Frye makes foray into Oregon winemaking
On the court, former NBA player Channing Frye was ahead of his time. A lanky 7-footer with an uncanny 3-point stroke, he was part of an influx of players who ushered in the era of the versatile big man. Mostly gone are the big, slow, back-to-the-basket centers, replaced by stretch-forwards who shoot like Frye and can handle the ball, rebound and run the floor.
Frye, 37, hopes to break the mold in retirement as well. His newest venture now that he's hung up his sneakers is winemaking in Oregon's Willamette Valley, headlined by a partnership with L'Angolo Estate in Newberg to create Frye's own wine label: Chosen Family Wines. His 2018 pinot noir and 2019 chardonnay — both derived from the Dundee Hills — will be available for purchase in September.
Frye's passion for wine began when he was playing for the Portland Trail Blazers between 2007 and 2009, first introduced to it by his wife, Lauren. It took a few years for him to become a connoisseur, though, and he spread that love to his teammates on the 2016 NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
"I really started getting into wine around 2014, especially Oregon wines," Frye said. "Learning about the different varietals, winemakers, vineyards and people was exciting for me. The biggest influence for me has been my business partners and friends at L'Angolo Estate. I was curious about the process, and how certain wines taste certain ways. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.
"When I was with the Cavs when we won the championship, everybody was bringing in some of their favorite wines from all over the world — Italians, French wines, Napa — and I was bringing in Oregon pinots, and these guys' minds were blown. They didn't know a pinot or chardonnay could taste like this. For me, I've tried to become the biggest advocate for the (Willamette) Valley that I can. There are so many unreal winemakers, vineyards and people within those organizations."
Superstars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade are among the NBA's most prominent wine drinkers. Whether they're enjoying a glass to unwind after a game, out to dinner with teammates or showing off a rare bottle on Instagram, wine has become engrained in basketball culture.
It's become a way for players to bond and even compete with one another, Frye said, and wine has been one of Frye's primary focuses since retiring. The others include spending much-needed time with his four kids — even more so now because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and hosting the "Talkin' Blazers" podcast for NBC Sports Northwest.
"NBA players want the best and they love the excitement of a new bottle of wine," Frye said. "They love the idea of bringing out a new wine they heard about and showing it off to their teammates. In basketball, you have to communicate a lot and opening a bottle of wine requires communication, too. Wine is about community in a lot of the same ways that basketball is, and I love sharing wine with former teammates, friends and family."
Frye is the second current or former NBA player to debut a wine label in recent months. Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum unveiled his McCollum Heritage 91 Pinot Noir in June, produced at Adelsheim Vineyard in Newberg. McCollum even brought advance bottles of his wine, which doesn't debut until the fall, to the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, to share with his teammates and opponents.
More NBA players enjoying and producing wine helps address a diversity problem in the industry as well, Frye said. NBA players are nearly 80% Black, while the wine industry — especially in Oregon — is mostly operated and patronized by white people.
"The culture of wine seems very much white for the most part," Frye said. "To bring in prominent people of different ethnicities into that culture I think is beneficial. It makes it that much better because people will come with different passions and from different walks of life to make it better. As a kid from Chandler, Arizona, I never thought I'd be working with wine, but I could inspire some kid from somewhere else to do this for a living, try it out or get passionate about it."
Frye said he wants to use his platform to not only inspire other Black winemakers, but to elevate Oregon wine in the eyes of a diverse audience. He has visited Bordeaux, France, and tasted wines from California to Italy, but his connection to Oregon pinots and chardonnays is part of the reason why he returned to Portland after retiring.
The name of his wine label, Chosen Family, comes from the fact that Frye picked and chose the different grapes for his vintages, but it's also a reference to the ways he believes wine brings people together.
Frye said he remembers the excitement and joy of sharing high-class wines with his NBA teammates and friends over the years, but he also values the opportunity to share his love of wine with his family, whether he's teaching his kids about the different smells and winemaking process or discussing chardonnay preferences with his wife.
"Wine tasting has completely changed since the early 2000s," Frye said. "It's become a family thing and it doesn't feel like just a female thing, either. My boys will come out to Oregon and be like, 'Yo, forget the bars, hook us up with wine tastings for three or four days.' When you have awesome wine in that setting with people who are telling the stories behind it, that creates memories. To be able to work with those people is energizing and exciting."
In overalls and boots that would dwarf the size of nearly every other winemaker's, Frye is constantly exploring various vineyards in Newberg and throughout the Willamette Valley, learning about the process and tasting different varietals. Those experiences, along with his travels to wine regions around the world, have shaped Frye's perspective on an industry that he now is a part of. He sees himself as adding to the chorus of voices who support and advocate for Oregon wines.
"I'm just a megaphone for people who are making super delicious, kick-ass wine," Frye said. "I'm just excited for the opportunity to use different grapes and not be constrained by a vineyard, but only by imagination and what we think tastes good. My reach is different than most winemakers, and I want to put more Oregon wines on the map."
Frye plans to produce more wines in the coming months in partnership with the winemakers at L'Angolo. For more information on his debut wines, visit langoloestate.com.
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