Since moving to play for the Portland Trail Blazers 14 years ago, Channing Frye has called Oregon home. It also marks the beginning of his love affair with wine. “Every summer I’m going wine tasting,” he says. “I feel like I live in Newberg.” When he retired from the NBA in 2019, he decided he couldn’t stay on the bench anymore when it came to Oregon wine. He partnered with Newberg-area L’Angolo Estate owner-winemaker Chase Renton and general manager Jacob Gray to create a new wine label, Chosen Family. The wine label’s name is a nod to Frye’s Oregon family and the way in which wine brings people together.
“The people we break bread with, the people we share wine with … the people you spend your time with, who make you better and lift you up … that’s your family,” Frye says. With the new business venture, Frye joins the ranks of a number of celebrities who have formed partnerships with Oregon’s world-class vineyards and winemakers.
A Touch of Fame in Oregon Wine Country
Each story of these celebrities veering into the wine industry has the same thread: A love for Oregon wine.
Earlier in 2020, another Blazer, CJ McCollum, released his own signature pinot noir, McCollum Heritage 91, a partnership with Adelsheim Vineyard, located near Newberg. The wine, a 2018 pinot noir that features layers of cedar spice and fresh cherries, sold out in 45 minutes. Las Vegas Raiders quarterback and University of Oregon’s first Heisman Trophy-winner Marcus Mariota also recently partnered with Eugene’s Sweet Cheeks Winery to craft a pinot gris and a pinot noir. The wines raised money for his nonprofit Motiv8 Foundation, an organization based in Oregon and Hawaii that aims to create educational programs and athletic activities for youth in troubled neighborhoods.
It’s not just celebrity athletes making a foray into the Oregon wine scene. The members of Portland indie-rock band The Decemberists collaborated with Penner-Ash Wine Cellars in 2015 to create 300 bottles of their own custom-blended wine they named Bandit Queen. Star acting couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis joined the Oregon celebrity winemaking club when they began looking for ways to lend a hand with COVID relief efforts. They teamed up with Nocking Point Wines in Washington and chose grapes from Oregon’s Battle Creek Cellars, which has a tasting room in Portland, using 20% new oak for a bright and expressive Quarantine pinot noir. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the wine sales benefit four charities.
Oregon Wine on a World Stage
All of these “aha” moments validate the quality of the wine produced in the state, says Sally Murdoch, spokesperson for the Oregon Wine Board. “Celebrities have access to any wine in the world. They travel around the world, and they have palates that are honed and defined by wine all over the world,” she says. “When they come to Oregon and their palates embrace Oregon wine, that just goes to show how Oregon wine plays on the world’s stage of fine wine.”
While the quality of the product plays a factor, Frye says it’s also the Oregon wine community that attracted him to the industry. “It has everything to do with the people and the heart and soul that they put into the wine,” Frye says. Each wine Chosen Family produces is made by collaborating with existing winemakers whom Frye and his business partners have hand-selected, utilizing their imagination to offer something different on the market.
“We’re giving them a blank piece of paper and saying, ‘We love you, we trust you. What do you want to work with next? If you could go get grapes anywhere you want, we’ll go get them for you,’” Frye says. “We’re not constricted by any rules except our own.”