Together with Tim Gleason, the former NHL players have spent a decade crafting Napa Valley Cabernet. Now they’re all in.
(St. Helena, CA) September 2019 – On the heels of Cam Ward’s retirement from the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League, the Stanley Cup champion is doubling down on fine wine with Vineyard 36, his brand of high-end, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines that he co-owns with former teammate and defenseman Tim Gleason and industry veteran Jason Earnest.
This September, Vineyard 36 announces the release of their 2017 vintage following Ward’s retirement from the NHL. This highly-anticipated release brings together a decade of hard work off the ice. From accumulating high-end sourcing contracts, to courting acclaimed Vineyard 29 winemaker Keith Emerson, the players have spent years channeling their formidable work ethic into fine tuning their Napa Valley winemaking game. And Ward thinks this is their best vintage yet.
“I grew up with dreams and aspirations of playing in the NHL and hockey has been my life’s work. However, after being introduced to fine wine it was clear I had found another passion. We’ve been relentlessly trying to build the best bottle of wine possible with world class fruit made in a world class facility. It’s exciting to see this dream, made possible together with some of my best friends, come to fruition,” says Vineyard 36 co-founder Cam Ward.
Both Ward and Gleason credit their interest in winemaking to their exposure to fine wines at team dinners and the sense of camaraderie around enjoying a good bottle. In 2009, they partnered with friend and wine industry veteran Jason Earnest to experiment with crafting just a few high-end barrels to cut their teeth. As they moved through early vintages by visiting vineyard sites, working harvests, sampling barrels and crafting final blends, Ward, Gleason and Earnest challenged themselves to constantly improve. They developed sourcing relationships with admired growers such as Candlestick Ridge vineyard in the Howell Mountain AVA, George III vineyard in the Rutherford AVA, and True Dog Knoll vineyard in Oakville AVA that is managed by famed viticulturist Michael Wolf.
These small production wines were mostly shared with colleagues and close friends. Former Hurricanes’ teammate Eric Staal bought their first bottle of wine, and their wine club grew organically among NHL players and peers. Vineyard 36 wines were even sipped out of the Stanley Cup for six straight years by players such as Alec Martinez, Brent Seabrook, Matt Cullen, Ron Hainsey, John Carlson, and Tyler Bozak of the St. Louis Blues in 2019.
Winemaker Keith Emerson came on board in 2017, motivated by their team chemistry and commitment to go all in for quality. St Helena’s Vineyard 29, which Emerson also manages as their director of winemaking, was chosen as Vineyard 36’s winemaking facility due to its state of the art equipment, fostering delicate and precise fruit handling and selection. Emerson also brought St. Helena’s Panek Vineyard into the program for the 2017 vintage, famed for its loamy soil, highly compacted alluvial deposits of gravel and optimal drainage.
“At Vineyard 36, we are working with world class vineyards and making these wines with a meticulous attention to detail in a high-tech, gravity flow facility,” says Emerson.
“Keith is extremely detail-oriented and passionate which makes him a perfect fit for our team,” says Vineyard 36 co-founder Jason Earnest. “We were searching for a winemaker with a long successful track record in Napa Valley and deep knowledge of high caliber growing sites. The great thing about Keith is that he had working relationships with the vineyards we were already sourcing from.”
With the 2017 vintage, it’s clear that the Vineyard 36 lives up to its motto, “Passion Becomes Contagious When Shared”. The final blends for the three releases were decided by Ward, Gleason, Earnest and Emerson in conjunction with Master Sommelier Scott Barber. The three releases include the 2017 Black Aces Cabernet Sauvignon, which shows power and finesse, blending Panek, George III & Orchard Ave vineyards and aged for 20 months on 65% new thin stave French Oak (SRP $125); The 2017 Foundation Red Blend is inspired by Bordeaux’s Right Bank, blending fruit from Orchard Ave and George III vineyards and aged for 20 months on 40% new thin stave French oak (SRP $55). The highly allocated 2017 Five Bands Cabernet Sauvignon is a powerful and concentrated masterpiece intended for the Napa Cabernet collector, blending fruit from Panek, George III & Orchard Ave vineyards and aged in 100% new thin stave French oak (SRP $225).
“I think one of the biggest similarities between our hockey careers and winemaking is that nothing worthwhile comes easy and nothing happens quickly. It took a lifetime of practice, ice time and traveling to tournaments and camps to get to our level in the NHL. That same work ethic, patience and persistence is what we bring to the table to produce world class wines,” says Vineyard 36 co-founder Tim Gleason.
ABOUT VINEYARD 36
Vineyard 36 produces exceptional Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon based wines that are made with fruit sourced from some of the world’s finest vineyards. Founded in 2009 by former NHL players Cam Ward and Tim Gleason and wine industry veteran Jason Earnest, the name is an amalgam of Ward’s No. 30 and Gleason’s No. 6 jerseys. With this endeavor, both athletes have taken their lifelong practice of discipline and pursuit of perfection and channeled it into pursuing the very best that Napa Valley can achieve by way of powerful, elegant and complex wines. Central to this endeavor is esteemed winemaker Keith Emerson, who embodies the brand’s work ethic and perfectionism. The bond and camaraderie between founders Cam Ward, Tim Gleason, Jason Earnest and winemaker Keith Emerson are imbued into the brand, fueling their mission to craft exceptional wines to be shared with close friends.
For more information on Vineyard 36 wines, please reach out to Erin Vaughen Hlynsky at [email protected].