How Channing Frye Went From The NBA Courts To Launching Chosen Family Wines

Chosen Family WinesPhoto Credit: Chosen Family Wines

At just 37 years old, former professional basketball player Channing Frye is embarking on his life’s next journey: wine. He launched Chosen Family Vineyards as a passion project, along with friends and business partners Chase Renton—winemaker and grape farmer—and Jacob Gray, the business strategist. Together, the three are making magic with Chosen Family Vineyards, which, since its inception, has debuted a 2018 Oregon Pinot Noir and a 2019 Oregon Chardonnay, with more varieties on the horizon.

In honor of our Haute Wine Society x Coravin Wine Collectors’ Series, as we highlight one’s personal journey and exploration with the vast world of wine, we chatted with the NBA champion and wine connoisseur to learn more about Chosen Family Vineyards and his transition from the basketball courts to the vineyards. Find our full interview below.

Channing Frye, Chase Renton and Jacob Grey
Channing Frye, Chase Renton and Jacob Grey

Photo Credit: Chosen Family Wines

HL: Tell us about how your journey with wine began.

CF: For me when I was younger, wine was that one or two bottles a year occasion unless you’re going to a steak place. Growing up in Arizona, it wasn’t something that was promoted as much. For me, it was this thing on the top shelf. You knew it was a special occasion when a bottle of wine came out. It was something big and spicy and whenever I’d get a taste, it wasn’t pleasant to me. I grew up and eventually matured with the wine I was drinking. As I got older and the longer I lived in Portland, the more I’d go wine tasting. And the more I’d go wine tasting, I’d start collecting and take other trips to Napa, etc. In 2015, a buddy of mine started working at a place called L’Angolo Estate with winemaker Chase Renton. I was in Orlando and he said ‘Channing you have to try this out, this juice is absolutely amazing.’ And I loved it. Over the years, I really dove into Oregon wine.

When 2016 came around and I was on the Cleveland Cavaliers, we made wine drinking a part of our team. We were drinking it on the airplane, drinking it when watching a film as a team. We made sure that people brought bottles of wine to dinner. It became a camaraderie thing. I caught the bug for it, not only because I liked it but also because I saw what it could do for a group of grown men. It connects everybody. When I bring my Oregon Pinot, Chardonnay or Syrah, etc. and they bring their Sassicaia and Italian wines, it becomes us sharing knowledge. And with that, you can’t be right or wrong. Every conversation opens your ears. The conversations between teammates became not just the wine but also, ‘How are you doing at home?’ ‘How are your kids doing?’ It turned into laughs, it turned into cries, it turned into us bonding as a team. I said if I ever had the opportunity to do my own wine or wines with friends, I wanted it to be about the camaraderie and love and friendship of sitting down after a busy day and listening to the people that you love and make each other better or happy or challenge each other. And I think that’s what wine does, and I hope our wine does at Chosen Family. 

HL: Tell us about the unique relationship between NBA players and their love of wine.

CF: You would think the access some of these guys have to wine is unprecedented, and the average player has turned into a businessman off the court. When I was on the Knicks, and I’d have a drink—my drink would be either a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned—businessmen would be drinking only wine. As I continued to go to business dinners with successful businessmen, my drink has now also turned into wine. It has turned into a battle of wits and knowledge. All of us are good at our job in the NBA. But when you go to dinner with a businessman, he is just as successful as you in his alley. So the thing that is the battle of wits, the chess game, to a true competitor, is ‘what knowledge do I know about a wine that you’ve maybe not had or a region that you’re unfamiliar with?’ And that’s exciting. When I go with my friends who aren’t into wine, I love to introduce them to my area of expertise. That’s what’s exciting about wine in its truest form—you want to share your love of what you’re sharing.

HL: What was it like starting Chosen Family Wines?

CF: For me to get into the business and to do it the way we’re doing it, I’m very excited. And to talk about that, we are a 100-percent e-commerce brand. We do 99.99% of all sales online. There’s only one place you can get it. We don’t have a vineyard or a tasting room. We do everything by word of mouth. So, trust is the biggest word for our business. The opportunity we had was amazing to work with really good grapes. Right now, we’re based out of three vineyards with four different wines. This year we came out with a Pinot and a Chardonnay from L’Angolo Estate. With that, we wanted to make a wine that was comparable to the winemakers’ but has our flavor and perspective on it. Then we have a Syrah that is coming out in April/May, which I am very excited about. And then in three years, we have bubbles coming out from Jackson, Grandville. Part of our business is not saying we’re better than anyone else—we are collaborating with people that we absolutely respect and love and that inspire us. And we’re doing a collaboration that has our perspective on their grapes. 

As a black kid from Phoenix, AZ with fourteen years in the NBA—what do I know about wine? And how can I gain wine drinkers/lovers’ trust? That is why I work with who I work with, and that is why our whole ethos is to not only promote us but to promote the people that we work with. We are a branch of them. We are excited to work with other vineyards and make other varietals, but we want to keep our quality high. We want to make sure that this is the wine that not only challenges people’s ideas of what the grape or varietals can taste like, but also give respect to the things people may say.

Chosen Family WinesPhoto Credit: Chosen Family Wines

HL: I understand you’re trying to serve as a disruptor in the wine industry and make it more inclusive of all races. Can you tell us how you’re doing this?

CF: I’m pretty proud of us as NBA players for taking the bull by the horns and putting our foot in the door here in the wine industry. Disrupting means that something was good and you’re disrupting it to make it bad. Instead, I  think we’re adding to this, and people from all different sorts of backgrounds are going to elevate the wine industry. Having different perspectives will make wine that much better. Because we don’t know the rules, we’re creating our own. Part of our business and part of what we do is we appreciate tradition but make some wiggle room for us. We don’t want to take anyone’s space. We want to work with you, we want to give opportunities to young minorities across the country to see they do have these opportunities. If you want to get into wine and you’re from the inner-city, how do you do that if you have nobody that you’ve already been watching? If I just stayed a basketball player, a kid would look at me and think I’m solely a player, nothing else. Now they see that you can do more than one thing. Being a multi-faceted human being is so important to me. If I can inspire someone to take a chance on their dreams, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, etc., I think I’ve won. And I think the wine industry is going to win.

HL: At Haute Wine Society, we are partnering with the premier wine preservation system, Coravin, to promote one’s discovery with wine and opening up the possibilities of tasting without limitations. Do you use Coravin at home? If so, how? 

CF: I love using my Coravin Model Six at home to just give a glass of wine to my friends and family without having to commit to the whole bottle. It’s perfect when everyone wants something different. I also love being able to try a glass of a bottle I’ve always been wanting to see if it’s ready to drink. No one wants to drink the same bottle of wine every night or open up a bottle too soon—this opens up so many more possibilities.

HL: How does a product like this open up more opportunities for wine lovers and owners of brands like yourself? 

CF: Having a product like this allows us, wine enthusiasts, to try bottles of wine without having to open the full bottle. Being able to taste what’s inside without breaking the seal is a game-changer. Before this, you had to be more selective with what wines you wanted to open up.

Jacob Gray, Chase Renton and Channing Frye
Jacob Gray, Chase Renton and Channing Frye

Photo Credit: Chosen Family Wines

HL: What has been the most rewarding aspect of starting Chosen Family Wines for you?

CF: For me, this whole experience has been absolutely amazing. I’ve learned so much and met so many people. When I look on Instagram and see people holding my bottle or tagging it, it’s the best feeling. Our target audience is everybody—wine is inclusive of everybody, based on your wine budget. I think me getting into this industry, especially e-commerce during COVID, when drinking wine has predominantly been very ‘shake hands, talk, drink, get to know them,’ it’s different and interesting. Our goal is to make sure our clients get their juice and get it right and fast. For me to have the opportunity to get into this industry at 37 and have so much room for growth, I’m excited and challenged by other people like Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Isaiah Thomas, etc.—all of these guys have been successfully doing this and have been inspiring to me. I’m just trying to get my wind to the sail and keep pushing forward. Our business is different. We work with the people we love. There is no competition because no one drinks the same wine every night. I promise you, you’re not going to be disappointed.

We want to be able to interact with our fans, good and bad. When we add more vineyards, we’re adding more people to the family. When you take a picture, your picture is just as important as my picture. You enjoying that wine is just as important to me as it is to us, to my family. Our interaction with our fans and customers is going to be A1. We want you to follow us. 

I am proud to show my kids how hard I’m working and passionate I am, but also having fun—those are the memories that I’m always going to remember. Regardless of this business and if it’s successful—but I know it will be—I want my kids to see how much I love it and how hard I work for it. When you do something that’s a labor of love, where you care about the customers’ trust and putting a product that’s A1 out there, you will be successful, you just have to be patient. And that is the biggest thing that I’ve enjoyed about this whole process. 

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