Bonjour, Puck-Heads! Today we’re classying up the joint and looking at some hockey-related wines. Coming from the hands of 300-game-winning goalie Cam Ward and Olympic Silver Medalist defenseman Tim Gleason, Vinyard 36 is more than just an indulgent hobby, it’s a passion. Both Ward and Gleason get their hands dirty and are hands-on in the production of this very fine juice. (I have no evidence that they stomp on the grapes with their own bare feet, but I don’t have any evidence against it, either.)
On a lovely Saturday in early March, I was invited to a wine tasting hosted by Mr. Gleason here in Raleigh for a rare chance to try the literal fruits of his labor, ask some questions and get a better understanding of his post-hockey passion. Finding a bottle can also be difficult, since it’s a rather small operation. It’s no Paul Masson, but they don’t need Orson Wells shilling their wares anyway.
So where does one go to try a rare and unique vintage? Why, at a gas station, of course! Taylor’s Wine Shop, to be exact.
Also, it’s a bait shop. No seriously, the worms were sitting no less than 10 feet away from bottles of red wine running north of $100.
Tim Gleason, former member of the Hurricanes as well as Capitals, Kings, and Maple Leafs, has never been know for the gift of gab and a very humble man, spoke to the small crowd in the back of the store about the history of the vineyard, how he and Ward found themselves in this business, as well as each wine and the labels that adorn the bottles. The Wizard, Ray Whitney, has been a long time connoisseur of the sauce and educated them during team dinners on the road.
Eventually, Gleason and Ward made friends with a wine-making enthusiast named Jason Earnest who knew much more of the science behind the magic. You can sit this one out Jesus; Timmy, Wardo and Earnie have got it!
Five wines were available for tasting and for purchase. The Crosscheck is a strong red blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 20% Zinfandel with a peppery finish that would nicely accompany a thick steak. Its label features a bloodied Tim Gleason that was proudly taken by Cam Ward himself in the locker room, just as he’d taken some stitches to the noggin. Ward told him he looked like a total bad ass and that it had to go on a bottle; Cam also insisted that the stitches on the label be embossed.
Next was the Unmasked, featuring Cam pulling up his game mask; another red (spoiler: they’re all reds) that originally was a mystery blend where they invited you to guess the mix. It was revealed to be 40% Petit Sirah, 40% regular ol’ Syrah, and 20% Zin, and would enhance any Italian red sauce dish, be it simple spaghetti, pizza, chicken parm, or capellini pomodoro. Go to hell if you drink this with Spagetti-Os. Both the Unmasked and the Crosscheck will set you back the equivalent of a hobby box of Upper Deck MVP.
Foundation is a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon. Its bottle is adorned with III to refer to the three wine makers. The silver script is to commemorate the Silver Medal Gleason won “a million years ago in Vancouver;” the box around the numerals is the shape of a hockey rink, and there are traces of skate cuts on it’s “ice.” This is a very easy-drinking wine that would pair well with many simpler red meat dishes, even a free-range cheeseburger, and will run you approximately the cost of a retail box of Upper Deck Series 2. By the way, Tim said he recently took his dusty Silver Medal to his kid’s 3rd grade class for show and tell. <3
Lastly (and most expensively), were these V36’s, vintage 2013 and ’15 respectively. Wow, these were good and worthy of being the flagship. You could taste the extra years on the ’13 but its younger sibling was not far behind. These Cab/Merlot blends were so well rounded that they could really be paired with any kind of food, even those that don’t traditionally go with reds such as tilapia or more delicate white fish. You could buy a box of Upper Deck Artifacts, or you spend your money more wisely on one of these.
Cam, fresh off back-to-back wins against the Fyers and the Devils, showed up unexpectedly after practice an hour after the start, but Tim graciously entertained us between the rack of Chardonnays and stale orange moon pies. I asked him if they had considered expanding their operations to North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, a burgeoning wine country in its own right. He replied that it does come up in conversation from time to time, but they want to focus on the product at hand and mastering its quality first. He and Ward regularly visit their vineyard in Napa to inspect, harvest, crush, prune vines and lend a hand to every other part of the wine making process. I told you they get their hands dirty! Gleason has a little more time to spend out there, but Ward flies out when he has the opportunity. Thankfully, their plot was undamaged by the wildfires that raged recently in the area; all of the grapes had been picked and stored just before.
Vinyard 36 actually started out under another name of Cane Estates, but some other vineyard named Cain Five cried foul, so Ward and Gleason combined their Hurricanes jersey numbers (30+6=MATH!) to form the new name. Like most ventures, the wines were very limited at first, not only in variety but also in available quantity. A buyer could only buy them one 12-bottle case at a time, and only two or three blends were available. One night, the two players held a private wine party in Raleigh to showcase and sell their wine. One of the local wine shops was invited, bought a case of each, and quietly sold the bottles individually at a handsome markup.
I managed to grab a 2011 Cabernet Reserve. The “reserve” stands for, “I’m not opening this bottle until the Canes make the playoffs again,” so it’s getting plenty of aging in its bottle. Will this be the year? I’m not holding my breath, but I’d love to let this vintage breathe!
Jim Howard is a Carolina Hurricanes fan and reformed baseball card collector who is trying to keep the hockey collection from becoming overwhelming. And while he wishes he could give Crosby the business with his mitt, he is in fact NOT the goalie for the Red Wings. ■