News & ToursJune 3, 2010

Vintage Jack: Nicklaus enters wine fray

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Jack Nicklaus asked the relevant question that many reporters were ready to ask themselves as they gathered around the Golden Bear Thursday afternoon, glasses of red wine in everyone's hands, including Jack's: "Can you believe I have my name on a line of wines?"

Yes, he does. On Thursday afternoon at Muirfield Village GC, Nicklaus introduced his own brand of limited edition hand-crafted wines from Napa Valley, called Jack Nicklaus Wines. The wines, a Private Reserve and a Cabernet Sauvignon, have a imited distribution of 500 cases, and only in Florida and Ohio, but the plan is to increase production to 3,000 cases next year. He also plans to eventually offer white wines.

Nicklaus, who in his younger days was a rather prolific procurer of fine wines, had been thinking about a foray into the wine business going back five years, but he finally decided to pull the trigger last fall when he called on Bill Terlato, a member at Nicklaus' Bear's Club in Jupiter Fla., and the head of Terlato Wines International, which has been in the winemaking business for nearly 70 years.

Nicklaus has renewed his interest in wines only in the last 10 years. He stopped because it gave him headaches, but he still kept it around. In fact, he'd stored cases of 1947 and '52 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, a gift from Augusta National GC chairman Clifford Roberts after Jack's 1972 Masters win, in coolers in his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., but they eventually went bad because of poor storage.

"Back in the day they probably went for $1000 a bottle," Nicklaus, 70, said, shaking his head. "Expensive lesson. I ended up with high-priced vinegar."

Currently he is remodeling part of his garage to properly store wine in a temperature-controlled area.

In joining the ranks of Ernie Els, David Frost, Luke Donald, Annika Sorenstam and Greg Norman, Nicklaus is hoping to brand the Nicklaus name in country club restaurants just as it is in pro shops with Nicklaus shirts and golf equipment. With nearly 350 golf course designs to his credit, he's also got a ready-made clientele. But it also can be viewed as one more area of competition to pursue now that he no longer play golf competitively.

"I just love to stay busy, find new challenges," he said.

Nicklaus played a direct role in the blend that eventually came to comprise the Private Reserve, which will retail for about $43 (while the Cabernet will sell for about $35). He and members of his business team visited Terlato and tasting wines for days until they struck on the right combination.

Nicklaus remembers someone taking a picture of him with about 200 small glasses of win all lined up on the table. Nicklaus can only laugh at the thought. "The caption underneath said, 'Jack Nicklaus hard at work.'"

--Dave Shedloski

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