Wine Talk: How Ndamukong and Katya Suh rule the NFL wine game

Retired NFL stars Charles Woodson and Will Blackmon have turned pro with their wine games. But when it comes to active defensive players in the NFL, few are as enthusiastic about wine as Super Bowl champion and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Suh’s professional career began in 2010, when he was selected second overall by the Detroit Lions after a stellar few years at the University of Nebraska. That same year, he won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Since then he has played for the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he won Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Besides football, Suh has also developed impressive business acumen, investing in real estate as well as the hospitality industry as the founder of Generals Restaurant Group, with locations in Lincoln, Detroit, Portland, Los Angeles and other cities across the country. He also took a stake in Hidden Ridge Vineyard’s Immortal Estate Sonoma Cabernet project to “get more exposure in the winery space and learn more about winemaking.” The 6’4″ defensive powerhouse says he became friends with legendary investor Warren Buffett, who mentored him in investing strategy among other influential friends and family and real estate geeks (although Suh say they share a coke instead of wine when they meet annually).

Over the past decade, the NFL star and his wife, Katya, have developed a palate for Napa and Bordeaux’s finest wines. The couple met at the University of Nebraska in 2009, married in 2020 and had twins last year. The two are spending the offseason in Suh’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, where Katya has designed a new wine cellar to store their growing collection of rarities.

Ndamukong and Katya Suh recently spoke to wine spectatorby Shawn Zylberberg on discovering their passion for wine, visiting the best chateaux in Bordeaux and what’s in their 3,500-bottle cellar.

Wine Spectator: When was your passion for wine born for you two?
Ndamukong Suh: I started drinking [wine] around 2011, starting with Moscatos, Rieslings and all the sweet stuff early in my NFL career. I was trying other things but I didn’t have a sophisticated palate to understand what good wine was. In 2012, we had a rookie dinner in Detroit and we poured a lot of wine. One of the bottles was Silver Oak and it was my first bottle where I thought, “Okay, I’m starting to get it.”

When my mentors and friends Gary Shiffman [chairman and CEO of Sun Communities] and Jay Brown [Roc Nation co-founder] discovered that I drank wine, they taught me a few things and spoiled me in the wine industry. I started going to Napa Valley on a yearly basis with Shiffman. We were taking trips and doing wine tastings at four, five, six wineries a day. That’s really how I got into wine; being able to see people’s creative processes and the viticulture associated with it makes me respect wine.

Katia Suh: My beginnings were similar to Ndamukong. I wanted sweet wines. I tried sips of other people but didn’t know enough, so we took a trip to Napa with Shiffman, and I was like, ‘I’m going to try every wine whether I like it or not. .” I needed to expand my palate. Three months later, we were at a dinner party, and we drank wine again, and loved it. Since then, I’ve been a Cab girl, and I also like Bordeaux. I enjoyed the journey and the history that comes with having a good wine, which usually brings great people and connections.

WS: Have you ventured outside of Napa?
NOT. : In May 2019, we flew to Bordeaux and got engaged at Bernard Magrez’s La Grande Maison. We visited Pétrus, Cheval-Blanc, Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild. It’s an amazing experience that you don’t always get to have. It’s different how they do it in Bordeaux compared to the United States, where it’s more commercialized. In Bordeaux if you are lucky enough to walk in they treat you like family rather than turn around and burn. We have also been to wine country in Greece and South Africa, exposing ourselves to different areas. I want to discover Burgundy and Italy more. Making these trips is what I live for.

WS: How big is your cellar and what do you collect and like to drink?
NOT. : Our cellar holds 3,500 bottles, but we also have six wine cellars for more storage. Some of our special bottles are 1987 Harlan Estate, 1987 Pétrus and Screaming Eagle, which we have visited several times and enjoyed.

KS: Visiting Screaming Eagle was the first time we had a Sauvignon Blanc that blew our minds. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I love red wines, but whether it’s a white wine that I like like that… I would like to experience that again. It was amazing.

NOT. : We also collect [Left Bank] Bordeaux and Pomerols, and Mouton is one of our favourites. … We just opened a Caymus 40th Anniversary and it’s still amazing. I remember I could buy Caymus in store for $20!

WS: Do you think NFL players are more into wine these days?
NOT. : I would say a lot of guys in the locker room like pure alcohol like tequila and cognac from Usse. There have been a number of guys understanding it but no real excitement. I’d say I’m the Buccaneers’ biggest wine lover and what I’m proud of is going to team dinners for our defensive line group and ordering wine. Older guys with more than six years in the league get into it. But young players are all about the booze.

WS: Did you celebrate winning the 2021 Super Bowl with a special bottle?
NOT. : We had champagne in the dressing room, but I just remember going upstairs to have some tequila with my wife, and when I got home I was so exhausted. It wasn’t until a few days later that we enjoyed the wine and splurged on fast food.

WS: What changes do you want to see in the wine industry?
NOT. : I would like to see more young people [learn about] the industry – show them how things are created, the processes of winemaking and how land, soil and grapes can turn into a business. We don’t learn these things until we are much older. If the kids can get those exposures to what the wine industry has for them, maybe that’s something they can get into.

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