Sir Charles Uncorked

by Frank Holland

The news has been bad lately. Natural disasters. Man-made disasters. Tweets hurtling the world toward nuclear winter. An ignominious Giants season. Increasingly insufferable Dodgers fans.

Sometimes, you need a drink.

So, when Erin Carlson, the Gazette’s editor, dropped us a note about the launch party for a hot new wine label, we perked up. When we found out it was at EPIC Steak, helmed by our friend Pete Sittnick, we checked our calendars. And when we saw that the wine in question belonged to Charles Barkley, we canceled our other plans.

Days passed. An avalanche of horrifying news dominated my already toxic Twitter feed. I found myself seeking solace in the fact that even though the world was going to hell, Phil and I would soon bear the delightful cross of sipping Chardonnay with the Round Mound of Rebound.

The party was well underway when we arrived at EPIC, Sir Charles holding court among a crowd of oenophiles, foodies, friends and strangers. Pete greeted us as we entered the fray. “Obviously, you’ll want to talk to Charles, but you should also chat with Don Kowalski, his partner on the project,” Pete said. He pointed to Don, who was engaged in conversation with Kevin Johnson, erstwhile Mayor of Sacramento, NBA All-Star and Cal legend.

We needed to know: How did Charles Barkley get into the wine business?

“I’ve known Don for 30 years,” Charles began. “I was playing golf in Lake Tahoe with Michael Jordan, and Don gave us four of the best cigars in the world. I said, ‘Michael, we should do something for that guy; those are damn good cigars.’”

Three decades later, Barkley has teamed up with Kowalski and Chris Cameron, the internationally acclaimed winemaker at Paso Robles’ Broken Earth Winery, to produce a signature collection: “Rebound” Chardonnay, “Auburn” Red Blend and “The Analyst” Reserve Red Blend.

“The hardest thing was trying to narrow it down,” he continued. “I had to taste a lot of wine over the past year, because I’m not going to put my name on something that isn’t good.”

And guess what? The wines brought to you by the NBA legend and TNT mega-personality are extraordinary. Each varietal was approachable, complex and fruit forward, with great balance.

“I’m just excited about the project,” Barkley said. “I don’t get paid for this; the money goes to charity. I want it to be successful so we can help more people.”

As we discussed his wide range of charitable pursuits—all of which stand to benefit from the success of CB Vineyards—Phil dropped the question that had been on his mind all week: “If you were going to go out drinking with any member of the current Warriors team, who would it be?”

Lost in thought, Charles cast his gaze out toward the water. “Well, Draymond is crazy…so probably JaVale McGee. He’s got a great personality and he’s just a fun, genuine guy.”

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