How Dwyane Wade Is Fostering Change In The Wine Community With His Label, Wade Cellars

Dwyane WadePhoto Credit: Metelus Studios




Dwyane WadePhoto Credit: Metelus Studios

I’m having some serious whiffs of Like Water for Chocolate flashbacks after spending a morning with Dwyane Wade. While there may not be magic sprinkled into the NBA legend’s wine label, Wade Cellars, you better believe his personality is infused in every damn drop.

When the now-40-year-old athlete —named by the NBA as one of its top 75 players of all time —launched his brand in collaboration with iconic winemaker Jayson Pahlmeyer in 2014, he had three objectives: making sure it was something he’d enjoy drinking (meaning: hell no, Pinot Noir!); it was at an affordable price point; and, perhaps most important, something that was imbued with the essential essence de Wade.

“[It was crucial] that we made sure that my personality is in the wine that we make, and that comes from travel and new experiences in life,” Wade shares on a typically sunny SoCal Thursday in February from his Hidden Hills, California, home. For example, “We started a rosé because of my connection to Miami. I’ve tasted some of the most amazing Chenin blancs in the world and so I wanted to create a Chenin blanc myself that reflected that. I wanted to make sure that as I’m growing in life and experience, my brand is growing with me.” [As a side note, I should mention that, while his brand is growing, his supply of Chenin blanc certainly is not — as it is the favored choice of his wife of 13 years, actress Gabrielle Union, it is invariably low in stock. “She loves that it’s so crisp, so clean, and so refreshing. Whenever friends come over, she’s like, ‘Hey, go get the Chenin blanc.’ I’m like, ‘Babe, we ran out, you drank it all.’”]

Next month, he’ll showcase that very growth, as well as his permanent move to California with the release of his 2020 Three by Wade Cabernet Sauvignon, his third Cab under the D Wade umbrella, a wine birthed intentionally to be worthy of a big occasion — or a typical Thursday night dinner. With grapes grown in Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and Mendocino County, it not only embodies the true spirit of California, but to Wade, also personifies “affordable luxury.”

“I wanted it to be an everyday drinking wine,” he admits. “I didn’t need this to be just celebratory, [nor] did I want it to be something cheap. This is the kind of thing that, no matter who is coming to dinner, it’s something you’d be happy to pour.”

This latest wine, which has aromatics of black plums, graphite, and fresh blackberries, and is layered with cloves and dried rose petals, also has a distinctive new red and black label that pays homage to Wade’s 13-year history playing as #3 (which was retired upon his departure) with the Heat; he also played for the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers before officially retiring in 2019.

The expansion to non-Napa-based vineyards is definitely a departure for Wade, who admits he’s still learning all there is to know about winemaking, but one that he’s enthused about. Knowledge is power, after all.

We at Haute Living last spoke to Wade in 2020, during the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, when Wade Cellars was still in its infancy. While the early months of the pandemic canceled events and market visits at a time when the brand was on the precipice of a big rise, the momentum sparked by 2020’s social injustice movements across America shined a light on Wade Cellars that helped propel the brand in the right direction. Despite the pandemic, Wade Cellars increased their distribution that year to more than 40 markets, thanks to placements like Whole Foods, Bevmo, and JetBlue.

“This is a very competitive industry, and I think we’ve just been trying to find our voice, find our place, and build. Not against other brands, but really build internally to get to that place we want to end up. We have been finding our footing,” he admits, before noting one particular struggle: “One of the key things [about Wade Cellars] from the beginning has always been that we’re affordable, but luxury. How do we continue to stay in that luxury lane, how do we stay in that affordable lane at the same time? It’s very hard, especially right now with everything that’s going on in the world.”

Dwyane WadePhoto Credit: Metelus Studios

That being said, he’s certainly up for the challenge. “The one thing I love about being part of this industry so much — and I’ve been part of it for almost 10 years now — is that you will never know all there is to know. Every time I go to a different region or I taste a different varietal, it’s a different story, for a different reason, and there’s a different way in. That’s the beauty in it: There’s not just one way to create this timepiece in a bottle. The story wine tells depends on Mother Nature, and it’s mind-boggling.”

“I didn’t want to become one of those bougie wine drinkers when I first got into the wine space and have actively tried to not become that person over time. I didn’t want to become one of those people who always talks about things that most people can’t understand,” he admits, noting, “like I said, I’m still learning, [still] in the process, but even so, there’s still a lot you can talk about that goes right over most people’s heads, and that’s one part of the industry I still find tough. At the beginning, it never felt open for me to get in. There were a lot of big words, a lot of stuff on the label that I didn’t understand. But now, it’s cool that when my friends ask me questions, I’m actually able to pull from my knowledge and give them palatable answers quickly.”

Given that he first learned the tricks of the trade and found a passion for wine with then-teammates Alonzo Mourning, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James, he’s only too happy to offer answers or assistance to the next generation of Heat players-turned-wine-enthusiasts, like current stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

“Jimmy has shown his love for wine and his ability to be a good crossover — he even has his own coffee brand now — so I don’t think he’ll have a hard time when it comes to [finding his place in the wine world]. When it comes to advice, I do think the most important thing you can do is to come into this space with a vision. What do I want this to feel like? What do I want this to be? You’re going to find people who, hopefully, can put grape juice in a bottle, so the crucial element becomes What story do I want to tell? What kind of legacy do I want to build, not just for my family, but for the families that follow? Just like anything else, you need to do it because you’re passionate about it. But please don’t do it because you want to make money. This is one industry where you’re not going to see immediate rewards: It’s not about financial gain. For me, at least, this is all about passion.”

That very passion has propelled him all around the world in search of great wines and otherwise. This past summer, in fact, he and his wife took an anniversary trip to Burgundy, France, that further enforced that love — and opened up the possibility of launching yet another wine inspired by his global travels.

“I had the opportunity to go to Burgundy this summer, which, as you know, has some of the best wines in the world. I got a chance to build relationships, and some of those relationships went, ‘Hey is it possible that we can do something in the future together?’ So I’ll just continue to keep building those relationships. I’m very open to making sure we have a wide range of experiences in our bottles.”

Being in Burgundy brought him back to why he wanted to make wine in the first place. “I love the history of it all, the stories these houses can share. It’s a real family atmosphere there, and these wines are made with love, compassion, and empathy. Everything that the winemakers are experiencing in their lives, they’re putting into these vintages. Making a fine wine is almost the same as making an expensive watch: appreciating the process and the years it takes to make something so complex and beautiful.” 

Dwyane Wade
Wade Cellars wines

Photo Credit: Metelus Studios/Wade Cellars

Speaking of complex and beautiful, these are two words that absolutely defined Wade’s extensive, 16-year NBA legacy — which was highlighted by  three championship wins, 13 times making NBA All-Star, eight stints on the All-NBA Team and becoming the Miami Heat’s all-time leader in points, games, assists, steals, shots made, and shots taken — all of which was documented in his photographic memoir D. Wade: Life Unexpected. The 2019 release highlighted his upbringing on the South Side of Chicago through his college career at Marquette in Milwaukee to his years in the league; his marriage, ensuing fatherhood to four children; and, of course, his wine journey.

“I did a photographic memoir about my life and wrapping up my career. It had a lot of sports in there, but it also had [other important] things about my life, and wine is one of them. And what makes wine so important in my life is really the travel and experiences that I’ve had,” he admits, noting, “the reason I got into wine and the reason I love wine is that it’s a connector, like sports. If you love a team and I love a team, we may not know each other, but if I see you at a game, we would high-five each other and cheer together. Wine is the same way. You can respect someone who enjoys a glass and connect over a glass. That’s what my book is about — sharing my experiences, how I connect with other people throughout the world, how I’ve traveled and the things I’ve done.”

Dwyane Wade
2018 NV Cabernet

Photo Credit: Metelus Studios/Wade Cellars

He wasn’t always so vocal about his life, especially while playing pro ball, but as one career door closed and another opened, Wade seems to have found his voice. “I’m one of those individuals who might talk a lot — especially now — because I’m in my 40s and I guess I have a lot to say, but at one point in my life, I didn’t talk a lot. I would just sit back and observe people; I just watched. I had teammates who tried to push me into [being more vocal], and I was like, ‘No, it’s not for me.’ But I remember being at [Miami steakhouse] Prime 112 and watching tables of people who I thought were cool and were in areas of business I wanted to be in one day, and I was like, ‘Man, it just looks like they’re having a great time.’ It felt very inviting. I thought those were the kinds of conversations I wanted to have, and the kinds of tables I wanted to be a part of, and I associated that with wine at the time. That sparked my interest and got me involved in this journey.”

Finding his voice, and using it, was one reason he was so grateful for an appointment as one of the newest members on the Executive Leadership Board of the University of California, Davis’ top-ranked department of Viticulture and Enology (alongside wine writer and Black Wine Professionals founder Julia Coney, and viticulturist and recent UC Davis alumnus Miguel Luna, a partner with Silverado Farming Company), the announcement of which was made in October. “I started drinking wine 12 years ago, and I’m on a board of the most prestigious university in the world. I have a voice. I tend to use that voice, and I tend to be able to bring things we talk about in our community to life. It’s going to be a lot of hard work and I’m going to need a lot of help, but to get to a place where I have an opportunity and a voice to allow people to look at opportunities in wine a little differently, and from both sides, that’s awesome.”

He continues, “I think the wine industry is in a space right now where the opportunities are there for minorities to come in. The knowledge and information that we are now able to discover about wine is different from  what it once was. I’m starting to see the community grow, and I really love where it’s going. There’s something about tradition that we all love, but I also understand that the world keeps evolving, instruments keep evolving, and new winemakers are going to come in with new thoughts and new energy. We want to be there; we want to be part of that. We want the minority community to be a part of the future of wine.”

But there’s a bigger picture, too. “The thing for me is not having your voice watered down, and trying to understand the things that are personal first — things that are personal to me, my loved ones, my friends, to people who become my friends and family — and just understanding that this microphone won’t go away, this microphone is here, so I’m trying to use it for good more than not and trying to inspire. I know that I needed someone to inspire me. I can do that through the game of basketball to a select few, but I can inspire parents, I can inspire young kids by using the microphone to talk about the support of my daughter [14-year-old Zaya, who was assigned male at birth], who’s in the transgender community. I can inspire others to think about it differently, look at it differently, look at me as a father, as just a parent doing parent things.” 

Part of being a supportive father is creating opportunities for not just his family, but on a broader scale. This, he says, is one of the greatest luxuries in life — one that he himself has been lucky enough to have received. “I think for me, in my life, opportunity has been the most important thing. Without the opportunities that I’ve been blessed to have and allowed to have, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I’ve done or see things I never thought I would see.”

He still hasn’t had a glass, bottle, or otherwise with Denzel Washington, his longtime dream drinking buddy, but he’s putting it out there into the universe. You never know: One day, it might come true. “I haven’t had the chance to drink wine with Denzel, but I know one day I will!” he declares with a laugh. “I had always wanted to meet Denzel, and my dream came true on my rookie All-Star weekend, so I was like, ‘That dream came true, so let me throw another one out there!”

For now, he’ll focus on the present, and the other dreams he’s made a reality — like the fact that he not only has his own wine label, but that it’s successful, that it’s survived and even thrived during the global pandemic.

“Like I said, one of the coolest things is that we’re still flying. There’s a lot of turbulence in a lot of areas of life, and we’re still going. We’re still pushing to do the things we dreamed of when we started in 2014. Hopefully [that leads the way to more] success, more wines, more partnerships, more collaborations. We’re not at 40,000 feet yet, but we’re at 10,000, and the WiFi works.”

The perfect altitude for a wine flight, I’d say.


Dwyane Wade
Wade Cellars red

Photo Credit: Metelus Studios/Wade Cellars

Hundred Acre [out of Napa]. “Always a good one.”

Gracianna Wines. “I love all of their wines and need
to give them a shoutout for allowing us to visit their
winery out in Santa Barbara.”

Domaine Dujac. “I got the opportunity to sit down with
them when I visited Burgundy. They told me to tell Jay-Z
how to [pronounce their name properly, so I’ll pass
that along when I see him.”

Château Lafite Rothschild. “Really one of my favorite bottles.”


Charles Woodson
Charles Woodson’s Intercept wines

Photo Credit: Intercept Wines

Chosen Wines. “Channing Frye, who I played with in Cleveland, has his own wines out of Oregon. It’s great to experience wines out of what the norm is, and I had never really had wines from Oregon, but now I need to go on a wine tour.”

Chris Paul. “CP3 is my brother, and he just invested in a wine company, which is so dope. It’s so cool to see another friend of mine get into the industry.”

Terrell Owens’ Eighty-One.

Charles Woodson’s Intercept.

CJ McCollum’s Heritage 91.

Dwyane WadePhoto Credit: Metelus Studios