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Coach Popovich in Wine Spectator

By Daniel Strickland on May 25, 2006.

In case you missed this last May, consider this a Christmas gift from your friends at SpursDynasty. Merry Christmas!

Coach Gregg Popovich shoots straight about wine
By Kristiana Kahakauwila
From Wine Spectator magazine, May 31, 2006 issue

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s biggest nightmare has nothing to do with basketball. He’s not worried about a weak defense or an undisciplined team; after all, the Texas team, led by “Pop,” as the players call him, has won three NBA Championships in the past six years. Instead, it’s Popovich’s 3,000-bottle wine collection that keeps him awake at night.

“A vintage in Bordeaux like 2000 or 1990 comes out, so you go get X number of cases and you think, ‘How am I going to drink all this before I croak?’ ” says Popovich, 57. “Then you end up having nightmares that your kids are going [to inherit the wine], mix it with 7-Up and make sangria.”

The coach is laughing, but there’s urgency in his voice as well. Popovich, who favors well-aged wines, estimates that nearly one-third of his 3,000-bottle collection won’t be ready to drink for years, if not decades. This includes his verticals of Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains 1994 to 1997, Peter Michael Les Pavots Knights Valley 1996 to 1999 and Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Toscana Masseto 1995 to 1999, as well as cases of Château Pétrus 2000 and imperials of Château d’Yquem 1990. Still, Popovich insists, “Whether it’s ready or not, the Yquem is going to get drunk [by me]. Those bottles will not be passed on!”

In the meantime, Popovich can enjoy 1974 Beaulieu Private Reserve and 1974 Simi Alexander Valley Reserve, which he bought when he first began collecting wine, as well as 1949 Château Latour, 1968 Inglenook Cask Selection, 1990 Jacques Prieur Montrachet and a bottle of Madeira dating back to 1795. And because he sips wine while breaking down basketball plays on videotape, Popovich also keeps a supply of his everyday favorites on hand: Falesco Lazio Montiano from Italy, Ridge Petite Sirah Napa County York Creek and Rudd Estate Chardonnay Russian River Valley Bacigalupi Vineyard.

Spreading his love of wine is almost as much a goal for Popovich as is winning another championship. So far he’s introduced former Spurs player Sean Elliott (now a commentator for Spurs Broadcasting) and assistant coach PJ Carlesimo to the joys of tasting. When the Spurs played the Sacramento Kings in January 2005, Popovich took advantage of being in the area to bring his staff to visit Leslie Rudd, owner of Rudd Estate.

“I was trying to get my coaches interested in wine,” says Popovich. “Leslie whipped out the Bacigalupi and all those guys fell in love with it.”

Following the Spurs’ 2005 NBA Championship win, Popovich watched his players spray each other with inexpensive sparkling wine in the locker room before sneaking away with Elliott and Carlesimo to celebrate with something more drinkable: 1989 and 1990 Pol Roger, 1990 Dom Pérignon and 1990 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame.

Popovich discovered wine in 1970, when he was stationed in the Air Force in Sunnyvale, Calif. He favored big California Cabernets then, especially those from Ridge, Mondavi and Beaulieu. Later, while stationed in Germany, he was introduced to Riesling and learned to appreciate its subtleties. But it wasn’t until Popovich moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., and became the assistant coach for the Air Force Academy, his alma mater, that he became a collector.

“My big thrill in those days was finding liquor stores that carried wine and seeing if they made [pricing] mistakes,” he laughs. One day, he and a friend found Château Palmer 1970 and Croft Vintage Port 1970 selling at bargain prices; they bought as much as they could, with the intention of cellaring the wine. Today, Popovich has a hard time keeping his collection at fewer than 3,000 bottles.

Popovich stores his wine in an aboveground cellar behind his home in San Antonio. Surrounded by trees, the 12-foot-by-20-foot building, built using Sisterdale cream stone by San Antonio-based Casa Linda Remodeling, was completed in 2001. “The stone’s the same gold-yellow buttery color as Château d’Yquem wine,” says Popovich. It’s no coincidence: Yquem is his favorite wine.

At the entrance, two pillars support a limestone bas-relief inspired by an ancient Egyptian carving of two men picking grapes. Heavy wooden doors, imported from Spain, open into a large room with an arched ceiling. A tasting table, handcrafted from fir, rests on stone tiles from Chicago’s Paris Ceramics, while redwood racks recessed into the stone walls gleam beneath a Spanish chandelier. The room, cooled to 58° F with 66 percent to 70 percent humidity, is Popovich’s “private little hideaway.”

After establishing himself as a basketball coach at the Air Force Academy, Popovich was hired in 1979 as the head coach for Pomona-Pitzer in Claremont, Calif. Nine years later, he joined Larry Brown’s staff as an assistant coach of the Spurs, becoming the team’s head coach in 1995. Since then, he’s led the Spurs to NBA Championship victories in 1999, 2003 and 2005, and they were pre-season favorites to repeat as champions this year.

Popovich is looking forward to a strong season, but he doesn’t intend to neglect his love for wine. He even attended a Romanée-Conti tasting in Chicago the night before a Bulls game. “I was excited about that,” he says.

Copyright ©2006 Wine Spectator Online

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