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2 former NFL players now work in wine: Here's their best advice for making money that way

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Will Blackmon #41 of the Washington Redskins carries the football after intercepting against the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on December 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.
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Key Points
  • An index of fine and rare wines narrowly underperformed the S&P 500 from December 2006 through January of 2022, with less volatility.
  • Ex-NFL safety Will Blackmon is the founder of The Wine MVP, a WIP concierge wine service.
  • Former NFL receiver Sidney Rice will soon launch a signature wine label.

Go to any bar on an NFL Sunday and you're likely to see legions of fans sipping ice cold domestic beers. But at least some of the guys in NFL locker rooms prefer a buttery chardonnay or a velvety pinot noir.

NFL players Will Blackmon and Sidney Rice, both retired from the league, are pursuing financial interests in the world of wine. Blackmon, who spent 12 seasons as a safety and return specialist, runs the VIP wine concierge service The Wine MVP. Rice, who spent 7 years as a receiver for the Vikings and Seahawks, plans to launch a wine label out of a vineyard based in Washington state.

Blackmon and Rice are among a new wave of people seeing the potential value in wine. "One of the things that's happened over the past four or five years is that people are becoming more aware of wine's investment properties," says Irv Goldman, CEO of wine auction house Acker Wines.

An index of fine and rare wines returned a cumulative 306% from December 2006 through January of 2022, according to Acker's data. That's only slightly less than the 336% in the S&P 500 (including reinvested dividends) over the same period — and with less volatility, Goldman notes.

If you're interested in turning your passion for wine into money-making opportunity, however, you'll need some know-how. Here are three tips from the former NFL stars — both of whom have partnered with wine cataloguing app InVintory — for how to get it done.

Educate yourself: 'The classics never go out of style'

In the vast world of wine, everyone has to start somewhere. Blackmon's first introduction to wine was through teammate Charles Woodson — a rare wine connoisseur in the beer town of Green Bay.

"He's into wine, he's got his own label, he's an African-American athlete. He was way ahead of the game in terms of the narrative when it comes to Black voices in wine," Blackmon says. "It made me more comfortable to enjoy wine without feeling a type of way around other people, and once I got into that world, it really piqued my interest."

Blackmon begun hanging around wine shops, chatting with the owners and distributors about how to choose wines. After watching "Somm" — a documentary about candidates studying for the grueling Master Sommelier exam — he registered for and passed an 8-week sommelier course.

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Your education in wine needn't be so intense, but you'll have to do a lot of tasting, and a lot of research.

Rice, who got into wine at the beginning of the pandemic, says fans of his wine posts on Instagram began sending him bottles. "They'd say, 'Hey, you like wine? I'm going to send you such and such a bottle,'" he says. More than 300 bottles later, he's still doing his research: "I carry my copy of 'The Wine Bible' with me everywhere now."

If you're looking to begin your education, start with the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, says Ian Cauble, cofounder of SommSelect and one of the Master Sommeliers featured in "Somm."

"These are the areas to focus on. The classics never go out of style," he says.

For those looking for a broader base, he adds, "'Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia' and 'The World Atlas of Wine' are great books to get a foundation."

Sidney Rice #18 of the Seattle Seahawks runs after a catch against the Buffalo Bills at Rogers Centre on December 16, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Rick Stewart | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Network, network, network

Whether you're investing in or building a business around wine, you'll have to know what makes one great.

On the investment side, turning a profit comes down to "getting the right wines at a good price in the best vintages," Cauble says.

Even for someone who has done their research, this can be a difficult task. That's why Goldman recommends collectors work with professional consultants, the same way an investor might work with a financial planner. "You want to go to reputable people who will advise you."

The advisor's "goal may be to sell you something, but they're going to give you the confidence and knowledge to feel good about what you're buying," he told Grow.

When Blackmon played for the team now known as the Washington Commanders, he spent his down time during offseason activities touring Virginia's wineries. Eventually he struck up a friendship with a producer who invited him to get a hands-on education doing work at the vineyard.

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Blackmon parlayed his football connections into a business in which he curates experiences for other NFL wine enthusiasts. "I realized I had a unique network of people, and thought, 'Why don't I be the middleman?'" he says. "I knew that I could call my friends and my teammates who had cellars and help them out. I ended up curating cellars for Matt Ryan and Reggie Bush among others."

For Rice, finding the right winemaker to partner with has been a labor-intensive process. "It's a lot of work. You have to figure out who you want to work with and why you want to work with them," he says. "It began with researching winemakers, some of whom are consultants as well. We didn't want to go to a winemaker, take some of their juice, and slap our name on it."

After narrowing his choices down to a few winemakers, Rice and his business partner met with the shortlist for tastings over Zoom. The flavor of one maker's wines stood out, even if Rice couldn't put his finger on exactly why at first. "I learned that what I liked about their wines was the balance," he says. "They were well-rounded from start to finish."

Create a plan for the future

If you start getting into wine without a plan, you can find yourself with bottles you don't want, or worse, drinking bottles you do. "Certain wines will peak relatively early in their life," says Cauble. "Other highly-regarded vintages are going to drink well for 30, 40, 50 years."

Determining when to buy and sell (and drink) wines is another task that may require some professional help. "Understanding the timing and making sure you get a good price is key. There are companies that can help you, just like [an investment brokerage] might help you invest in the stock market."

For any investor, in wine or otherwise, a focus on long-term goals can help you determine how to act in the short term. Blackmon points out that wine, unlike other commodities, can come with social as well as financial returns. "I want to bring fun and awareness, and most importantly continue to bring diversity to the wine world," he says.

We didn't want to go to a winemaker, take some of their juice, and slap our name on it.
Sidney Rice
Ex-NFL wide receiver

As for the money side, in addition to continuing to build The Wine MVP, "I have a major interest in investing into the technology," he says. "There are tech companies doing amazing things in the wine space. I'm going to get with my team and figure out where it makes sense to invest."

For Rice, creating a label is one of several financial irons he has in the fire. Eventually, he hopes to have his own grapes and a place to grow them: "A place where I can create experiences with friends and family."

In the meantime, "I have an opportunity to earn a pretty decent return doing something that I really enjoy, and that can help me create great experiences for people," Rice says. "This will help me do some of the my favorite things — traveling the world, meeting new people. You meet some of the most amazing people over a glass of wine."

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