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Saturday, December 10, 2005
Gregg Popovich's Blossoming Wine Career


I just got off the phone with Deb Hatcher. She's an old friend of my family, and a great character.

When I was growing up in Oregon, I did various things to make some spending money. I mowed lawns, I trimmed hedges, I bucked hay. I even sold Pepsi at the St. Paul Rodeo--which is a pretty good gig, by the way.

One thing I really did not do was babysit. I just didn't know much about kids, and I always talked to them like they were two-year-olds when they were seven-year-olds, and they hate that.

But the Hatchers wanted me to babysit their kids pretty bad, so I did. Once.

And I almost killed one of them by mistake.

I won't use their names, because they're kids so in theory they're innocent. But the older one instructed me that the younger one--who was about one at the time--drank from a certain cup. So I filled said cup with water, milk, juice--I forget what. Then the little girl took one tiny sip and nearly choked to death. I whipped her out of the high chair, slapped her on the back, and tried to remember the CPR we had touched on in P.E. a few months before. Thankfully, she resumed normal breathing of her own accord, and I turn to her older brother to say "I thought you said she knew how to drink from the cup!"

I'm not sure how old he was, but he was as cute as kids get, with shaggy little hair. And extremely verbal and expressive. (Now, by the way, he's 19.)

"Oh no," he said. "She never drinks from a cup."

I had the baby in the shower stall, cleaning off the gooey spit, when the Hatchers came home.

I never babysat again.

(Does this relate to basketball? 'Cause I'm getting bored.)

Anyway, so... eventually Bill Hatcher became a bigwig at one of the most important wineries in Oregon--Domaine Drouhin. This is where the living legends of French wine--the Drouhin family--put their stake in the ground in Oregon's fertile wine country.

Bill had a concrete floor and a regulation hoop in his office at Drouhin.

The sequence is hazy to me, but at some point Bill left Drouhin and wrote hands-down the funniest Christmas letter I have ever read, which involved something about him having massive back trouble, and being visited in his bedroom by a whole mess of women that he had always dreamed of meeting in his bedroom. Although not under those exact circumstances. ("But alas," he wrote as I recall, "one must be very specific with one's dreams.")

The family lived in what Deb assures me was a "gorgeous" teepee while their house was being fixed up. If you tell her your birthday, she can tell you which tarot card rules your life. They're pleasantly honest and just a little eccentric. And Deb told me in, oh, 1998 or so that there's stuff in plastic that is bad for you and you shouldn't store your food in it. I thought she was nuts at the time, but years and years later, science is catching up with her.

They started their own wine label three-and-a-half years ago. Bill is a bit of a numbers man, and worked out that people wanted really good wine that was not terribly expensive. And he figured out that the way to produce that was not to grow your own grapes, but to be knowledgeable in buying everyone else's.

They called their new company A to Z, and it sort of hit a home run. It's Oregon's fastest growing wine, they say. They have been lauded by the Wine Spectator, Food and Wine, the Wine Advocate and others. It's available almost everywhere in the U.S. and overseas. No longer living in a teepee, the Hatchers now hobnob with famous conductors and money managers and wine snobs.

The big news of A to Z tonight, according to Deb, is that they have lined up an investor who will help them take the next step in their growth, to really compete with the big boys. He's a great guy they say, and someone who really gets it about doing things the right way, being honest, and being dedicated to quality. And he is a friend of theirs.

His name is Gregg Popovich.

Nothing is set in stone--no ink has been applied to paper yet. But the coach of the Spurs is very likely to become an important investor in their wine business, which is pretty darned thrilling and exciting all around.

The Hatchers say that he is said to have an extensive wine cellar and knowledge of wine. They say that he's reclusive--spending big chunks of time in Maine reading about international relations. They say that he has a lot more morality than most people in professional sports. They say that he won't have anyone on his team who he wouldn't have home to dinner. ("When Dennis played for us," Deb reports Popovich saying of Rodman, "he towed the line.") They say that he leaves them good tickets when the Spurs are in Portland.

And now, they say, he'll hopefully be giving their business a safety net as they take the next step. That's good coaching.