NFL Icon John Elway Dishes On His Winning Strategy To Wine-Making

John ElwayPhoto Credit: Danni Eckstein

John Elway has a winning track record — when it comes to his storied career on the gridiron, to his current role running the NFL’s Denver Broncos franchise, to owning and operating his Elway’s Steakhouses, and, of course, with 7Cellars, his wine venture with business partner Jeff­Sperbeck and Rob Mondavi Jr., who released the company’s first vintage of Reserve wines. After five successful, sold out and well-received vintages of the Reserve (the 2018 Elway’s Reserve Chardonnay received 90 Points from Wine Spectator, while the 2016 Elway’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon received 90 points from Wine Enthusiast) 7Cellars expanded with a new collection — the Farm Collection — in March of this year. Those who purchase a Reserve or a Farm Collection bottle are also giving back: with every bottle purchased, 7Cellars makes a donation to its partners at Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization that supports, trains and deploys U.S. veterans on disaster relief and humanitarian missions around the world. The brand also gives a portion of its wholesale case sales to local state foodbanks, as well as local and national organizations in partnership with Children’s Diabetes Foundation, Project C.U.R.E., Pivot, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and many more.

So, in honor of our Haute Wine Society x Coravin Wine Collectors’ Series, as we highlight one’s personal journey and exploration within the vast world of wine, we chatted with the two-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP to learn about his wonderful wine brand, running several franchises while recovering from Covid-19, how he’s giving back and the other athlete-owned wine brands he lends his support to.
John ElwayPhoto Credit: Danni Eckstein

What’s in a name? Let’s talk about why you named 7Cellars after your number. Does this wine inspire greatness?

Clearly, the number 7 has been meaningful to me since I first put it on while at Stanford. I believe it goes beyond just being associated with me though. It has many meanings, and most of them are positive. It signifies perfection and completeness, good luck, as well as being widely considered the most popular number in the world. So yes, I do believe that branding our company 7Cellars has great value.

How has the brand evolved since you launched?

The brand, or more specifically, the company, has evolved. We launched with two varietals and had limited distribution. Our focus was establishing ourselves as a serious wine company who was in the business for the long game. We established that initially in my restaurants, online, and at Denver stadiums. With our success, came expansion into other restaurants, and then into wholesale throughout the state. Then, more recently, with the launch of our three wines within The Farm Collection, we were able to expand even more into several new states. Along the way, we’ve continued to work toward always creating a better product, which our customers are agreeing with.

How has 7Cellars pivoted in this current climate?

The launch of The Farm Collection was to occur on March 1st, and opening up distribution in new states, was a big part of that launch. There was an initial reaction to the Pandemic which made every state and their distributors evaluate how they were going to proceed. My team quickly called an audible to increase our online presence in order to build our e-commerce. As we built that, we also remained engaged with our customers and potential customers, which proved to be a positive strategy as everyone realized how much wine was being consumed during the lockdown. As a result, we were one of the wines that distributors, particularly, Southern Glazer, brought into their accounts.

Any recent news from 7Cellars or anything new on the horizon for wine lovers to know?

Well, I believe we have some holiday specials that are worth taking the time to look at on our website:

What’s your favorite wine in the 7Cellars family and why?

That’s difficult to answer, because I honestly like them all. I wouldn’t have my name on them if I didn’t. I enjoy each one at different times, and in different seasons, and different weather. I enjoy the Chardonnays in the warmer months, or when I’m at my place in the desert. The Reserve and the Farm are both crisp and refreshing with unique citrus notes in each one. The Farm Cab and Pinot are smooth, easy drinkers, that I enjoy pretty much any time. My buddy is a Pinot lover and I’ll open [one] up when we’re together. I reserve The Reserve for when I have a nice steak or pork chops at home. John ElwayPhoto Credit: Danni Eckstein

When you aren’t drinking your own wines, what are you drinking?

I’ve been known to have a Dewar’s Scotch upon occasion.

Are you a fan of other celebrity-owned wineries, like D Wade Cellars or Doubleback Wines?

I have tried Drew [Bledsoe’s] Doubleback, and Dan Marino’s and Damon Huard’s Passing Time, along with Rick Mirer’s Mirror wine. I can say with complete conviction that they are all a really close second to ours. They’ve all enjoyed wine since their playing days. Danny may have actually been drinking wine since grade school.

As an avid wine lover, how has a product like Coravin changed the way you personally experience wine?

A Coravin was given to me as a gift years ago, and to be honest, I didn’t know what it was, or how to use it. Once I got some direction, I found it to be very useful, particularly on the nights when you may only want a single glass of wine. It’s nice to be able to have a glass of one of your nicer wines, and still preserve the rest for later.

Are there any bottles you’ve enjoyed with it that you wouldn’t have wanted to open and drink prior to using the technology?

I did have a bottle of Chateau Lafite that would have been great one glass per night at a time.

John ElwayPhoto Credit: Danni Eckstein

How does a product like Coravin change the way we look at expensive bottles of wine moving forward? Will this impact your own wine business?

We’ve seen that it helps the Elway’s Reserve Cab in certain locations. Restaurants are able to pour it by the glass. It makes a lot of sense for smaller, high-quality restaurants who want to allow their patrons to try nicer wines, and not force them to buy an entire bottle. I know our sales team uses them to extend the life of a bottle.

How has wine changed your family’s life?

As my children, and particularly my daughters got older, I realized that they were drinking more wine, as they were talking around the kitchen, eating dinner, and then sitting around after dinner. It was a good way to communicate with them and keep up with their lives. I saw how wine brings people together.

You tested positive for COVID. Was the most terrifying part the sickness itself, or the buildup to learning you had it? How are you feeling today?

I did test positive and have actually been quarantined for the past several days. It was never terrible, more like an annoying flu. I had a little fever, and was mostly tired. I’m doing much better. I’m working from home and just waiting to get back into the office.

What are your hopes for the future – for the world at large, for your personal health, for the Broncos and for 7Cellars?

My priority is getting Championships for the Bronco’s at this time, so that’s where most all of my time is spent. Just like my car dealerships and my Elway’s Restaurants, I have a great team at 7Cellars. They are doing most of the heavy lifting for now. I give my input and direction when needed, and keep abreast of everything going on.

What to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?

Time is the greatest gift, or luxury. How you spend it, and who you spend it with matters most and it’s something that we shouldn’t take for granted.