In his stellar basketball career Tony Parker racked up four NBA Championships with the San Antonio Spurs, was on six All-Star teams as well as being named MVP of the 2007 Finals. Now returning to his native France he’s trying his hand in the wine world, buying Château La Mascaronne in Provence with business partner Michel Reybier. Over some glasses of his latest vintages at New York’s Baccarat Hotel, I spoke with Parker about the growing relationship between the sports world and wine, his love of rosé and why you might have seen a lot of French winemakers headed out to San Antonio.
Was wine a part of your life growing up in Europe?
It was part of my family dinners. At the time we couldn’t afford the great ones. So it was when I was 17 and I signed my first professional contract in Paris that I was able to start my process and get to know all those great families and how they make wine in those vineyards. And then when I was 19 I arrived in San Antonio and I had my coach who loved wine and had a huge collection.
Is San Antonio a good place to get to know wine?
We invited all the vineyards to San Antonio. We hosted dinners with Coach Pop (Gregg Popovich) and then invited them to the games. And then in the summer I would go to meet them and work on my allocation to make sure I could have some good ones.
Who came to visit?
They all came. Château Pétrus, Château Cheval Blanc. Champagne too, Dom Pérignon. Cognac, Louis XIII. I invited all the big houses and we had great dinners. They would bring all different vintages, but always an ’82 because I was born then and it’s one of the best years for wine. That’s how I started to build relationships. And I always knew I wanted to invest in wine and have my own story.
And how did you make that happen?
I was very lucky and blessed to meet Michel Reybier who is from Lyon and used to own the team that I own now as well (ASVEL). And after a year and a half he had a great opportunity to invest in La Mascaronne and asked me if I wanted to be a part of it.
Sports in America are usually associated with beer, but wine is starting to make a lot of inroads.
You’re totally right. When I arrived in ’01 everyone was drinking beer or hard alcohol, Hennessy, whiskey, because the hip hop world and the NBA are so close. So it’s nice to see the evolution. At first, it was hard to find great restaurants. The all the French chefs came to the U.S. and now you can eat great food in all the best cities. And the wine followed. Then the NBA dress code — everyone started dressing nice, no more baggies, no more caps, no more jerseys. Jay-Z and Kanye start wearing suits, you know? And then the champagne and wine business starts to grow on our community, the NBA world.
There are also a lot of players going into the wine business.
Stephen Curry, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony have their own brands. It’s pretty cool to see guys really enjoying and appreciate wine, because for a long time I felt like they’ve said in the U.S. that we can’t drink good wine. It’s too expensive, not affordable. Now I feel like we can drink some good wine at a good price. It’s nice to see guys in social media being very proud of saying ‘hey, look at that vintage I drank last night.’
Do you remember the first wine you really loved?
I don’t remember that. But the first color for sure was red. And then I really liked the whites. And then ’06, ’07, that’s when I start drinking rosé. Cause I wanted to change it up. It was the summer and my friends and family wanted to drink something different and we’re not too big on hard alcohol.
Which rosés did you like?
Miraval, which Brad Pitt bought. That’s all I drank that summer. And then Provence took off. And it’s funny because when I decided to invest with Michel Reybier we bought La Mascaronne from Tom Bove — and he is the one who sold Miraval to Brad Pitt. So we knew it had great foundations and that he did great stuff.
Are you enjoying the transition to the business side of wine?
I wanted to be part of it. To have an opportunity to be hands on. To really see the whole process and the harvest and try every parcel. And watch them make the blend. I was very happy that I had the opportunity with Michel Reybier to be in on the board meetings and meet with the employees and learn about building a brand. It’s been great.
What will your main role be?
Being an ambassador for the U.S. and France for sure. On making the wine — I’m a sponge. I’m learning. I’m still learning. Obviously I have a lot of knowledge but I will never be a specialist. They are a specialist for a reason. But I love being in the room with them and listen to what words they use and why they decided to put more of this one or that one to make the blend.
Which wines are you drinking now?
Rosé. I really believe we’re going to start drinking rosé all year long. All the big makers of red wine have come into the rosé world and they’re treating making a great rosé like the way they make a great red wine. Right now the tendency is ‘I always want the last year’ because they think if it’s even two years old it’s not good.
But it’s so not true. Today you try the 2020 La Mascaronne and it feels fresh, it feels great. Maybe even better than the 2021.
Are you a wine collector?
I don’t collect wines. I drink wines. People always laugh when they come to my wine cellar. Everything is empty. I enjoy drinking wine, sharing with my friends. It’s a social thing. I never buy something and say I’m going to drink this in forty years. I buy to drink.
What were some of your most memorable wine dinners?
My best dinners were in San Antonio with Coach Pop, having great wines with all the best wine people in the world.
Have you ever had drinks with one of your idols?
I’ve had great parties with Michael Jordan, but that’s always hard alcohol because we’re at a club, not dinners. Michael’s got his own tequila, so he is big into his tequila. I tried it of course, but I don’t really drink tequila.
What do you envision for the future of La Mascaronne?
Right now we do 20,000 bottles of white, 40,000 of red and between 150,000 and 200,000 of rosé. Our goal is to do a million bottles. We just bought four different pieces of land around La Mascaronne to grow the production. And we want to do three levels, from the highest quality to those that can be more affordable. I would like for anybody to be able to try La Mascaronne.