Professional athletes have been known to lend their names to products, and today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a line of hockey skates, drinks or equipment that’s not brought to you by an athlete.
It’s not often, though, you see an athlete in the trenches with his or her product. But such is the case for decorated Canadian professional golfer Mike Weir and his award-winning wine – aptly named Mike Weir Wine.
Mr. Weir, who was bestowed with the Order of Canada in 2009, captured the Masters golf championship in 2003.
And this event also helped turn a lifelong passion for wine into a business for Mr. Weir. The business, in turn, benefits many children through Mr. Weir’s foundation.
The business came about because part of the Masters’s tradition involves the most recent champion hosting a dinner the year following his victory for the other past champions. As the lone Canadian man to win one of golf’s four modern major championships, after Mr. Weir’s victory, he served Canadian cuisine with a VQA Niagara wine.
“I was fortunate to try some amazing wines from around the world, which kindled my interest, but I kept hearing about how good the wine in Niagara was getting,” Mr. Weir says.
And in 2005, the Mike Weir Wine label was born.
Mr. Weir, 44, who was born and raised in Brights Grove, Ont., a bedroom community of Sarnia, explains that he and his brother, Jim, were exposed to wine at a young age. Their Italian grandfather made a homemade version in Niagara Falls.
“On weekends we would drive down to Niagara to visit and we’d always ask what was going on with the wines,” says Jim, 10 years Mike’s senior.
Their grandfather would pour a little red wine in their ginger ale so the Weir brothers would feel like they, too, were experiencing the taste of the wine.
“It grew into more of a passion as we got older. We both learned more about wines and we appreciated wine,” Jim explains.
Jim now runs the day-to-day operations of Mike Weir Wine Inc., along with industry veteran Barry Katzman, but Mike remains very much involved in the process.
Jim says he visits Mike every five to six weeks while the golfer is playing on the PGA Tour, and talks to him weekly. Typically, one of the first questions Mike asks his older brother is about the winery.
“I’m always bringing some wine stuff along so then he can see what we’re doing. He is more active than I expected him to be,” says Jim.
One of the primary motivations behind his active involvement is providing funds for the Mike Weir Foundation. It’s “where all of our profits go,” explains Mike.
Mike and his family started the foundation the year after he won the Masters, and to date, it has raised millions of dollars to assist children’s charities, such as Autism Speaks, the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (now Cystic Fibrosis Canada) and the BC Children’s Hospital.
The winery sells upwards of 25,000 cases a year, which roughly translates to just more than a quarter of a million bottles. Jim explains that the soil composition in Niagara allows for excellent Rieslings – one of which, the 2008 vintage, captured a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines.
Mike says that, although he appreciates the success the vineyard has had among critics, he knows winning awards is only a small part of a successful winery. He gets more excited when people tell him they love his wine.
“Some days I seem to get as many comments [about my wine] on tour as anything else, and they are always positive, which is rewarding and fun,” Mike says. “I get a lot of satisfaction when someone tries my wine who isn’t familiar with Niagara wines and is blown away by the quality.”
Showcasing the quality of wines from the Niagara region to the world was another driving force for Mr. Weir to start his own winery.
“I was passionate about the product and hoped I could help spread the word about the quality of wine coming out of Niagara,” he says.
The winery is set to celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, and it will open a gallery devoted to Mike’s golfing success later this spring, featuring some of his exclusive memorabilia.
Mike had his hand in developing that gallery and also a new brand the vineyard is launching this year to complement its existing spread of whites, reds and ice wine.
Given how busy things are at the vineyard, Mike explains he would love to get even more involved down the road, but he is still focused on competing full-time on the PGA Tour, where he’s an eight-time winner.
That said, Jim notes that, even though it’s the family name on the bottles, it’s really Mike’s winery. “It’s not just a licensing thing – it’s not like other athletes where they put their name on something and someone else does all the work,” Jim says.
“This is certainly owned by Mike.”