was a great way for us to bond. He’d always had a passion for wine, and I was just starting to learn about it. When I arrived I was 19 and had just started making good money and could afford those kinds of great wines, like great Bordeaux and great Bourgogne. So after games we would go to nice restaurants, open great bottles, and over the years it really helped our relationship in the process.
3. Was there a particular moment during your tenure with the Spurs, or a particular bottle you remember from those team dinners, that changed the way you think about wine?
No, nothing in particular, I just like wine in general. For me, wine is about sharing, it’s about spending time with each other. It was a great way for us to bond as a team and share moments as we went through ups and downs and winning and losing. We always had these great dinners to reflect and talk and communicate and share, and a great way to do it was around wine.
4. What do you enjoy when you’re off the clock these days?
A little bit of everything. I don’t really have a favorite. It really depends on my mood and who I’m going to share it with. I love Bordeaux, I love Burgundy. But I also like Italian wine, Spanish wine. Wines from the U.S. Wine from Chile is really good, too. And I drink a little bit of everything that I enjoy.
5. You probably could’ve gone into the wine business with a lot of different partners. What drew you to Michael Reybier and to this specific portfolio of wines?
We met through mutual friends. Maybe people just thought it would be a good fit. But we met through friends, and it worked out. The way we connected, the way he saw the business, his passion for wine — that’s what made me want to partner with him. I feel very lucky to be able to invest in something where I know the wine is going to be good, where the name is already established. It’s not easy to get into good projects, and [Reybier] has unbelievable properties.
I’m still learning, always learning as much as I can. Each property is different, and right now I’m just trying to learn everything I can because one day I really would like to have more input on the winemaking. I’m learning the process, and with [Reybier], he lets me do as much as I want, so I’m very happy with that.
6. You’ve recently launched your own solo project in the Côtes du Ventoux in the Rhône Valley, separate from your partnership with Reybier. When can we expect to see the first vintage out of Château St.-Laurent?
Right now the focus is on Champagne Jeeper and La Mascaronne. We want to make sure we promote them well, introduce them well, especially in the U.S. The U.S. market is very important to us. The French [market] has been here forever and the U.S. is still fairly new, you know? So it’s constantly moving. U.S. wine is getting better and better, that’s for sure. The cuisine is getting better and better. And the knowledge is getting better and better.
And so we’re not even talking about [the Rhône project] right now. Because I want to wait until the quality is all the way there before we talk about that project.
7. Can you tell us anything at all about it?
It’s got great potential — great, great, great potential.
8. What bottles will you be opening to celebrate your induction into the NBA Hall of Fame?
Great question. I don’t know yet. I’ll reveal that when the time comes, but I haven’t made up my mind just yet.