NFL Hall Of Famer Charles Woodson Has Another Win With His Wine Label, Intercept

Charles WoodsonPhoto Credit: Andreas Branch



Charles WoodsonPhoto Credit: Andreas Branch

HE KICKED OFF AND ENDED HIS CAREER as a Raider and won a Super Bowl ring as a Packer, but these days, Charles Woodson feels more like a lion. Not of the NFL team variety, but the jungle cat kind — a two-legged member of the Lion King tribe. Just don’t call him Scar.

“I don’t want to be Scar, man! We don’t like Scar around here,” the 45-year-old 18-year NFL veteran laughs during our Zoom chat. “I’m more of a Mufasa.” (Say it again, say it again!)

The reason we’re talking about said prideful beasts and their Disney brethren is simple: They serve as the inspiration behind Woodson’s Intercept Wine label. “The lion represents strength, the king of the jungle, pride, family. I wanted the label to mirror what I felt a team should be,” he explains.

And Woodson knows. After all, he’s been playing the game for most of his life. The thing is, he’s equally well-versed in wine speak, having discovered the glories of harvested grapes during his first season as a professional athlete when, in 1998, as a newly drafted member of the then-Oakland Raiders, he headed off to Napa Valley for his first training camp. Seven years later, a big, bold Cab became his ride or die, his raison d’être.

“I didn’t know anything about Napa Valley or wine country to begin with, but my curiosity was definitely piqued from the beginning,” he says. “I mean, I found myself in this amazing place for almost four weeks every year, where literally everything was centered around wine. Every restaurant you went to, there were two, three, four bottles on the table and people always just seemed to be having a good time. Conversation was flowing, too, but the centerpiece was always wine. I’d see people swirling and sipping, but I didn’t really understand what was going on, because I came [to Napa] straight out of college, and in college, we weren’t doing a whole lot of swirling and sipping. We were doing a whole other kind of drinking entirely,” he recalls with a laugh.

Charles WoodsonPhoto Credit: Andreas Branch

By virtue of the training camp location alone, Woodson should be considered supremely lucky. Because remember: He played for the Raiders at two points in his career — at the beginning and at the end, which means he had not one, not two, but nine seasons of palette-training practice.
So it was inevitable, really, that he should want to create his own wine label. The first, Twenty Four, was a joint effort with Robert Mondavi winemaker Rick Ruiz during the last year of his initial tenure with the Raiders. Their small, boutique label produced fewer than a thousand cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, priced at $85 per bottle.

This early venture didn’t quench his thirst, but simultaneously sharpened it and opened the doors for future opportunities. So, post-retirement, spurred forward by a consistent demand from fans, he decided to go big instead of staying home, and launched his sophomore effort on a much larger scale.

“I had a great following with Twenty Four, great support, but fans of mine would always say, ‘Hey, man, we love supporting you and your wine, but we would love if you could do something more affordable so we don’t have to break the bank.’ So I set out to create a quality wine with a lower price point, and also some different varietals.”

Woodson spent the next two years searching for his ideal partners, touching down on the family-owned O’Neill Vintners & Distillers and winemaker Amanda Gorter out of Paso Robles, California. They experimented with different sub-AVAs, blends, and barrel samples before selecting the brand’s initial varietals, a Pinot Noir, red blend, the limited-edition Hall of Fame Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Chardonnay.
Luckily, it didn’t take him as long to tackle the brand’s name. Intercept, is, of course, a football reference, a shortened form of “interception,” a pass caught by a defensive player. For Woodson, the only defensive player in history to win the coveted Heisman Trophy, the name was especially appropriate.

But it takes more than a name and a following to make a brand successful — it takes a quality product itself. On that front, Woodson — who is also the owner of Woodson’s Bourbon Whiskey, a six-month accelerated-aged Kentucky Bourbon — is confident that he’s found a winning formula, and fans would agree. Intercept has received rave reviews since it launched regionally in 2019 and nationally in 2020.
Precisely because this is such an important part of his life, Woodson has no intention of simply letting the brand speak for and sell itself: He’s constantly seeking to expand and improve. Sweet and sparkling wines are on the horizon.

The intention, he says, “is to be one of those wines that you’re able to get no matter where you’re at or what state you’re in. Intercept will be represented there.” That being said, he’d also love to build a tasting room for the brand, which currently uses Robert Hall’s Paso Robles digs, and acknowledges that becoming a 100-point wine brand would be “pretty cool.” He’s not far off — his wines all have ratings in the 90s.

Another goal is to re-create the same sort of longevity and success he had in his NFL career in the wine world. The plan: If you build it, they will come.

Charles WoodsonPhoto Credit: Andreas Branch

“I think you have to start out the right way, and when we initially started Intercept, we had a really good rollout in terms of getting our name and the wine in front of a wide audience,” he says. “First, we launched in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan, in the Big House where I went to school, and then we had an opportunity to be part of some Super Bowl events. Having a wide reach is also important, and I’m able to do that because of the team that I have. When I started my first label, it was mainly me out there alone trying to touch people, which is incredibly difficult. Because of my partners at O’Neill, I’m able to keep my name out there without having to actually be there, which is important. If you don’t, people will just forget about you and they’ll move on to the next thing. I think we have a foundation built now where we’re built to last.”

And so he still has to hustle, though after 18 years in the NFL, he’s better equipped to hustle than most. Nevertheless, when he embarked upon this second, larger-scale wine venture, he didn’t realize just quite how much.

“I think that for a lot of people — and probably for myself, coming in — you put your name on it and you think people are going to automatically buy it. It’s so untrue. It’s only going to go as far as you take it, and you’re going to have to be there, be present, be out and about with it. You have to be active.”

You also have to be “big” and “bold” — words, he says, that define him and explain in nutshell the symbiotic nature of wine and football. In his opinion, these two worlds share far more similarities than many realize.

“It’s all about the patience that you have to have in each of them. In football, you’re trying to put the right coach with the right assistant coaches with the right quarterback, the right front office. You’re trying to put together the right people, the right fit, and the right message that the team can buy into in order for it to become the best team. Wine is the same way. You have to have a lot of things go right when it comes to a producing a great wine. You find yourself always trying to navigate through the seasons and the elements in terms of what you’re going to be able to harvest that particular year in order to get the grapes right, which can be affected by things like torrential rains and drought. A lot of things have to go right.

“You also have to have a great team around you to make sure that all of those things align,” he continues. “Sometimes it takes a year, or 24 months, or maybe even 30 months, but it’s going to take time. The same goes with football. You might not win in the first year. The second year, you may get a little better, and so on. I played in Green Bay for five years before we won the Super Bowl, so it took time to get it done. Though they’re different businesses, both need a little bit of time in order to get the best out of them.”

If only the phrase “like a fine wine” applied to football. Although I guess in Woodson’s case, it actually does.

Charles WoodsonPhoto Credit: Andreas Branch

FOOTBALL IS INEXTRICABLY WOVEN INTO THE FABRIC of Charles Woodson’s life: his past, his present, and, no doubt, his future. Not only did he play in the National Football League for nearly half his life, but he currently serves as an analyst on FOX NFL Kickoff, as well as a FOX BET brand ambassador. Needless to say, at the time of our interview, just before Christmas, with the Super Bowl looming on the horizon, one of the game’s most decorated players has quite a lot to say about the sport he knows and loves so well.

Let’s break down some of his most memorable achievements. Collegiate accolades include two-time All-American status at Michigan, 1997 National Champion, and he’s the only individual to win the Heisman Trophy while playing significant minutes on both sides of the ball. Professionally, he’s a Super Bowl XLV champ, 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, 1998 Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 2015 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award recipient, 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and nine-time Pro Bowl selectee. He is the only player to have won the aforementioned Heisman, NFL Rookie of the Year and NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

As a veteran player and current analyst, there are a few guys out there on the gridiron who he’s impressed by on the Packers — the team he won his Super Bowl ring with (despite their recent loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional round playoffs last weekend) — including wide receiver Davante Adams, running back AJ Dillon and, of course, quarterback Aaron Rodgers — who’s also Woodson’s prediction for NFL MVP for a second consecutive year.

Charles WoodsonPhoto Credit: Andreas Branch

It’s “Aaron’s other half” Adams who gets his vote for one of the most exciting current players in the league, along with Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, as well as Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Trayvon Diggs. “Those guys are very exciting to watch,” he admits. “They’re young — they’re basically kids — so you kind of see yourself in them a little bit, the way they’re running around having fun out there.”

He reminisces about his own time in the league: drinking wine on road trips home (with teammate Rick Mirer, whose wine label, Mirror, he’s a fan of — as he is Drew Bledsoe’s Doubleback), the joy he felt winning major awards and his favorite Super Bowl memory.

Woodson takes a trip back in time to 2011, recalling that he and his team were excited to be heading to Dallas to play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium because they assumed it would have a “vacation feel” because… Texas. Who could blame him, given how frigid the wintertime playing conditions are at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, right? But during Super Bowl XLV, an ice storm hit the Big D, shutting down the city and its streets. “Dallas wasn’t equipped to deal with the weather the way we were up north. They were laying down sand instead of salt! We thought, ‘Oh man, this can’t be good.’”

But. There was one moment that turned everything around. The night before the game, the Green and Gold discovered an old piano outside of their meeting rooms, and gathered around it. Defensive end CJ Williams began to tickle the ebonies and ivories, playing snippets of R&B songs, before wide receiver Greg Jennings started to sing. “Greg could really sing,” Woodson recalls. “All of a sudden every guy on the team joined in and started singing. I remember just kind of being in that moment and thinking to myself, ‘This team is ready.’ We were loose. We felt good. We knew we had a good team. I thought, ‘At a time like this, most teams are probably feeling a little tight. Nah, not this team, man.’ I felt good about what we were going to do the next day. It was a great moment.”

Charles WoodsonPhoto Credit: Andreas Branch

Last year, he had an even better moment, one that brought his career full circle: his official induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It was pretty special,” he admits. “Being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, being someone who spent a lifetime playing the game, going out there each and every time and just trying to give everything that you have and then at the end of that, getting this award… nothing can compare. I always tell people that to me it’s like getting that pat on the back that you would want from a father or mother figure when you were a child that just says, ‘Hey, good job.’ That’s kind of what it felt like. At the end of my career, when it was time, the NFL, those who gave me the vote, gave me that pat on the back and said ‘Job well done.’”

The moment he discovered he had made it into the iconic ranks of those hallowed halls is, without a doubt, among the most impactful of his life. “I told myself I wasn’t going to cry, but I ended up crying,” he confides. “They came to my house, which was a little different because of the pandemic — usually they knock on the door at a hotel. So, I’m at home in my backyard, I turn around and see [recently retired Pro Football Hall of Fame President C. David Baker ].”

When his wife, April, and mother, Georgia — who had advance warning — as well as sons Charles Jr. and Chase all joined him outside, he says that he lost it. “I’m talking to David Baker and I’m trying to hold it together, but I couldn’t. My two boys are looking up at me like, ‘Dad, you’re crying?’ I broke down a little bit.”

Charles WoodsonPhoto Credit: Intercept Wines

And then, another urge. “I was like, ‘Man, I just feel like running. I feel like I’ve been running all my life.’” And so, he did just that.

“When everybody packed up and left — all the cameras and whatnot — I changed clothes and just ran for a couple of miles, just to run for one last time, I guess. When I was running, it was like, ‘Man, you did it.’ I had an internal conversation with myself: The whole time I was running, I was really running through all the memories. From third-grade flag football to playing on the seventh grade football team to high school, getting my acceptance letters from all of the colleges and then picking one and going to Michigan, winning the Heisman Trophy, getting drafted. It was like a video running in my head. I’ve forgotten more than I remember, but I tried my best — and all of them ended with me being in the Hall of Fame.”

This short run was important in so many ways. Not only did Woodson allow himself the luxury of joy, of acceptance, of congratulations, but he gave himself time alone to truly savor it. This is the ultimate luxury, he says, and one that he doesn’t take for granted.

“Working in this business, these businesses, you’re always trying to be in certain places, right? You try to navigate between your personal life and your professional one. I have a family, my wife, my kids. I work with FOX. I have wine, I have whiskey. Everything takes time, and each thing you do takes a little bit of time away from you. You need to try and make the most of it. 2021 was one of the most incredible years that I’ve had in my life with the NFL Hall of Fame and [inductions into] the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame and Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. There have been all of these amazing things that have happened for me as an athlete. You just need to find a way to fit everything in and enjoy the moments that you have.”

And remember to always, always, always do so with a glass of wine in hand.

Charles Woodson Photo Credit: Andreas Branch