Wine has always been in the Iannetta blood, going all the way back to Italy. So it’s little surprise that Mariners catcher Chris Iannetta got his first taste for vino from his grandfather.
“Back in Italy, everyone in town made wine, just for their personal consumption. When he came over here he did the same thing. He would go to the farmers market and buy grapes imported from Napa,” Iannetta said.
But it wasn’t until Iannetta made it to the majors that his own love of wine — and connection to his past — was awakened.
“We started going out to ‘big league dinners’ at a steakhouse and I’d have a glass of wine. I didn’t really drink before then but it was a way for me to reconnect with him,” he said.
What started as a passing fancy for the Mariners new catcher turned into a passion. When he was with the Angels back in 2012, a dinner with teammate Vernon Wells that included some high-end wine would spark a new direction for the pair — starting their own winery
“It kind of materialized. My financial advisor had some contacts in Napa, we got hooked up with our winemaker, Grant Long Jr.,” Iannetta said.
Choosing the wine was a process. Long brought grapes and samples for the baseball duo to sample and their business went from there. It is serious stuff — especially the Cab.
And that’s how Jack Winery was born.
“We didn’t want it to be baseball related. We wanted it to just be wine. We wanted to detach ourselves from the baseball scenario,” Iannetta said. “We took our kids’ initials and it spelled ‘Jack.’ So that’s cool, we get to model it after our kids who we love and adore. We get to immortalize them by putting their names on a bottle.”
Two bottles actually — a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sauvignon Blanc.
For now, the vintners are not digging in the dirt or stomping grapes in bare feet.
“We don’t’ have an actual vineyard yet — that might be something happening pretty soon,” he said.
Aged in French oak barrels for 22 months, Iannetta describes his wine as bold and rich, with briary fruit characteristics, boasting undertones of herbs, mocha and — appropriate for a baseball player — hints of tobacco.
“I am biased and unbiased. From a biased standpoint I love it. From an unbiased standpoint, it’s really good,” Iannetta said. “It carries a taste and flavor and the ability to lay it down much higher than what our price point is.”
“We’ve got rave reviews,” he said. “You can check my twitter account … you can see, not to brag, there’s some pretty high profile people that really like it and they are all wine drinkers. It’s not just our opinion. There’s some unbiased people out there and they really like it.”
That includes Mariners great and hitting coach Edgar Martinez, who recently stocked his cellar with a couple of cases of Jack.
“He makes good wine. It’s a very good wine. It’s a young wine but it is very good,” he said.
Despite his success with grapes, don’t expect Iannetta to entirely trade his cleats for corks anytime soon.
“Right now it’s a hobby — because we are not making a profit,” he said with a laugh. “It’s fun hobby, and we’ll try to grow it slowly and if it goes in the right direction we’ll do it for a long time. We’d love to grow it into something spectacular.”
For now, you can only buy Jack wine in limited quantities by allocation on their website or in higher end restaurants.
And if his career with the M’s gets better with age, just like his wines, Iannetta just might have to change his allegiances and start incorporating Washington-grown grapes into his future bottlings.
“There’s a few wineries out here that I grew up liking. I know the area as a big wine nation,” he said. “Hopefully, they won’t be insulted that I’m a Napa, but I’d really love for people to try it. I think they’ll really enjoy it.”